How to Make the Most Kick-Butt Back-to-School Kit for Your Kid

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

Open notebook surrounded by paper clips, lined up colored pencils, crazy scissors and color-coded sticky notes

Shutterstock / Zb89V

If you’re like us, you’re counting down the days until the start of the academic year. (Kudos for raiding Staples early for supplies!) 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 kit complete with under-the-radar items your student can count on.

We love the idea of creating kits that will make our 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.

Elementary School

Grab these items to put new-to-school kids 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 surprise

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. Here are some more inspiring lunch box ideas.

3. Colorful packets of 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.

4. Kid’s watch

If your child is nervous, it can be a comfort to know exactly 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 it: Put everything in a lightweight, easy-to-carry backpack designed for growing tots.

Middle School

These few years 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 and what they do and don’t like. Here are a few items to help your kids conquer middle school.

1. Deodorant

Having something 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.

2. Dry shampoo

This is a quick way to tackle oily hair after recess or gym class.

3. Feminine-protection pack

In an inconspicuous makeup bag, pack a few pads and tampons for period emergencies. (They might be embarrassed now, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about-and they’ll thank you later.)

4. To-go instant stain remover pen

This simple tool helps lift the food and drink stains that inevitably happen on occasion during lunch.

5. 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. Here are a few quotes to get you started:

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” -Julia Child

“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

6. 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 one. A box of colored pencils and a sharpener will be appreciated, too.

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

High School

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

1. Stainless steel insulated water bottle

A reusable bottle helps students remember to stay hydrated with cool water all day.

2. Audio splitter

Instead of playing a YouTube video or a favorite song out loud, your kids and their friends can share media during breaks using their own headphones.

3. Tile Mate

Eliminate the problem of misplaced keys by adding a Tile Mate to your kid’s key ring (or anything else he tends to lose). The smartphone-connected Tile ensures you’ll always find that lost wallet or house key.

4. Shareable snacks

Prepare your young adult for a full day at school with portable, healthy snacks. We love trail mix, spiced pumpkin seeds, homemade snack 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 calendar and fill it with important holidays, birthdays, family vacations and a few words of inspiration. Your busy teen will never miss a beat.

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


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. Absolute essentials for everyday cooking

“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 you need:

2. A cast-iron pan

These are perfect for roasting chicken and vegetables. “If you have space for it, a cast-iron pan is a fabulously easy way to step up your kitchen game. It ensures crispy crusts and even cooking, and the food actually takes on iron, which your body absorbs,” Moskowitz says. Be sure to print out instructions for how to clean it.

3. Recipes from home

We love the idea of gifting family recipes or simply writing down memorized instructions for dishes you’ve always served up at home. That way, your kid can make the family’s special Friday night dish 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. Restaurant won’t give out their secret formula? Try our collection of copycat recipes instead.

How to pack it: 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, tin 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!

Popular Videos

Joann Pan
Joann Pan is a content creator based in New York City. Her work has appeared on,, The Huffington Post and more.