While it feels as if summer has just begun in some parts of the country, many states are gearing up for a new school year that will start before we know it. After a spring semester of remote learning amid the Covid-19 spread, sending our little ones back to the classroom — whether they’re heading to pre-K or high school — is daunting. We talked to multiple professionals about the best ways we can arm our kids for the safest experience possible. Here are their thoughts.
“First and foremost, parents should not send any child who is symptomatic of illness to school,” says Michael LaSusa, superintendent of schools in Chatham, New Jersey. “This means that parents should develop a routine for quickly checking their child for a fever in the morning and also confirm that their child does not have a cough or any other sign of illness. If a child does have a fever, the parent should not give the child fever-reducing medication and send her/him off to school, but instead be sure to keep the child home.”
As for what our kids need in their backpacks as they head out the door, Noreen Lazariuk, superintendent of the Sussex Charter School for Technology in Sparta, New Jersey, told us, “Every student should have their own set of classroom supplies. The schools will not be able to provide communal supplies of basics like pencils, pens, highlighters, etc. due to the need to prevent spread of the virus.”
Board-certified pediatrician Dr. Candice W. Jones agrees, saying that the goal is to reduce sharing in the classroom as much as possible. She adds, “Kids should have a 60% or higher alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which kills most types of bacteria, viruses and fungi. I recommend everyone having their own, not just to avoid hand-washing in communal bathrooms, but also for other situations like on the bus. And it’s important to practice using these items with your child before sending them off to school.” (We know that hand sanitizers can have wildly different scents — and that’s putting it nicely — so we also rounded up some hand sanitizers that actually smell good.)
Not surprisingly, a new “supply” on our collective shopping lists this year is masks. LaSusa, Lazuriuk and Jones agree that students should have at least one or two spares with them daily in case their masks break or get dirty. LaSusa also recommends practicing wearing face masks now, before the school year begins. “Parents should gradually build up face covering ‘endurance’ in their children by having them wear a face covering for longer and longer periods of time,” he says. “If a child spends zero time during the day right now in a face covering, then that child will have a tough time spending four hours wearing one when September rolls around. We need to build up this endurance gradually.”
Something else to consider as students head back to school is keeping our homes as clean as possible — which includes disinfecting the kids when they get home. “When children return from school they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises Jones. “Once at home, at the very least they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”
The overarching essential for the 2020-2021 school year, however, is a good mindset. “My advice is to stay positive,” says Lazuriuk. “As parents you are constantly teaching your children. Your example is one they are exposed to more than any classroom or teacher. If your children hear you speaking optimistically about the school year they will adopt that attitude.” Adds LaSusa, “I think we all need to maintain a sense of flexibility and patience, and also recognize that students are going to need some time to reacclimate to school, especially when the adults in their school are wearing masks and the whole environment looks different. We need to adjust the expectations we have for children and meet them where they are, not where we think they ‘should’ be.”
With all that in mind, we’ve rounded up a slew of back-to-school essentials for the classroom, your home and your child.
MaskClub Kids’ Masks ($13.99 each or $9.99 for a monthly subscription; maskclub.com)
There’s a subscription-based club for pretty much everything these days, and that now includes masks. Meet MaskClub. For $9.99 a month, you can have a new mask sent to you monthly, or you can opt to purchase single masks for $13.99 each. What differentiates this company from many other mask purveyors is twofold. First, for every mask purchase, the company donates a medical-grade mask to First Responders Children’s Foundation, which distributes the masks to paramedics, emergency medical technicians, police officers, firefighters and medical personnel treating Covid-19 patients. So far, MaskClub has donated more than 100,000 masks to first responders. Secondly, the company recently rolled out thousands of kid-sized masks for ages 4 to 12, featuring everything from Hello Kitty and SpongeBob to cupcakes and camouflage. Is your second grader superhero-obsessed? Never fear: You’ll have thousands of options to choose from here.
If you’re trying to get your tween or teen excited about hand sanitizer, Touchland’s Power Mist might do the trick. Packaged in ultramodern containers that fit right in your pocket, Power Mist has 67.7% alcohol and evaporates quickly while also moisturizing your hands — and killing 99.99% of harmful germs. Omnipresent on TikTok, Power Mist is loved by Kris Jenner and Tyra Banks and had a 34,000-person wait list when it sold out back in March. Luckily, it’s back in stock now.
Kinia 8-Pack Empty Hand Sanitizer Keychain Carriers ($15.95; amazon.com)
Keep hand sanitizer close to your younger kiddos in the cutest way possible with these sweet silicone keychains. Simply fill the containers with your preferred sanitizer and attach them to their backpacks. These carriers also come in dinosaur, mermaid/pirate and unicorn themes.
Crayola Back to School Essentials Bundle K-8 ($28.50; amazon.com)
Per our experts’ advice, stocking up on the classroom basics is a must this year, and this bundle from Crayola will get the job done. With everything from glue sticks, crayons and pencils to scissors, notebooks and folders, the kit is a steal at just under 30 bucks — you’d spend far more piecemealing the items together individually.
Artistic Rhinolin II Antimicrobial Self-Healing Black Desk Pad (starting at $17.93; amazon.com)
Let’s face it: Kids are germ magnets, as are all the things they touch throughout their school day. Bolster their defense with this antimicrobial desk pad that they can place on top of their desks for the year. Available in four sizes, the pads are anti-skid and provide a smooth surface for writing, and the antimicrobial protection never wears out.
Kleenex White Facial Tissue, Pack of 16 ($12.99; amazon.com)
Avoid trips to the teacher’s desk for a tissue by arming your kiddos with their own supply. These pocket packs are perfect to slip into backpacks, pencil cases, jacket pockets and beyond.
OtterBox Defender Series Pro Phone Case (starting at $41.96, originally $59.95; otterbox.com)
If your child has a cell phone, then we’re guessing you’re familiar with just how dirty these devices can become. In fact, a University of Arizona study once found that phones carry 10 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Say it with us: Ewww. Equip students with one of OtterBox’s new Defender Series Pro Phone Cases, which are infused with antimicrobial technology that protects against many common bacteria, as well as a silver-based additive that blocks microbial growth. Available for most Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, the polycarbonate and rubber cases are as rugged as they come, and will protect your kiddo’s phone during the inevitable drops the school year will bring. If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper option, Speck’s Presidio Pro case is also antimicrobial, with pricing starting at $39.95.
OtterBox Amplify Glass Antimicrobial Technology Screen Protector (starting at $49.95; otterbox.com)
Of all a phone’s dirty parts, the screen surely takes the cake as the filthiest. OtterBox is combating this with an antimicrobial screen protector that not only prevents scratching (and worse), but also fights the grime that builds up with each swipe. Featuring EPA-registered silver-ion antimicrobial technology, the glass works to kill 99.9% of surface bacteria.
OtterBox Mobile Device Care Kit ($7.95; otterbox.com)
Just because you’ve armed your kid’s phone with an antimicrobial case and screen protector doesn’t mean the device doesn’t need to be cleaned! Slip this cute care kit into their backpacks for those times when someone sneezes on their phone or swipes right with greasy fingers. Including three screen and port brushes, nine alcohol cleansing wipes and a microfiber cloth, the kit will keep their phone pristine for weeks — or all year, if you replenish the alcohol wipes.
A self-cleaning water bottle? Yes, it does exist, thanks to Larq, an ultra-sleek bottle that neutralizes up to 99.9999% of harmful bacteria and viruses using a UV-C light that is intelligently activated every two hours to purify your water and keep your bottle stink-free. Meaning, if your child needs to refill the bottle during the day, they can do so at a water fountain or in the school bathroom, and Larq will purify the water in just 60 seconds. Double-wall vacuum insulation ensures water stays cold for 24 hours or hot for 12, and one charge lasts for an entire month.
More to know: If you want a lighter and slightly cheaper option, check out the Larq Movement, which features a sleek silicone bottom that prevents dings and dents.
Goodbaby Infrared Thermometer ($49.99; amazon.com)
Per LaSusa’s recommendation, a quick temperature check each morning is a good idea before sending your children off to school. This infrared thermometer is loved by more than 2,500 Amazon reviewers for being both ultra accurate and easy to use, and because it can deliver readings via both forehead and ear. We like the three intelligent fever indicator lights that make temperature reads a lot easier — yellow shines for nonfever temps, orange for 99.3 to 100.3, and red for 100.4 to 109.2.
PhoneSoap (starting at $79.95; phonesoap.com)
PhoneSoap products sold out in March although UV sanitizing products have not been tested specifically for Covid-19. Well, they are back and are accepting pre-orders for a wider variety of UV sanitizing products that kill 99.99% of germs on everything from a phone to an entire room with their new AirSoap Air Purifier ($399; phonesoap.com) that starts shipping on July 21.
When the kids return home from school, it’s going to be hard not to want to hose them down outside first. Ease your germ anxiety with this handy sanitizing wand from Sharper Image that eliminates 99.9% of bacteria (including E. coli) when you swipe the UV-C light over any items — from backpacks and sneaker soles to bedding, countertops, computer keyboards and more — for 10 to 20 seconds.
HoMedics UV-Clean Portable Sanitizer Bag ($99.99; homedics.com)
After selling out fast this spring, HoMedics’ UV-Clean sanitizing bag is back in stock just in time for the school year. Similar to the brand’s beloved phone sanitizer, the bag kills up to 99.99% of bacteria in just one minute via four UV-C LED lights. What can you put in there? Think glasses, money, keys, watches, phones and more. The rechargeable bag is also small enough to stash in your kid’s backpack for cleaning on the go.
Simplehuman Sensor Pump (starting at $50; simplehuman.com)
Hand-washing is of the utmost importance these days, and it’s the first thing students should do when they get home from school. But as parents know, kids tend to leave a whole lot of sudsy mess in their wake. Tidy up the process with one of Simplehuman’s touch-free soap pumps, where you simply place your hand below the spout and a sensor triggers soap (foam or gel) delivered directly into your palm. With rechargeable and battery-operated options, the pumps will mean less mess in your home.
Bissell PowerFresh Deluxe Steam Mop ($89; amazon.com)
In the event that your sweet kids don’t listen to you and trample into the house with their dirty shoes on, well, you might want to run a mop over the floors. Luckily, this fan favorite from Bissell gets the job done quickly. While eliminating 99.9% of the germs and bacteria via steam emitted from a microfiber pad, the mop will also leave floors gleaming and clean.
Glaser Kid’s Writing Desk and Chair Set with Hutch ($219.99, regularly $299.95; wayfair.com)
Remote learning in the spring taught parents a lot of lessons — like the fact that headphones are a must. But we also collectively realized that kids need structure, routine and a tidy space in order to effectively learn from the confines of their homes. If you’ve got a spare nook or wall in your abode, picking up a proper desk where your kiddo can set up shop on remote learning days is a great way to bolster their focus. Available in light gray or navy, this one from Wayfair is a top seller. The desk is recommended for ages 5 to 12, and we love that it comes with a chair and hutch (complete with shelves and a corkboard).
Made By Design 3-Tier Metal Utility Cart ($35; target.com)
Something else we learned back in March? Our students generate a lot of paper — from crafts to worksheets and beyond. Harness the chaos that is their schoolwork, in addition to all their supplies, in this three-tier cart. Available in blue, white or gray, it can also be used in your bathroom, kitchen or playroom when school’s not in session.
Boon White Stash Multi Room Organizer ($24.99; crateandbarrel.com)
Is there a glut of markers, colored pencils, erasers and glue sticks on your dining room table? Well, in our opinion, a tidy classroom is a more productive classroom. Arrange your kiddos’ must-haves with this sleek organizer that will put a chic spin on school supplies. More to know: The unit can be wall mounted, too.
AmazonBasics Magnetic Framed Dry Erase White Board (starting at $16.57; amazon.com)
Whether you’re helping your child learn first grade math or high school chemistry, sometimes a lesson is better absorbed when illustrated on a white board. This one from AmazonBasics comes in five sizes, has a slim black frame, and is magnetic. Need some dry-erase markers? This Expo set is the resounding Amazon favorite and it’s typically on sale for under 10 bucks.
Elecder i37 Kids’ Headphones (starting at $14.99; amazon.com)
As mentioned, headphones are a must — especially if you have multiple students and parents working in the same confines. Delight your kiddo with this comfy set that comes in 10 cheerful colorways and has a padded and adjustable headband and cushioned earmuffs. At just under $15, these are well worth the investment.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.