At a glance
Using a school locker is hard for lots of kids.
Some kids have trouble keeping it neat and finding what they need for class.
Opening the lock and remembering the combination are other common trouble spots.
Using a school locker can be challenging for some kids. They can run into trouble spots—like forgetting the combination or not getting what they need for class. Here are seven common locker challenges for kids and tips for how to solve them.
Challenge #1: Opening the lock.
Kids sometimes forget their locker combinations. Even if they know the combination, they may have trouble turning the dial the right number of times or in the right direction. If they’re in a rush, they may get flustered and give up if the lock doesn’t open on the first try.
How to help: When a lock is assigned at school, have your child write the combination down in more than one place. A good spot is the inside cover of a daily planner. It’s also a good idea to store the combination in a cell phone or computer, if your child uses one at school.
If a combination lock is too tricky for your child, ask the school about a key lock or a luggage lock with easy-to-remember letters. Think about which kind of lock would be best for your child. Keep in mind that keys are easy to lose, so make sure to have a spare.
Challenge #2: Finding the locker.
In the first days or weeks of a new school year, kids may not remember where their locker is. Even during the year, finding a locker can be tough if your child feels stressed or anxious.
How to help: Just like with the combination, have your child write down the locker number and where the locker is. It can help to note nearby landmarks, like a water fountain or a specific classroom. Keep this information together with the combination.
If possible, do a walk-through before the first day of school. Some schools set aside time for student orientation or for kids who need more support.
Challenge #3: Grabbing what they need at the right time.
Your child probably won’t have time to visit the locker before every class. There are also certain times, like before gym, when your child will need to visit it to get specific items.
How to help: Help your child figure out how long it takes to get from class to class. Use a stopwatch. Then look at breaks in the schedule to map out the best times for locker visits. For example, if your child’s locker is near the cafeteria, lunchtime might be a great time to make a stop.
You or your child can note when to visit the locker in a daily planner or calendar. Have your child put a copy of the schedule on the inside of the locker door. Encourage your child to use the three T’s during each locker visit:
- Touch the subject name on the schedule.
- Think about what you need for that class.
- Take it with you.
Challenge #4: Sharing a locker.
A crowded school might assign two students to share a locker. Or a friend may ask to store items because your child’s locker is closer to a certain classroom. Sharing a locker can create conflicts among kids. It can also lead to confusion about who owns what.
How to help: If you know your child will have trouble sharing a locker, connect with the school. They may be able to get your child a smaller locker that doesn’t need to be shared, or find another solution.
If your child has to share it, use role-play to practice talking to a locker mate. The kids will need to hash out how to split up the space and whether any supplies in the locker can be shared.
Challenge #5: Arguments or too much socializing around lockers.
A lot of socializing happens around lockers. This can lead to kids being late for class. Also, since there’s less supervision in the hallway, lockers can also be a place where kids argue or get into conflicts.
How to help: Encourage your child to get all locker tasks done before talking with friends. If your child has a cell phone, suggest setting an alarm to know when it’s time to leave for class. Practice how to politely leave a conversation.
Role-play how to manage conflicts that might keep your child from getting to the locker. And talk about what to do or say if kids are bothering your child, and how to ask teachers or counselors for help.
Challenge #6: Having a messy, disorganized locker.
One of the biggest locker challenges for kids is keeping it neat. If your child’s locker is disorganized, it’s hard to find what’s needed for the next class.
How to help: Remind your child that having a neat locker leaves more time to get to class. Then agree on locker organization solutions. Here are some options:
- Shelves: Ask the school for the locker’s dimensions. Office supply stores have many stacking shelves and organizers that fit most standard lockers.
- Color-coding: Assign each class a color and then match it to a binder, notebook, and textbook cover. (For example, use orange for math, green for science, and so on.) Organize these items so they’re easy to grab.
- Binders and folders: Instead of shoving loose papers into a locker where they’ll get lost, encourage your child to use binders or folders. Ask what your child prefers. Kids are more likely to use a system if they help come up with it.
- Weekly locker cleanup: Make sure your child cleans out the locker once a week on the same day—like every Friday. Your child can take home any extra clothing or old papers to file at home. Schedule a more thorough clean-out a few times a year, too, like before winter and spring break.
Inspire your child by looking at fun locker ideas on sites like Pinterest. Your child might like to decorate the locker, too. Suggest a photo of something positive, or an inspiring phrase or quote. But make sure to follow school rules on locker decorations, and talk with your child about why some images or phrases may be off-limits.
Challenge #7: Handling locker emergencies.
Sometimes, an emergency will derail even the best locker plans. Your child’s lock might break, or there may be a bullying situation.
How to help: Help your child develop a plan for what to do if there’s a locker emergency. Use role-play to practice how to ask a teacher, counselor, or custodian for help.
Keep in mind that some kids who can’t open a lock decide to lug all their stuff around all day, all year long, without saying anything. Check in with your child from time to time to see how it’s going.
As you help your child work through locker challenges, keep in mind that it’s not your locker. It’s your child’s locker. Managing a locker well can help your child take a big step toward independence. So let your child decide on locker rules and organization. The more kids feel a sense of ownership, the more likely they will get to class with the gear they need.
Practice opening a lock at home to prepare your child for the hustle and bustle of the hallway.
Come up with a backup plan for emergencies, like when a lock breaks or won’t open.
Managing a locker can be a big step toward independence for kids.