Here’s what you need to buy for back-to-school shopping in Sacramento area

These back-to-school supplies could make your kid’s life easier

Here are some helpful ideas for back-to-school supplies that could make your life a little easier and your kids' school year a little more fun.
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Here are some helpful ideas for back-to-school supplies that could make your life a little easier and your kids' school year a little more fun.

With sunshine and triple-digit heat expected in the Sacramento region this weekend, back-to-school shopping may not be on every family’s list of activities. But many classrooms will reopen their doors in the next few weeks, and while some parents may frantically head to Target to grab what’s left in the back-to-school aisles, a little research and planning can go a long way.

Parents. here are 10 suggested items that could make the school year a bit easier for your star student – and you.

Bento boxes

Bento, Bentgo, Bentology. There are more than a dozen brands and styles of these reusable, hard plastic lunch boxes that have grown more popular in recent years.

The name and idea originate from the Japanese single-portion home-packed meals called bento, and have morphed into sealed stainless steel and plastic lunch trays. The boxes are typically divided into three or more sections, and present all the food at once so students as young as preschool have their entire meal presented in front of them at once.

It’s leakproof, easy to clean, and saves time for the person preparing the meal and the one eating it.

“Using the boxes saves me money, because I can buy two boxes to reuse all year for the cost of a couple of boxes of baggies that will only last a few weeks,” said Katie Anderson, a Sacramento-area parent and teacher.

The Bentgo lunch box costs $27.99 at Target.

Wellslock storage containers

Like lunchboxes, there are dozens — if not hundreds — of storage container options for your leftovers. Wellslock is the first single-latch container with a lid that glides into place to make it easier for little hands to open and enjoy their meal. More importantly, they are leakproof and airtight.

If your child is allowed to microwave their lunch in the cafeteria, many schools don’t allow glass containers, so durable, microwave safe, BPA-free plastic is a good alternative. The plastic won’t retain spaghetti sauce stains, and the containers. A pack of four containers that fit your child’s sandwiches costs $12.99, saving hundreds of Ziploc bags.

School supplies for your lefties

Any left-handed kids in the family? Before the summer is over, combine a day trip to Pier 39 in San Francisco with a stop at Lefty’s The Left Hand Store. The store sells spiral notebooks, scissors, art supplies, and even guitar chord lesson books for left-handed students. Does your child worry about smearing their notes? Does your third-grader like pencil grips? This store has you covered.

Former teacher Tiffany Hart recommends the products after her former students purchased items from the store. Schools with student stores could even stock their shelves with some of these items for left-handed students.

If you don’t have time or any energy left this summer to make the drive to the Bay Area store, you can order products off its website. Scissors start at $6.95, and notebooks start at $5.50.

Keyboard skins

Parents are making big investments in computers for their young scholars as schools become more tech-driven. And with the load of coursework come the bags of chips and Oreos with crumbs that eventually find their way into the keyboard of laptops and desktops alike.

Silicone keyboard skins are available for chunky keyboards like Dell desktops and thin laptops like the Macbook Air. Your students can order plain or colorful skins online, or even purchase customized skins through Etsy. Newegg sells keyboard skins for as low as $5.85.

Cellphone chargers

If your child has a cellphone, and you’re concerned about battery depletion (thanks to power-draining apps like Snapchat), a portable charging case may be for you. Smiphee chargers serve as a slick, protective cellphone case without being bulky. As a bonus, they also could end family disputes over missing wall chargers at home.

Smiphee chargers start at $35.95. Office Depot sells slim chargers to use with your mobile devices. Ativa chargers go for $10, and they are on clearance now for $3.91.

Reusable straws

Straws have been a hot subject since California cracked down on single-use plastic versions in 2018, requiring that restaurants provide them only on customer request. And some companies are responding to the call for more eco-friendly products that won’t end up floating in the ocean and killing sea turtles. Disney and Starbucks have announced plans to ban plastic straws as well.

While many people have started using paper straws, reusable, stainless steel straws are growing in popularity. Shane Magennis, a student at Bella Vista High School, says that metal straws have been easy to use and clean.

“I bought a few of them so it would be a waste not to use them,” Magennis said. “It’s good to hear that major corporations are finally doing something good and banning plastic straws.”

An even newer concept: collapsible straws like FinalStraw that bend in four. These straws are tucked away in a hard case holder that a child can store in a lunchbox or backpack. They are easy to clean with a handy cleaning brush that also fits in the case.

An individual FinalStraw sells for $11, and the kit sells for $29.50.

Inexpensive, reusable water bottles

Keeping a reusable water bottle cuts down on purchases of water in disposable bottles, as well as classroom breaks to go to the drinking fountain.

Pro tip: the chug lids fare better in reviews than the bottles with built-in straws, because over time the straw can discolor or trap in mold.

Young students are bound to lose reusable water bottles throughout the year, so don’t spend too much money on the expensive brands. Pogo sells reusable water bottles at Target for $6.49 each.


If you don’t know about Scentos and Smencils, plenty of school-age kids could give you a quick lesson on these popular products.

Smencils are No. 2 pencils with different scents. Scento also has a wide range of scented colored pencils, crayons, and markers. Your child can color an assignment and enjoy a variety of scents including root beer and bubble gum.

Smencils are made from 100 percent recycled newspaper, so don’t forget to put your old papers in your recycling bin after reading.

A 10-pack of Smencils sells for $13.99 on its website, and more items can be found at Michael’s. A 24 pack of crayons sells for $2.09.

Audio recorder

Some new high school or college students may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information thrown at them in one class sitting. An inexpensive, easy-to-use voice recorder can help students capture class lectures while taking notes, and revisit the audio when they need to. These products are great for students who struggle to focus in class.

The Olympus Voice Recorder is sold at Target for $25.99, and is simple enough for all students to hit record, pause, and play, as they take notes and study.

Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser

Of all things to be picky about, an eraser might not be at the top of the list. But lots of erasers don’t get the job done. Children can easily rip assigned papers while erasing their work, or have difficulty erasing traces of their work at all.

The Staedtler Mars Plastic Erasers work effectively and leaves very little residue behind. A 4-pack sells for $6.79 at Staples.

More pro tips

  • Check with your schools before buying products, since some supplies can be banned because they introduce chemicals in the classroom. “Parents should be aware of school and district policies on things like Clorox wipes (not allowed on my campus) and hand sanitizer (not allowed in my kid’s classroom),” writes Anderson.
  • Take a list before heading to a doorbuster sale. Big-box chains like Target, Walmart and Office Depot often carry school supplies that are cheaper than other stores, and advertise “door-buster” deals. Folders and glue are sold for mere pennies in the beginning of the school year, encouraging some people to stock up. But remember that these discounts are intended to get shoppers to the store with the hope they will also buy other products that attract them. Think: Disney themed backpacks that light up, one gallon of Elmer’s glue to make slime, and rose gold office supplies. Shop with restraint.
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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.