But by August, most of those kinds items are already purchased off supply lists, or already exist in the home. Whether you need a tablet or an e-reader or add-ons to mobile devices such as rechargers or memory cards, by the time mid-August rolls around, it's unlikely you still have a long list of tech items to buy. Also, very little of that has changed over the past few years as hardware has gotten pretty evolved and standardized (what's good, an iPhone or a Samsung smartphone? Guess what: both). What's more interesting to me this year is how many great tools you can get that are actually educational for just a few dollars or even for free.
With that in mind, here are some recommendations for items that aren't video-game consoles, flat-screen TVs or pricey laptops that could actually help with school work.
Where were these things when I was in school? That's one thing I kept asking myself as I researched this story and top of the list is apps that allow you to make your own custom flash cards on practically any subject. For Apple devices, "Flashcards+ by Chegg" seems to be a favorite among iOS users on iPhones or iPads. You can add images to the flash cards and they can even be displayed on the Apple Watch. It's available in 22 languages and has a shuffle feature and the ability to download other people's flashcard decks from the site Cram.com. It's free with in-app purchases available for different kinds of decks.
Unfortunately, the app has much poorer reviews on the Google Play store for Android devices and it appears you can't sync decks from Apple devices to work on Android. A better solution for Android might be the official "Cram.com Flashcards" app for Android. It's also free and works in online or offline mode.
VR on the cheap
Look, I know what you're thinking: Virtual reality for my kid? Won't that warp the mind, boggle the eyes and bust the wallet?
Virtual reality has come to mean everything from imaginary worlds viewable with expensive goggle hardware to simple 360-degree video you can view with your phone off YouTube.
I've been recommending those who want to just dip a toe into VR invest a mere $10 or $15 for a decent pair of Google Cardboard VR glasses. These work with your existing iOS or Android smartphone and open up a rapidly increasing number of great news, education and entertainment resources. You can buy them at vr.google.com.
At the very least, you could use it to explore school campuses with YouVisit or to check out the surface of Mars with Google Expeditions. At the price, it's really a no brainer (and not the eye-strainer you might think).
No graphing calculator? No problem
A student friend of mine tipped me off to Desmos, a free online graphing calculator she discovered when she showed up to a math class having forgotten her graphing gadget. It's available at Desmos.com.
Study guides, tools and online knowledge
Here's where the true power of the Internet's breadth and knowledge is to your benefit. There are some pretty great resources that don't require a mobile digital device at all, just a web browser pointed at these sites.
StudyBlue has flashcards, but also study guides, course materials, sample tests and much more in practically any subject. It's free to use, with an ad-free option for $10 a month (or $7 a month if you pay for a year in advance).
EasyBib is another free, ad-supported tool that takes the laborious formatting work out of creating bibliographies. It can format in MLA, APA, Chicago and many other citation styles and it has a credit-boggling 59 options for types of sources.
Khan Academy, founded by educator Salman Khan as a nonprofit in 2006, is a free educational resource for students, parents and teachers with test prep, math, science and engineering, arts and humanities, economics and computing courses, videos, and much more.
And lastly, if you want to have your mind blown, check out Wolfram Alpha, a so-called "computational knowledge engine" that is like staring into the brain of a massive supercomputer. It can solve equations, calculate pretty much anything, dissect chemistry with ease and even surprise you with an artificial intelligence conversation. A Pro or Premium account for students, which allows you to upload your own data for analysis, costs $4.75 to $7.99 billed annually or $6-$10 a month.