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“Check everything off the list with contactless ways to get ready for school,” a new video ad for Target proclaims. While the Katy Perry song that accompanies the ad is upbeat, it’s clear that back-to-school shopping is, well, different this year. As parents prepare their kids for in-class, distance learning or some combination of the two, they’re adding new items to the traditional No. 2 pencils and glue sticks. Here’s a look at some of the latest school supplies and why they’ll come in handy during the pandemic.

Mask packs and lanyards

Some public schools, including Minnesota districts holding in-person classes, are providing one cloth mask for every student. Experts recommend washing masks at the end the day. That means one mask may not be enough.

Crayola, MaskClub and Athleta are selling “mask packs,” with one for every day of the week. Crayola’s pack comes with its own mesh laundry bag, while MaskClub stocks masks bearing brands from Hello Kitty to Justice League. And because kids need a way to hang on to their masks when they take them off, mask lanyards are in demand, too. ( has a wide and colorful array of lanyards.)

Hand sanitizer holder

If you think a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer can’t be a fun way to personalize a backpack, it’s only because you haven’t seen the options. Keychain-style holders come in vivid colors, creative shapes (tacos, mermaids and monkeys), even covered in sequins. You can choose a refillable plastic bottle or one with a pocket to hold a mini-sized container of sanitizer. You can find keychain holders almost everywhere, from Target to Etsy to Amazon.

Water bottle

Reusable water bottles aren’t new to the back-to-school list, but they’re essential for districts holding in-person classes. In its guidance for schools, the CDC encourages teachers and students to bring their own water bottles to minimize trips to the drinking fountain.

One of the most popular options is the insulated Thermos Funtainer, which is available in dozens of colors and designs, from ones with Frozen 2 characters to tie dye or Minecraft. They come with a straw for younger kids, or a spout for older grades.

Pencil case

Old-fashioned pencil cases are returning to supply lists because kids attending in-person classes need to keep their own basic supplies. The CDC recommends ditching the communal pencil tub, saying that schools should “minimize sharing of high touch materials to the extent possible.”

Stylus pens and tech gear

Parents whose districts are opting for distance learning may be skipping clothes shopping and new backpacks. However, they’re considering pricey tech gear. A Deloitte study found that 40% of parents were shifting their school spending to digital products.

Many districts are providing students with iPads or Chromebooks, but because siblings often are expected to share, some families are opting to buy tablets. Parents also are picking up headphones to help kids focus and stylus pens, which can make it easier for those just learning to write to practice on a tablet.

At-home P.E. gear

Getting wiggles out is vital for at-home learning. That’s why jump ropes, play steppingstones, tumbling mats and balance beams are hot items.

Remote-learning stations

Dry erase boards are one of the top sellers in’s “at-home learning” section, perhaps because education and parenting experts recommend prominently posting a daily schedule to help keep kids on track. Especially if that schedule includes breaks and fun time, too.

A printer

Yep, those bulky, dusty machines that so many of us discarded during decluttering sessions are now useful again, especially for parents who want to give kids learning at home a break from doing everything on a screen.

Erica Pearson • 612-673-4726