Back-to-School Survival Kit Ideas for Kids from Kindergarten to College

Updated: Feb. 27, 2024

These are the handy items to pack in a back-to-school survival kit that your student will rely on day after day.

If you’re like us, you probably have your favorite back-to-school rituals in place: pancakes with celebratory sprinkles for breakfast, a pizza party the night before and fully dressed sundaes to eat after school while discussing the first day. We’d like to suggest a new trend you may have spotted on Pinterest: packing a back-to-school survival kit for students complete with under-the-radar items they can count on.

Whether your child is heading back to school in person or virtually, we love the idea of creating kits that will make kids feel extra prepared for the first day and remind them we have their backs. These encouraging items can help students make friends, tackle goals for the semester and be comfortable with themselves.

P.S. Want to check off everything on your kid’s survival kit list in one go? Head over to the Walmart Back-to-School sale!

Elementary School Survival Kit

Grab these items for a back-to-school survival kit for new students to feel at ease and help seasoned fourth- and fifth-graders feel prepared.

1. A book about kindergarten in anticipation of the first day of school

Eye-opening books like First Day Jitters or The Night Before Kindergarten can help alleviate some anxiety about starting school and help your kindergartener look forward to some of the best parts: making new friends, snack time, nap time and the post-lunch arts hour.

2. Lunch box jokes

Jaime Morrison Curtis, blogger at and author of Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Baby Daughter, has a special ritual each morning. “We have a book of lunch box jokes. I rip one out each day and draw a cute picture on it, then I fold it up and stick it in her lunch. If I ever forget to put one in her lunch, she is bummed,” Curtis says. We put together some food-related jokes to get you started. Plus some lunch box-friendly recipes, too!

3. Pocket tissues

“[My nine-year-old daughter] gets allergies in the fall and is embarrassed to get up and get tissues during class, so we always pack lots and try to get cute ones to make it a little more fun to blow her nose,” Curtis says. These tissue packs come in four colors and are printed with motivational saying to make your little one feel a bit better. Just make sure your kiddo knows to always throw their tissues away immediately, rather than keep them on or in their desk.

4. Kid’s watch

It can be a comfort to know exactly how long till lunch or when you’ll be there after school. A watch with a digital screen makes it easy to see when the sweet reunion is near!

How to pack an elementary school survival kit: Put everything in a lightweight, easy-to-carry backpack designed for growing tots.

Middle School Survival Kit

These few years often mean longer days, bigger classes, more extracurricular activities and the potential for hours of homework. During middle school, preteens will likely develop close friendships, experience first crushes and begin to figure out who they are. Here are a few items for a middle school survival kit that will help your kids conquer junior high.

1. Dry shampoo

Dry shampoo is a quick way to tackle oily hair after recess or gym class. All your kiddo has to do is spray a few spritzes around their part and/or hairline, let it sit a moment, then brush it out, making sure to get rid of any residue.

2. Deodorant

Having a stick of deodorant on hand to squash (totally normal!) body odor can save kids the stress of realizing the bad smell is coming from them…and not being able to do anything about it. Tell your child not to use too much, though: otherwise the residue could transfer to their clothing and potentially leave stains. Along similar lines, pick up an assembled period bag for your daughter to keep in her locker or backpack. (Either way, they might be embarrassed now, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about—and they’ll thank you later.)

3. To-go instant stain remover pen

Avoid a post-lunch disaster with an instant stain remover pen. This simple tool helps lift the food and drink stains when gently pushed and rubbed into clothing. If the stain hasn’t completely lifted, run the clothing through the wash and it should be good as new.

4. Motivational quotes

Write a few inspirational quotes on pretty scrapbook paper or print them out on index cards. Supply magnets, too, so your student can hang the paper in their locker or at their workstation. Here are a few quotes to get you started:

“I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday,
and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Nothing works unless you do.” —Maya Angelou

These wise words of Julia Child or musings of Anthony Bourdain are great quote options, too.

5. Coloring books

Art-loving students love to sit back and relax with an adult coloring book. There are tons of options out there, but we love this food-inspired coloring book. A box of colored pencils and a sharpener will be appreciated, too.

How to pack a middle school survival kit: Throw the smaller stuff into a colorful makeup bag or travel case that your middle schooler can keep in their backpack.

High School Survival Kit

Here are a few thoughtful items for a high school survival kit that students will find useful every day.

1. Stainless steel insulated water bottle

A reusable water bottle eliminates the need for your student to get up in the middle of class when thirst strikes. Plus, it’ll remind them to stay hydrated throughout the day.

2. Headphone splitter

Instead of playing a YouTube video or a favorite song out loud, your kids can share media during breaks with a headphone splitter.

3. Tile Mate

Eliminate the problem of misplaced keys by adding a Tile Mate to your kid’s keyring (or anything else they tend to lose). The app-connected Tile ensures they’ll always find that lost wallet or house key.

4. Snacks

Prepare your young adult for a full day at school with an arsenal of healthy snacks. We love trail mix, roasted pumpkin seeds, homemade granola bars or simple chocolate chip cookies to keep kids sharp and energetic through their afternoon physics or gym class.

5. Agenda book

Purchase a small weekly planner and to be filled with assignments, important holidays, birthdays, vacations and a few words of inspiration. Your busy teen will never miss a beat.

How to pack a high school survival kit: Find a locker storage bin at a dollar or thrift store and pack it neatly with these goodies.

College Survival Kit

College-bound kids need dorm decor and furnishings, but it’s also smart to send them off with the basics to get cooking.

For a list of kitchen essentials that will allow young adults to cook for themselves (possibly for the first time), we turned to Gabi Moskowitz, founder of BrokeAss Gourmet and co-author of the new book Hot Mess Kitchen. She gives us the lowdown on the kitchen tools every college student needs.

1. Cooking essentials for college

“If you are lucky enough to have a stove or at least a hot plate to cook on in your dorm or apartment, you can easily cook delicious, nutritious meals at least a few times a week,” Moskowitz says.

Here’s what they’ll need:

2. Recipes from home

We love the idea of gifting a simple recipe box filled with family recipes or dishes you’ve always served up at home. That way, your kid can make the family’s special Friday night zucchini pizza casserole and mom’s Saturday-morning shakshuka right in their campus apartment.

Ask your favorite local restaurants for recipes, too. “I grew up in California, so when I went away to college in Boston, I missed good Mexican food desperately, especially the fresh salsa at my favorite taqueria. After a few months of serious salsa sadness, I finally called the taqueria and spoke to the owner, and he kindly shared the recipe with me,” Moskowitz says.

“Being able to make it for myself was amazing, because it not only provided me with a much-needed taste of home, but I got to learn that good, fresh food is truly possible to make myself!” Meaningful gifts like long-cherished recipes will give your kids some serious warm fuzzies and come in handy on nights when they’re missing home the most. If your favorite restaurant won’t give out their secret formula, try our collection of copycat recipes instead.

How to pack a college survival kit: Pack everything in a large plastic container with a lid, which they can easily reuse for something else (think winter clothes, extra blankets or completed coursework) once they’re at school. Or, stuff everything into a nice piece of luggage they can use on weekend treks back home. Parent of the year award, here you come!

Reminding your kids you love them is the most important guideline we have for packing a back-to-school survival kit. References to inside jokes or reminders of something they love (a portrait of the family dog, maybe?) will work wonders.

When in doubt, boxes of homemade cookies never fail to make the receiver feel loved. Good luck, and have fun packing your student’s back-to-school survival kit!