A young girl back-to-school shops.

It’s back-to-school season, y’all, and while summer’s end is always a little bittersweet, this year has brought up more uncertainty and nervousness than usual, what with the constantly changing start dates and general Covid-19 concerns. But, whether your child’s school is holding in-person classes, going completely virtual, or using some hybrid of the two, they're still going to need some new gear.

Since back-to-school shopping this year is likely to be particularly tricky as parents go back and forth between standard teacher supply lists, and the stuff they'll need if (or, honestly, when) the living room becomes the classroom yet again, we talked to five Houston parents on what got them through online learning last semester. 

Lakeshore Learning Workbooks

Workbooks can be a helpful and easy way to get some supplemental learning in if you feel like your kids are missing out on the full benefits of in-person school. For Lexie Delouche, whose son was in PreK at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, virtual learning was limited to one Zoom meeting a week last spring. While extra videos and links provided by teachers definitely helped, she says Lakeshore Learning’s workbooks are what truly got her five-year-old through homeschooling. They offer a wide range of workbooks, depending on grade level and subject, so there’s something for every kind of kid. She also recommends plenty of crayons and sidewalk chalk to keep the kiddos creative. $4.29+, workbooks can be purchased at the Lakeshore Learning store on 2405 Post Oak Blvd or online here.

Bulletin Boards 

A tried and true classic, bulletin boards are what helped Kelly Holmes’s two kids with the transition from KISD's Katy Elementary School to virtual schooling. Her 7- and 10-year-old each got one, and Holmes says it was the best way to keep everything in one place. Goodbye, messy backpacks and loose paper everywhere—all their assignments, flashcards, even notes from parents—are right there in front of them, taking away all the stress that comes from a missing piece of homework. There’s also some major room for decoration here by printing out inspirational images or hanging up pictures of pre-Covid hangouts with their friends. $8.99, available here 

Amazon Echo Dot

While HISD's School at St. George Place elementary mom Wendy Sanchez also used bulletin boards to keep her two girls organized, her Amazon Echo Dot proved to be a savior. With the catchall ability to play music, keep you updated on how the Astros are doing, and even read the kids a bedtime story, Alexa was an invaluable assistant for the Sanchez household last semester. The timer function especially came in handy with homeschooling. “My kids would have to log, say, 20 minutes on an app and they could easily shout to Alexa to set a timer,” she says. “It helped my little one become more self-sufficient, and we were sure she logged the right amount of time on her reading and math apps.” $49.99+, available here

Canva App

With a son at HISD's Westside High School, mom Hilarie Rock didn’t have to be too hands-on with his learning, so she had a little time to work on her own projects, turning to apps to do so. For work, she stuck to FaceTime and Zoom, but she really found creativity in Canva. It’s a free app that turns you into a graphic design pro, helping with everything from making T-shirts to résumés to Zoom backgrounds. Rock used Canva to make fun social media posts she could send to her friends, and she found it a great way to keep the mood up when you’ve been stuck in the house for a little too long. Free, can be downloaded in the App Store or used online here

Erin Condren Coiled LifePlanner 

Even if most real-life events have come to a halt, there’s still so much to plan and do, like webinars, meetings, and friendly FaceTimes, and many are finding themselves busier now than ever. That’s why Kim Hodge relies on her Erin Condren planner to keep everything in order. As her son makes the transition from middle school at First Baptist Academy to his freshman year at Houston Christian High School, there’s so much to keep up with, she says. With lots of space for reminders, goals, and to-do lists, you’ll never have to worry about missing a virtual parent-teacher conference, and you’ll be able to do it in style. As an added perk, it also helps you get that much-needed break from screens. $55+, available here.