Back-to-school shopping is different this year. Here's what you'll need to buy

Students are opting for a blend of in-school and virtual classes this year, and they’ll need the right devices to keep up.

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With so much uncertainty surrounding school openings due to the pandemic, students will have to prepare for all possibilities with their back-to-school shopping this year.

“Parents of kids K-12 will be spending more than usual on tech and furniture for home learning, but possibly less on clothing as kids will only be in school part time,” said shopping expert Trae Bodge of

Schools offering a blend of in-person and virtual learning aren’t necessarily supplying the right devices kids need to keep up. To keep everyone sane in your household this fall, here’s her top back-to-school must-haves this fall.

1. Virtual learning tech

It will be difficult for working parents to share devices with their kids, or kids sharing with their siblings. Bodge recommends buying your student a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones and an age-appropriate computer or laptop — there’s no need to buy your third grader a new Mac.

Sharing a workspace with siblings can make it hard for your kids to focus on their work.

“You’ll want to get a good set of noise-cancelling headphones so kids won’t be distracted during their Zoom classes by outside noise or people walking by,” said Bodge.

For younger students, Bodge recommends ASUS, HP and Lenovo computers.

“My daughter has an ASUS and it functions as well as my Mac at a fraction of the price.” she said. “In terms of size, an 11-inch is fine for your child and those start in the $300 range, new.”

To save money on buying new devices for several kids, Bodge suggests researching used devices from certified programs, like Best Buy’s refurbish program.

If you have a high school or college student, Bodge advises buying a high-performing computer, like a MacBook. These computers are more durable than others and will last for years, saving you money in the long run. Stores like Apple, Dell and Microsoft offer student discounts. Just make sure you have a student ID or .edu email address.

Here's a complete list of back-to-school freebies, discounts and deals.

2. A comfortable work space

Having a comfortable working space is as important to your children as it is to you. Before going out and buying the most expensive ergonomic chair on the market, ask your student how they prefer to work, said Bodge.

“Create a work environment for your kids that gets them excited to sit down,” she said.

Paint a table or desk their favorite color so they look forward to sitting there, said Bodge. If you don’t have the space for a new workstation, you may want to look into lap desks. Bodge recommends foldable desks where the table and legs can be folded down when it’s not in use.

Typical classroom supply needs won’t be much different this fall, said Bodge. Make sure they have all of the work supplies they may need, like a backpack, binders, a printer, stapler, highlighters, pens and pencils.

“Even if your student is going to school two days a week, they will need the same supplies," she said.

3. Personal protective equipment

Some schools may have a mask mandate for students, said Bodge. She recommends packing extra masks and clipping hand sanitizer onto a backpack for easy access. You’ll also want to purchase individual supplies that may otherwise be communal, like scissors, paperclips or highlighters, she added.

If your kids are physically going back to school, have a safety conversation, said Bodge. Remind them that it's important to wash their hands frequently and sanitize after touching high-contact areas, like door handles. Talk to your kids about peer pressure from other students who may not wear a mask or say it's not cool to wear one. Bodge says it's important to be honest with your kids about the risks of infecting others, including family. "Tell them what you think will resonate."

“If your child has elected to go back to school, that means they want to be there, and they have to do what it takes to be there — just make sure you bring it up in a way that will resonate with them,” said Bodge.

Image: Aleksandar Nakic / Getty Images