This fall my two little ones are hitting major milestones: one is going to preschool and the other is going to college. Though my kids are in two very different life stages, there are two things that they have in common. The first is that neither is cheap. And the second is that they both call for back to school shopping.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had to gear a toddler up for preschool. There are a lot of fun new options that have cropped up in the last thirteen years. Depending on your kid’s school, you might get a full list that includes typical supplies like crayons and glue. Those are pretty easy to find during the last minute back to school flurry. But for the bigger must-have items that are listed below, it’s better to get a head start on these items to make sure that you are able to find items that fit your needs and your child’s personality. 

1. A sleeping bag and pillow

Reeves is not quite three years old, but he will be hanging with the three year-olds during the school year. The threes and fours do still take a nap during the day. The kids pull out little cots and lay on them with a sleeping bag or a blanket and pillow. We considered quite a few options before settling on the adorable pillow and blanket combo pictured above.

2. Lunch Containers.

Toddler meal time is quite an adventure. You never know what your picky little one is going to be willing to eat from one moment to the next. Reeves has always been a bit of a grazer. If we give him a variety of items, he is far more likely to be coaxed into eating than if we just give him one thing. That’s why I love these bento lunch boxes.

We also snagged a thermos for when the weather gets warmer and we want to send him to school with soups or stews. Right now he is lucky enough to go to a school where the teachers will microwave hot lunches, but we’re happy to prepack a warm lunch for him. Alexis did it for years in elementary school and absolutely loved her thermos.

3. Water bottles

One of the things that I love about Reeves’s new school is that they actually don’t allow juice boxes for lunch. I love juice as much as the next person, but I also welcome anything that helps my toddler cultivate a habit of drinking water. We’ve been using these Contigo water bottles for Reeves for over a year now and we absolutely love them.

4. A lunch box bag.

Depending on how you decide to pack your kids’ lunches, you might only need a lunch box bag. The bag can hold a variety of containers, silverware, and drinks. But if you opt for a bento box like we did, then you will need both. When choosing a lunch box, we always make sure that it is big enough to hold Reeve’s bento box, an ice pack, and silverware.

5. A book bag.

When Reeves started half day preschool last year we were so delighted at all of the little projects and papers he’d bring home from school every day in his backpack. His teachers are amazing at coming up with creative and educational activities for him. And he is always so proud of the things he makes at school. At this age, backpacks are pretty small. They don’t need to cary much beyond a few papers, maybe a change of clothes, and perhaps a lunch box (unless you get a specific lunch box holder like we did).

6. Wet/Dry Bags

Preschoolers get dirty like nobody’s business. On top of that, Reeves is still potty training and so accidents are not uncommon. We take his extra sets of clothing (top, pants, undies, socks) in wet/dry bags. If his clothing gets soiled at school, his teachers send it home in the wet/dry bag. When we get home, we’ll throw the bag contents and the bag itself right into the washing machine. Wet/dry bags are a simple, convenient, and zero waste alternative to using plastic bags or ziploc bags.

7. Clothing Labels

Let’s face it, kids aren’t great at keeping track of their stuff. Even my teenager still loses things through the school year. The solution: label EVERYTHING. When Alexis was in elementary school I even labeled her pencils. No, I’m not kidding. For preschoolers you’ll want to make sure that you are labeling all of the items they take to school, including their clothing. The simplest way to do this is to grab a sharpie and write away. Another option is to use iron-on or self-adhesive labels. These can be personalized using either a sharpie or a printer.

8. Hand sanitizer

When Reeves started part time pre-school earlier this year our house became a biohazardous zone. Every single week Reeves brought some new germ home to knocked out at least one other person in the family. As much as I wanted to build a decontamination booth off of our garage to sterilize our new resident germ carrier, we opted for the more practical anti-bacterial wipedown after leaving school. Antibacterial solutions are a greener and more economical option, but I’ve found that the wipes work better for my squirmy toddler (whom I’d also nominate for Most Likely to Eat Antibacterial Solution).