Back to school is usually the best time of year… not least of which is because it’s back to some semblance of a normal routine.
I don’t need to tell you that this year, that’s a cruel joke. Instead, the traditional start of the school calendar just feels like yet another stretch of the same chaos, stress, and uncertainty that we’ve now been dealing with for — shit, has it been six months?
This year, back to school means a million different things to all of us. (If you’re still trying to figure out what it means to you and your family, check out our article on thinking about back to school.)
However your kids are “doing” school this year — whether they’re attending in-person, opting into distance-learning, homeschooling, working in a pod, heading to daycare, whatever — they’re going to need some different stuff.
Unless you are from a rural district in GA where they’re pretending like everything’s normal, mark down 2020 as the year the BTS shopping list was a little different, to say the least…
In addition to all your normal back to school fare — lunchboxes and water bottles, backpacks, etc. — this year calls for some unpredictable inventory. If you, like us, are prone to thinking about stocking up on and organizing personal protective equipment for your little kids as a little, well, depressing, remember this: this stuff is the ticket. All these precautions — they’re not dashing childhood. They’re permitting it to happen at all. Take a deep breath… and embrace it.
Kids Face Masks
Whether your little one will go to school full- or part-time, his or her school uniform will look a whole lot different this year. In an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, most public schools will require children over a certain age to mask up for in-person learning. Parents, you’ll need to stash up on masks that your kiddos will actually want to wear.
We wrote a comprehensive guide to masks, which includes a roundup of our faves for both kids and adults. But here are some of the standouts for children. They stay on, they’re comfortable, and they’ve got fun kid-friendly prints.
This is quite possibly our absolute favorite face mask for children. These high-tech masks have it all: adjustable straps (clutch for tiny faces), moisture-wicking material, a wired upper trim to mold to your little one’s nose, and a pocket for filters! Plus, you can even customize them, which would be useful for school.
These reusable face masks feature an activated carbon layer, which makes them more breathable. They also have a water-resistant outer layer and a wicking lining.
Crayola ~$29 for 5
The crayola pack includes 5 color-coded face masks (one for each school day!), a mesh laundry bag, and a calendar card organizer, so you can easily keep track of which mask needs a good wash. The masks feature a name tag, adjustable ear straps and a nose clip.
Old Navy ~ ranging from $9.50 for 3 to $25 for 10
Old Navy was one of the first major retailers to get into the mask game. They offer a vast selection of bundles (packs of 3, 5 or 10 masks) that are three layers and made of woven cotton.
Joah Love ~$20
Joah Love makes the comfiest masks for children, with soft cotton adjustable straps and super fun prints. They might not be the most protective, but the brand now has new masks with filter pockets. Yes, Charlene’s kids (3 and almost 6 years old) keep them on for hours on end when they play with friends outside, which is why it makes our list.
Though they generate more waste, disposable surgical masks are still one of the most effective, yet breathable options out there. If that’s the route you want to take, here are packs that are age-appropriate and boast fun prints for kids.
Let’s be honest — wearing a face mask gets unpleasant pretty quickly. They can irritate your ears and your skin, and don’t even get us started on the foggy glasses. Not to mention, face masks are the new socks: turn your back for just a second, and poof, it’s is gone.
From storage baskets to lanyards, we’ve hunted down the most useful accessories to make that masked life a whole lot easier for your little ones (and you).
Mask Adjustment Buckles ~$12 for 100
Are all your little one’s masks slightly too big? Not a problem. Get these adjustment buckles to make the ear loops tighter. There are 100 pieces, so you can team up with another family to split the cost.
Kids Ear Savers ~ starting at $3
If your kid complains about ear pain when wearing a mask with ear loops (or if she wears glasses), get one of those ear savers. They’ll relieve any pressure she may experience. Note: kids might need helping getting them on.
Simple and colorful, this bestselling lanyard is going to keep your child’s mask in sight. No more masks left behind.
This lanyard features a breakaway connector, which makes it safe for kiddos. You can not only use it to hang the mask on when not in use, but also tighten it around the head so as to relieve pressure behind the ears. Genius.
Begone foggy lenses. The treatment promises clear lenses in seconds, which will be a game changer for anyone (little ones and adults alike) wearing glasses. Do note that while some reviewers rave about this product, others are saying it doesn’t work at all.
Mask Organization & Storage
What do you do with your face masks when you’re home? You’ll need a clean, secure place to store your growing stock — not just to keep an organized home, but also to place them where we won’t forget them next time we head out the door. Here are some of our ideas:
Wire Cubby Shelf ~$132
A shelf with wire cubbies makes it easy to keep masks organized. Just dedicate one cubby per family member, and voilà! Many of them come with hooks as well. So you can keep backpacks or coats on there too… or you can hang the “mask du jour” on the hook the night before school! (And if you choked at this price tag, you can opt for a less chic — and less $$ — version, like this one, for just $14.)
Jewelry Stand ~$24
A jewelry stand is a great option to dry and store masks after washing them. You can also dedicate each holder to one specific person.
Colored Hook Rack ~$25
Use a colored hook rack (or individual hooks) to color code your mask storage system. Each person chooses a color, so there’s no confusion as you get out the door. This is particularly great for toddlers, who will have fun picking their colors. Plus, with single hooks, you can bring theirs to their level!
Over the Door Rack ~$varies
If you have a closet door in your entry, you may want to opt for an over-the-door rack. No holes needed; plus, masks won’t be the very first thing you see when getting in the door.
Plastic Modular Drawers ~$varies
Storing masks in plastic drawers (one drawer for each family member) is a great way to make sure they don’t get lost and stay clean once they are washed. You could also opt for clear, sealed storage bins like these (~$4).
You like the drawer and bin idea, but not the aesthetic? COVID prevention doesn’t have to put a damper on your style. Baskets for masks (shall we call them “maskets?”) are prettier alternatives to plastic bins.
Pre-pandemic, I admit I was SUPER loosey-goosey about labeling my kids’ daycare and preschool stuff. But I know that won’t fly this year.
If keeping water bottles, lunch boxes, and extra clothes straight wasn’t enough of a struggle already, it now feels all the more important. Here are some options that can help you make sure your kiddo’s stuff lands in the right hands during and at the end of the day:
If you really want a label maker (be warned — you will start labeling everything you own…. these things are like, super addictive), we have two similar recommendations:
Brother P-touch PTD210 ~$35-45
This label maker prints tags that can survive “the preschool elements” (dishwasher, laundry, grabby fingers, etc.), is intuitive to use, and is very well liked. It’s also quite affordable and comes from a trusted brand in the labeling department. **Note: it runs on batteries.
If you want a little bit of an upgrade, this version is a fan fave with a few additional features. The face is a little bigger, the screen is backlit, and you can also connect it to your computer (PC or Mac) for easier use (typing). Its labels can withstand the dishwasher, which is an absolute must for sippy boxes and snack containers and the like.
If, like me, you’d rather just order a set of premade labels you can slap on your kiddo’s things, here’s your best bet:
Mabel’s Labels ~$varies
Mabel’s are the go-to for daycare and preschool labels. They have labels designed for every possible surface, and they are built to last. Mabel’s are mom-designed and mom-approved for making it through to the other side of the dishwasher, laundry room, and the microwave. They are kid-approved too, with playful prints.
You can buy labels by category or pre-determined daycare or school sets, and Mabel’s Labels also supports schools with fundraising donations — you can check if yours is on the list here.
You’ve probably already heard from every media outlet that hand-washing is “better” than sanitizer — and it’s true — but hand sanitizer is nonetheless a nice option, especially when you’re on the go. (Actually, sanitizer is even less effective when hands are dirty or greasy… which is a REAL shame, because having grimy hands is basically a universal truth of toddlerdom and childhood. Sigh.)
*Please note: it is dangerous for children to swallow hand sanitizer — even a small amount can actually cause alcohol poisoning in young children. In March 2020, Poison Control centers received over 75% more calls about accidental hand sanitizer ingestion compared to March 2019, most of which were in children <5. Keep it out of reach. (Deep breath, though — the FDA notes that we don’t need to worry if our kids lick their hands after applying sanitizer, whew). All in all, this means that we shouldn’t be sending toddlers and Pre-K kids off to daycare/preschool with their own hand sanitizer.
Also good to know: Hand sanitizers are FDA-regulated.
Although many sites are rounding up “the best 38 hand sanitizers of 2020” (seriously, I’m not kidding… who the eff has the time???), the reality is that you can use whatever kind you want as long as the alcohol percentage is 60%+ (solutions with 60 to 95% alcohol will effectively kill the coronavirus). Personally, I’ve just been buying whatever’s available at our local grocery store — because it really doesn’t matter.
But: if you’re looking for something specifically to send to school with your kids, there are a couple of compact, portable choices to mention:
Pipette Hand Sanitizer ~$5 (8 oz) or $3.50 (2 oz)
We like that this sanitizer (65% alcohol) is fragrance free, so it comes without the traditional gross “why yes, that’s Purell I’m wearing” scent. It also has moisturizing ingredients, which is going to be a must in the months ahead. My hands already hurt just thinking about dry winter skin.
Everyone (EO) Hand Sanitizer Spray ~$18 for 6-pack of 2 oz bottles
These easy-spray bottles are perfect for a quick sanitizing spritz (contains 62% alcohol). The lavender scent is the crowd favorite, but EO also offers other varieties if you’re not a fan of lavender.
Green Goo Sanitizer ~$varies
This gel hand sanitizer comes in easy travel-sized tubes and only contains 4 ingredients (63.5% alcohol, no fragrance). It’s a minimalist plant-based product from a woman-founded company.
Baby Bum Sanitizer Spritz ~$4 (2 oz.)
This sanitizer spray (62% alcohol) smells like coconuts and vacation. That’s enough of a reason for me.
Also neat: Suds2Go Bottle ~$36 — a portable hand-washing solution.
Full disclosure — we haven’t personally tried these bottles, and I’m not entirely sure I see them taking off in schools, but if you’re the kind of family who frequently (or ever) goes camping/hiking/etc., this could be a really useful gadget to have around (plus — diaper changes). It’s a combined soap and water dispenser that’s just about the size of a water bottle.
That’s all we’ve got in this otherworldly back-to-school list of PPE. Did we forget anything? Any other favorite brands in any of these departments? Tell us in the comments below.