We’re not going to beat around the bush: since the onset of the Covid pandemic, back-to-school has been anything but normal. Last year, scores of young students nationwide kicked off the year virtually — taking their education from the classroom to the living room. That totally changed the school shopping list. Though this year should be vastly different, we still want to share our top distance learning supply picks — you know… just in case.
Some of the usual suspects remain, of course; but if you’re going the home school route, or if you need to quarantine for a period of time, you may also want to outfit your kids’ at-home study/play space and help them get into (and stay in) the school spirit within the comfort of their own home.
We hope this distance learning checklist helps take some of the guesswork out of your back-to-school shopping — even if this is just an “in-case” addendum to your more normal school supply list. (Note: not included here, but still highly recommended… adult beverages, meditative apps and an abundance of patience and humor.)
- 3 Ring Binders/3-Hole Punch
- Dry Erase Pocket Sleeves
- Calendar Poster or Calendar and Weather Pocket Chart
Some things you’ll need to set you and your children up for distance learning success:
A Good Workspace
- Desk Organizers: an organized work station will inspire productivity and focus. We are firm believers in that.
- Rolling cart: a mobile cart makes it easy to store material for multiple kids, to transfer learning space in between zoom sessions, or just switch things up for a change of scenery.
- Kids locker: if your kiddos can’t go to school, bring school to them. If you have the space, a locker is a good (and let’s be honest, kind of cool) way for little ones to store all of their school stuff. (Seriously though — a locker gives them a sense of ownership of their experience with remote learning. It can also instill a sense of routine and be a reminder for your child to tidy up once the day is done — aka include your kids in the household daily upkeep.)
- Go here for tips on how to create a cozy and inspiring kids’ workspace, and here for organizational advice.
Planners & Calendars – Time Management
There’s something about having a record of what needs to be accomplished on paper. School planners that let you write down detailed entries for each day are clutch, especially for older kids. And again, can we talk about how satisfying checking things off the list is?!
For Parents Trying to Wear the Teacher Hat:
- The A+ Homeschool Planner: for all of us “distance learning parent teachers who don’t know how to be teachers,” this planner offers homeschool lesson plans for up to 6 kids, helps you keep track of grades, completed assignments, children’s day-to-day and big-picture goals, and more.
- Plum Paper Distance Learning Planner for Parents: order this completely customizable planner made just for parents embarking on another year of (unintended) distance learning. You can also add other categories to your planner, such as meal planning, family budget, etc., to keep the rest of your life streamlined too.
- 2020-2021 Desk Calendar for Teachers (i.e. homeschooling parents). For parents who prefer a large desk calendar to a small planner, this one’s for you!
- Time management clock: this little guy will help with setting up structure and routine.
Alternatively, for younger tots who need a color-coded reminder, you can repurpose your Hatch Rest (or other OK to wake clock) and set it up for activities throughout the day — blue for art, orange for reading time etc…).
Organization & Multipurpose Tools
- Whiteboards & Dry Erase Markers: forget about the chalkboard — it gets messy. A whiteboard, with dry (magnetic) erasers, is great to write each day’s schedule or to practice skills like spelling and counting while minimizing paper use.
- Calendar & Multipurpose Whiteboards: these can help your little one keep an eye on the bigger picture for the week or the month. It’s also very satisfying to cross out or erase assignments once they’re done.
What about Air Purifiers for Indoor Learning?
Since many of us have started spending a lot more time at home, you may want to invest in a HEPA air purifier as one measure to help keep your indoor air more fresh. It also helps with filtering out smoke for those dealing with nearby wildfires (like, the entire west coast!).
Though the research is a bit conflicting on how much they really can prevent you from contracting COVID from another person in your house (and other airborne viruses), HEPA filters must remove 99.97% of small particles (0.3 micrometers) in the air, which means that they can filter out aerosol droplets that can transmit COVID, along with other volatile matters (like pollen). In other words: they can’t hurt.
In fact, if you are planning on having a couple of classmates and/or tutors coming into your home (did you read about the “pandemic pods”?), an air cleaning device may be a good addition to your at-home school shopping list. Though not enough on its own — especially because air purifiers are designed to clean only a specific square footage (i.e. a living room or bedroom) and not an entire house — an air purifier (along with opened windows, face masks and physical distancing) may be a valuable indoor tool to mitigate some of your air quality concerns.
For more info on how to stay safe while indoors, check out this informative article from Vox.
With that said, here are a few of our favorite and top-rated air purifiers, from least to most expensive:
This top-rated home air purifier is compact, simple to use, reasonably priced and works very well. It covers up to 361 square feet, and is the perfect purifier for a study room, play room, kitchen, living room, etc..
It’s HEPA efficiency rating is 99.97% and it has an “air quality indicator” to determine if and for how long the purifier needs to run. Once the air has been cleaned, the fan automatically stops on its own. You’ll always know the condition of the air based on what color the “air quality” button shows.
$$ — Blueair Blue Pure 211+ ~ $278
If your home has an open floor plan, you may want to check out the Blueair Blue Pure 211+. Though more expensive than the Coway, this bad boy has the ability to purify the air in larger rooms, eliminating 99 percent of airborne pollutants in rooms up to 540 sq. ft. You’ll know when it’s time to change the filter when the LED light goes on.
This is the mamma jamma with a purifier, humidifier, fan, space heater, sleep timer, oscillating capabilities and nighttime mode all built into one Dyson-tastic machine. Yes, at $799, you’ll pay a hefty price for all these features, but this is the ultimate multitasker to keep your home air clean, moist, and cool and/or warm enough. Its carbon and HEPA filters capture 99.97% of allergens and pollutants as small as 0.3 microns, all the while emitting purified, humidified air. This purifier covers about 400 square feet.
Education Resources for At Home Learning
For the preschool and early elementary crowd looking for some at-home educational tools, we got you!
Letters and Spelling Practice
- To practice writing and letters, we love dry-erase books because we get to do them over and over again… without having to use too much paper. Dry-erase markers are also easy for little fingers to grasp and get the hang of compared to pencils or even crayons.
We particularly love ABC & 123 Practice Wipe-Off Board Books, which have fun games and mazes, Scholastic Learn to Write Dry Erase Books, and Hidden Pictures Wipe-Off Books, which feature puzzles, word tracing and so much more. We also love these Dry Erase Alphabet and Number Flash Cards for practicing upper and lowercase letters and numbers.
- Word puzzles are also a great way for children to practice spelling. With this Melissa & Doug set of wooden boards and letters, children learn to spell 3- and 4-letter words with over 50 pieces of colorful wooden chunky letters and 8 two-sided cut-out boards.
- Want to make it even more fun? Boggle Jr., My First Bananagrams Game, Zingo, and Scrabble Jr. are perfect to help your Kindergartners up his or her spelling game. Kids won’t even know they’re actually doing “work.”
Activity Books and Cards
- If you want to limit the amount of stuff you have at home, you can opt for activity books that are multi-disciplinary. With this Big Preschool Workbook, your little one can practice tracing, writing, shapes and so much more. Some activity books are more specific, focusing on numbers, letters or tracing — all great for developing motor skills.
- We also love these SmartyPants cards by Melissa & Doug, which offer a variety of questions, puzzles and games for your little ones to learn while having fun. Available for different grade levels.
- The best way to help our kiddos understand math concepts is by making it tangible — think sorting, counting, and grouping. If you have kindergarteners, first- or second-graders at home, manipulatives like this cube set, mathLink builders and an abacus make for great additions. And since your kiddos are going to be studying at home, now is a good time to teach them about time (and time management). Take a look at this Melissa & Doug Educational Wooden Clock.
Art and Music
School isn’t just about math and letters. You have to let your little one’s creative side shine through, whether it’s through arts or music. Make sure to stock up on art supplies:
- Colored Pencils
- Construction Paper
- Heavyweight Paint & Marker Paper
- Watercolor Paints & Brush Set
- Mess-Free Paint Sticks
- Washable Project Paint
- No Spill Paint Cups
- Washable Markers
- Kids Scissors
- Melissa & Doug Cut, Sculpt & Roll Clay Play Set
- Kid Made Modern has a variety of arts and craft sets that are sure to occupy your little Leonardo DaVinci for hours on end.
- For little musicians in the making, here are some of our favorite instruments: Hape Percussion Instrument, Loog mini acoustic guitar, and the B.toys Musical Instrument Set.
For more inspiration, check out Pinterest for some awesome preschool activities, printables, art projects and more.
Parents — let’s all take a collective deep breath. We’ve come a long way together since Covid first hit, and we’re going to keep truckin’ through the following school year — whatever it may bring — together.