Your child’s backpack is an important link between home and school. But if your child has organization issues, she may have trouble keeping it in order. Over time, her backpack can become a mess of junk and crumpled papers. If she can’t find what she needs in there, the link breaks down.
The good news is that you can help your child get her backpack under control and keep it that way. Here are eight ways to organize your child’s backpack.
Watch this video for a demonstration of these organization techniques in action.
1. Find a backpack that matches your child’s needs.
Organizing your child’s backpack begins with finding one that’s right for your child. Young children, especially those with motor skills issues, may have a hard time handling 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 Velcro and fewer pockets.
2. Start with an empty backpack.
If your child has a brand-new backpack, you’re ready to organize. If you’re starting with a backpack you already have, empty it out and start from scratch.
Have your child sort everything that was in the backpack into three piles: one for school supplies, one for papers and notebooks and one for stuff she has to take back and forth, like mittens or a lunch box. Everything else gets put away at home or goes into the trash. Don’t forget to shake the backpack over a trashcan to get out all the crumbs and crumpled-up paper.
3. Sort and group school supplies.
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. One big compartment can be for books and another for notebooks and folders. Choose a smaller pocket for writing tools. You may also need a compartment for things that change from day to day, such as gym clothes.
4. Map out the backpack.
Once everything has a place, help your child draw a picture of the backpack, labeling it with what goes where. This backpack “map” reminds her 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. Have your child practice using the map. Ask her to empty her backpack and then put everything back in its place.
5. Use a luggage tag checklist.
Invest in an inexpensive clear luggage tag. Remove the address label. Then print out and follow the directions on our free luggage tag checklist.
If you don’t use our backpack checklist, you can create your own. 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.
6. Make a school-to-home-to-school folder.
Give your child a folder for 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.
7. Ask for extra textbooks to keep at home.
One big cause of backpack mess is carrying textbooks. 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, you can ask the team to make that one of the necessary accommodations. Stress that having extra books makes it easier for your child to stay organized and remember to do her homework.
8. Schedule a regular time to do a backpack check-in.
To prevent your child’s backpack from getting disorganized, set aside a regular time for backpack check-ins. Depending on your child’s challenges, you could do this task together every Sunday night, every two weeks, or monthly. This is a good time to get rid of all that crumb and tissue buildup.
Keep in mind that your child may need a lot of practice before she can consistently keep her backpack in order. Make sure to talk to her about the different ways to stay organized. And give her lots of opportunities to practice these techniques.