The Ultimate Back-to-School Supplies List for Middle Schoolers

Must haves from an occupational therapist, a principal…and wise parents.

9 min read
Cx Blog: DD-BTS-MiddleSchool-Lead

The summer flies by at lightning speed, and suddenly it’s time to get ready for a new school year. There are a lot of unknowns, but being prepared with the right gear helps your whole family make a solid start on the year ahead. I chatted with teachers, parents, a principal, and a licensed occupational therapist about the most helpful school supplies for middle schoolers—or about-to-be middle schoolers. Here’s to a smooth transition and a wonderful academic year ahead.

A Fun Planner

Middle school students are in a whole new place as they start to manage more of their own time and have increased autonomy with their work. “We know that students need to be organized in order to find success,” says Aliza Schneller, a principal in Massachusetts’ Quincy Public Schools.

Miami-based licensed occupational therapist Yana Musheyev agrees. A planner is a crucial way to set up your kid for success — a planner “helps develop important executive functioning skills such as time management, organization, and prioritization,” Musheyev explains. “These are essentials of success in school, work, and life in general. It also really helps reduce stress and anxiety by providing a sense of structure and control over their day.” 

If your kid is anything like middle school (and adult!) me, they’ll want to choose their own cheerful colors.

Cx Blog: DD-BTS-MiddleSchool-Binder

Color Coordinated Binders

At Schneller’s school, “Each of our subjects has a color associated with it. So, if students are digging through their backpack or searching in their locker and see the color green, they know that is the material that they need for science class.” If your kids’ school doesn’t use this technique, you can implement it at home by creating a system — say yellow for social studies, red for math, and white for English. Binders and folders can correspond to each subject, so your kid knows what to reach for in a full backpack.

 Melissa Velez, teacher at Frenchtown, NJ’s Secret Montessori School and mom to two middle school boys, recommends Staples Brand 2-inch 3 Ring Better binders. “They have two interior pockets for unpunched papers,” she says. “You can put custom labels on the spine and the cover.” They’re also sturdy enough to last the whole school year — a must for middle school students, who are not famous for being gentle with their things.

Labels (Plus More Ways to Stay Organized)

Helping kids stay organized is a theme across almost every single item on this middle school supply list. Labels are another great tool to keep school supplies in order. Velez says, “On a piece of paper, my son would write the subject, teacher, room number, and class period and slide it into the front cover. He found this to be very helpful when he transitioned to middle school and he was learning his schedule.”

One of Musheyev’s favorite organizational products is an accordion file folder. “A binder or folders can become very messy for students who struggle with organization,” she says. “Work with your child on labeling each section in a way that works for them. Having everything in one place can make a huge difference and can make it easier for them to manage their workload.”

Another tool in her toolbox is colored highlighters — a simple, effective way to help your kids emphasize and remember important information. Students can use one color for the most important themes, and the next color for supporting details. Or they could connect ideas by highlighting connecting concepts in the same hue.

Cx Blog: DD-BTS-MiddleSchool-Pencils

Pens and Pencils Galore

No matter how many pens and pencils you accumulate, they tend to mysteriously disappear. So stock up! Velez loves classic Ticonderoga Renew #2 wooden pencils, made with 53% pre- consumer recycled wood and available from Staples. “They help make the world a little greener,” she says.

If your kids apply too much pressure while writing, a common challenge, Musheyev suggests mechanical pencils. “The lead breaks when they do this, so the feedback teaches them to apply less pressure,” she says. Why is this important? “When they apply a lot of pressure, their endurance is lessened,” and middle schoolers have lots to write.

Pens and pencils in different colors make writing fun, which is always a win, so let your kid choose a few that they love. 

A Lunchbox and Water Bottle That’ll Hold Up

If your kid is bringing lunch to school, a lunchbox is a middle school must-have for many reasons — it’ll keep their food temperature-regulated, prevent it from being smushed, and make it easy to enjoy in the hubbub of their busy day. Igloo's lunch sacks, available at Dick’s Sporting Goods, are fully insulated to keep food and drinks fresh, easy to clean, and come with  BPA-free reusable food containers to keep snacks and other goodies easy to grab.

CamelBak water bottles, also available at Dick’s Sporting Goods, come in all sorts of designs and will stay strong whatever your kids put them through — plus keep their water nice and cold. 

A Robust Backpack

The unsung hero of any middle school supplies haul — your kid’s backpack — is crucial for carrying all these necessities every day. Musheyev urged the importance of an ergonomic backpack that “distributes weight evenly across the back and has adjustable, padded straps to ensure a proper fit.” She suggests making sure “the end of the backpack rests against the lower back, NOT past or at the hips.” A backpack on wheels is also a great option. Experts say backpacks should not weigh more than 10-15% of a child’s body weight.

“It’s worth spending more money on a good backpack that will last the school year,” says Velez “My son was not happy when his zipper broke one morning and he needed to carry his bag all day with everything falling out.” She recommends High Sierra Swerve Pro Backpacks, sold at Staples, for their impressive strength.

Cx Blog: DD-BTS-MiddleSchool-Backpack

More Supplies That’ll Come in Handy

Check with your kids’ math and science teachers about the best kind of calculator. Schools often supply students with a laptop or tablet, but they’ll also need headphones. Velez’s kids found earbuds uncomfortable and instead opted for the more pleasant to wear MDR headphones, which held up for a school year and beyond. 

Middle school is a sort of in-between time, and “the first day of school is bittersweet,” says Velez. “I'm excited for them to move on to a new grade with new opportunities, but I also miss the days when they were very little.” Even pens can bring up all the feels, and that’s okay! 

Middle School Supplies Checklist

  • Planner

  • 3-ring binders

  • 3-ring hole punch

  • Loose leaf paper

  • Labels

  • No. 2 pencils

  • Mechanical pencils

  • Pencil sharpener

  • Blue/black pens

  • Colored pens and pencils

  • Pencil case

  • Scissors

  • Glue sticks

  • Accordion file folder

  • Highlighters

  • Lunchbox

  • Thermos

  • Water bottle

  • Backpack

  • Calculator

  • Headphones

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Staples