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The Back-to-School Supplies Your Kids Might Actually Want

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist. Photos: Courtesy of the Retailer

After the last year and a half of hybrid and remote learning, it looks like the upcoming school year will be back to normal — mostly: Many kids will typically be in masks and properly distanced from one another, and they’ll also need more of their own personal supplies than ever before because communal school supplies can spread germs. “This year’s school supplies will definitely look different because of the pandemic. Now, basic things like pencils, markers, crayons, and glue may have to be kept separate and personal while kids are in school,” says Andy Yung, father and pre-K teacher in Flushing, Queens. “I recommend investing in a sturdy supply bag and labeling everything.”

We talked to ten parents and teachers, including Yung, and a few cool kids about the best and most sought-after stuff for students from pre-K through eighth grade. They told us about the most popular backpacks, fidget toys, headphones, markers, and cute hand-sanitizer holders for the upcoming year, which we’ve included below. This is already a record-breaking year for back-to-school shopping, with lots of families getting a jump on the items on their lists. Coupled with the supply-chain issues we saw affecting outdoor furniture and other household goods, that could mean shortages of certain high-demand back-to-school items, so if you see something your kids will like on this list, you might want to act quickly. And if you want to know about all the coolest stuff according to high-school kids, check out our 100-teen poll here.


Mom of three Ellen Pandey says that among her 9-year-old daughter’s friends, animal prints are super-popular, especially on backpacks like this one, which comes recommended by her daughter Lily.

According to Pandey and Karen Aronian, education consultant and mom to an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, middle-schoolers love rolling backpacks. “My kids switched over to rolling backpacks during COVID, when all of their school essentials had to go everywhere with them throughout the day, and lockers were verboten,” says Aronian, noting that many of their classmates have also made the switch. Pandey warns that some teachers hate rolling backpacks (because students tend to drag them on stairs instead of picking them up, and they mess up the lines when the class walks together), but that kids LOVE them.

When it comes to really little kids, Strategist writer and mom Lauren Ro says that John Deere toddler backpacks have become a micro-trend, poised to edge out the ubiquitous Skip Hop animal backpack. In fact, the yellow version of this backpack that both her son and one of his classmates have is currently sold-out.

A cute hand-sanitizer holder

Photo: retailer

If you don’t want your child to lose their hand sanitizer, consider getting them a cute and trendy holder that clips onto their backpack. Pandey says this one from Bath & Body Works is a good example of the trend.

A fidget toy

Mom of two and freelancer Tia Harris tells us that fidget poppers are really hot right now, which we also heard from lots of other parents. “It seems like almost every kid I see has one. We keep some in the car and in my bag for when we go out to eat,” Harris says. They come in tons of shapes and sizes, but this keychain one is what she recommends for school.

Water bottles

Nearly everyone we spoke to stressed the importance of having your own water bottle at school to help prevent spreading germs. Pandey’s son Brahm, who is going into fifth grade, says that despite their high price tag, Hydro Flasks are king among middle-school students. He also mentioned that it’s still cool to put stickers on your water bottle. His favorites are anything having to do with basketball.

Photo: retailer

For younger kids, Ro says this is the water bottle her son’s preschool recommends because it doesn’t leak and it has a collapsible (and coverable) straw.

Twisty crayons and smelly markers

Photo: retailer

Several parents — including Harris, whose kids are in preschool and second grade — told us that their children love these Crayola Twistable crayons. “They don’t need sharpening and are easy to hold,” she says.

Photo: retailer

These markers were favorites among most adults when they were in school, and they’re catching on with current students, too. “Last year I had these smelly Mr. Sketch markers and everybody wanted to borrow them all the time,” says Brahm Pandey, who is going into fifth grade.

Anything with PJ Masks, Pokémon, or anime designs

Yung says during virtual class sharing time last year, his students spent a lot of time talking about PJ Masks, a popular superhero show for preschoolers. “At first, I didn’t know what it was and thought they were talking about T.J. Maxx,” he says. This insulated PJ Masks lunch box just might hold your kid’s attention long enough to get them to finish eating each day.

A lot of middle-school kids are really into anime shows like Naruto, Haikyuu, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K, and My Hero Academia. “I’ve noticed that there has been a huge increase in the love of anime amongst kids,” says Mikaela Walker, managing editor of Orlando Family Fun Magazine and mom of two. “My daughter, who’s 12, got into anime last year. We recently updated her room to have anime posters, sheets, and wall hangings,” she says. This My Hero Academia pencil case would probably be welcome in most middle-schoolers’ backpacks this year.

Photo: retailer

We heard from elementary-school teachers Jacob Cohen and Natasha Harris, as well as school technology administrator Eli Forsythe, that Pokémon is still incredibly popular, especially among first-, second-, and third-graders. So any school supplies that feature Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Charizard, or Ash are sure to make kids happy. This notebook has a combination of lined paper for taking notes and coloring pages that burgeoning artists can trace to practice drawing their favorite Pokémon. In addition, Pokémon stickers and temporary tattoos make great rewards for finishing chores or tough homework assignments.

Comic books for elementary-school kids

Photo: retailer

Also popular among second-, third-, and fourth-graders is Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man comics series. Natasha Harris says the book series is really helpful for kids who are not yet great readers because “they’re easy and fun to read, so kids want to pick them up,” she says. Pilkey has a new series out too, called Cat Kid Comic Club.


Forsythe says that AirPods are insanely popular and that a lot of kids (and New Yorkers in general) have them. In his opinion, it’s partly status and partly that they work really well with other Apple products. “Generally, the majority of kids might be getting a full-featured smartphone around sixth grade, and I would be surprised if that doesn’t come with a set of AirPods,” he says. Brahm Pandey agrees that they’re really popular, even in middle school. “I know a lot of kids in my grade who have them,” he says.

If the cost of AirPods seems too high for a fifth-grader, Lisha Dunlap, communications manager at the University of Advancing Technology, recommends her son’s favorite pair of earbuds from SkullCandy. “He is starting fifth grade and there are only two things he cares about: his pencil case and earbuds. He had to have SkullCandy earbuds,” she says. They come in six different colors and cost about a fifth of what you’d spend on AirPods.

A status phone case for tweens

Photo: retailer

After polling her network of cool West Coast kids and tweens, Pandey confirmed that this Myra cross-body phone case is “THE item of the summer for all tween girls on the West Coast,” she says. It’s currently sold-out in every color on Amazon, but you can still nab one on the brand’s website.

[Editor’s note: Myra’s website is under construction until August 17, but you can sign up to be reminded once it’s live again.]

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The Back-to-School Supplies Kids Actually Want