By Amanda Morin
A grade-schooler’s backpack is a link between home and school. If your child can’t find what he needs in there, the link breaks down. Help your child get organized—give that backpack an extreme makeover!
Organizing your child’s backpack begins with buying one that’s right for your child. Preschool and grade school children, especially those with
motor movement issues, may have a hard time using a large backpack, unless it has wheels. Some schools don’t allow backpacks on wheels. But if your child’s issues require one, clear it with the school.
Make sure the backpack you choose is sturdy and has multiple compartments and zipper pockets. But if your child gets frustrated looking for things or has a hard time with zippers, don’t go overboard on the compartments. Instead, opt for fewer pockets and a heavy helping of Velcro fasteners.
You might even let your child decorate the bag, maybe with decals and markers. That way, your child will feel more ownership of the backpack and how it’s organized.
If you’re starting with a brand-new backpack, you’re ahead of the game. If not, empty out the backpack and start again from scratch. Have your child sort everything into three piles: one for school supplies, one for papers and notebooks and one for stuff he has to take back and forth: mittens, a lunch bag…. Everything else gets put away at home or goes into the trash.
You may have to help decide what’s trash and what’s not. Don’t forget to shake the backpack over a trashcan to get out all the crumbs and crumpled up tissues.
You may also want to schedule a regular time to do a re-makeover so you can get rid of the crumb and tissue buildup. Depending on your child’s messiness, you could do this chore together every Sunday night, every two weeks, or monthly.
Help your child sort school supplies into clearly defined categories. For instance, put pens, pencils and highlighters together. Match up notebooks with folders and textbooks. Next, assign each category to a compartment or zipper pocket, leaving one available for notes to and from the teacher.
One big compartment can be for books and another for notebooks and folders. If there’s a third large compartment, it can be used to hold the things that change from day to day, such as gym clothes.
Once everything has a place, help your child make a map of the backpack. Essentially, your child is drawing a picture of the backpack and labeling it with what goes where. Empty the backpack and have your child practice organizing it using the map.
The map is a reminder of where things go once homework is finished—or when packing up for the next day. You can keep a copy of the map in the main front pocket of the backpack, plus another one at home where your child keeps the backpack. Eventually, the map may be unnecessary.
Invest in an inexpensive clear luggage tag. Remove the address label. Use a red marker to make a checklist on a piece of paper that will fit in the tag. It should list what your child needs to bring to school in the backpack. Use a blue marker to make a checklist of what needs to come home from school.
Place the papers back to back and put them in the luggage tag. Attach it to the zipper tab of the backpack and teach your child to use the checklists as a guide.
Give your child a folder in which to place all the papers the teachers passes out but doesn’t collect. Remind your child that this folder needs to come home at the end of the day. Check the folder each afternoon and take out anything that doesn’t need to go back.
Sign forms that need to go back and add notes to the teacher, lunch money or anything else that must go to school. Have your child put it in the backpack for the next day.
Speak to the school if your child tends to forget to bring home the right books for homework or study, or if the backpack can’t fit them all. You may be able to have an extra set to keep at home.
If your child has an IEP, ask the team to make that one of the necessary accommodations. Stress that having extra books makes it easier for your child to remember to do long-term projects or homework.
You may notice your teen rushing through homework in high school, a time when social and academic demands go way up. Kids with executive functioning issues and ADHD are especially likely to move too fast on their work. Try these strategies to help your child slow down on assignments.
In middle school, teachers expect your child to be a more independent learner. He’ll have more homework to keep track of, organize and complete. Here’s how to avoid the battles that can come along with it.
Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
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