But beware of those silly online listicles trying to sell you expensive USB microphones and fancy desks. Most of those things are as useless as the Trapper Keeper you lobbied your parents to buy you in days of yore. Here’s how to set your child up for success without overspending on clutter.


Headphones with a microphone. Critical for online classes, especially if you have more than one child doing remote learning. (You may want a pair for yourself, too—perhaps the noise-cancelling kind?) has some good suggestions.

A planner. Still a classic. Even in a world dominated by screens, a hand-written planner keeps information, to-do lists, and class schedules accessible for both parents and kids.

A power strip. Devices are going to be everywhere, and it’s no fun fighting over outlet access. Save yourself the headache and buy a power strip with multiple outlets that you can run to your kitchen table or couch.

A timer. You heard that right. Just see our Parent Hack of the Week to find out why.

A whiteboard. For showing work and answers to the camera. Look for a small handheld one, not the giant easel kind.

Family calendar. Keep track of everyone’s activities in a shared calendar somewhere central in the house. Use it to track class and work sessions, virtual enrichment, chores, dinner and more.

Bins or boxes. These are especially handy if you have multiple kids. At the end of the day, they can put their materials in their box and stack it somewhere away from the dining table.

The basics. Like pencils, crayons, notebooks, rulers, and so on. Follow your school’s guidelines, but don’t go crazy. You probably have many of these at home already, and remember that a lot of learning will take place online (rather than on-paper) this year.

Something special. Let’s be honest: Kids are as disappointed about this year’s version of back-to-school as parents are. Allow your child to request one reasonably priced item to make their workspace their own—something that helps make the prospect of learning at home a little more fun.


A separate camera for the computer. Your device almost certainly has one that will work just fine.

A mouse. One less thing that can be lost on the first day of school.

Sticky notes. These are rarely used for their intended purpose.

A pencil pouch. Store writing utensils in an old coffee mug on the table top. Done.

Oversized, overpriced coloring kits. If you buy 100+ pieces, you will soon be picking up 100+ pieces from your floor.

A stapler. Work is going to be submitted electronically. What are you going to staple?

Printer. Most schools are assuming that students will not have access to printers at home. Reduce your carbon footprint and your ink budget.

Chalkboards and easels. They look cool. That’s about all.

Workstations. After spending hundreds of dollars and many hours assembling, it will occur to you that plain desks and tables have worked fine for school kids for generations.

Excessive cushioning. You probably already have plenty of cozy places to sit around the house as it is. Plus, sofas, beds and even bean bag chairs can invite naps. There is a reason schools don’t use them.

“Chalkboards and easels: They look cool. That's about all.”



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Getting Ready for School In a Changed World

Heading into a new school year is always a big transition. And this year the transition feels, well, BIGGER. Where do we start with prepping the whole family to thrive?


May 22, 2021

What the Pandemic Taught Us

The pandemic laid bare some essential truths about the world we live in. Here’s what we won’t soon forget.