8 Tips for Organizing Your Child’s Backpack

By Amanda Morin
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Your child’s backpack is an important link between home and school. But if your child has trouble with organization, keeping it neat can be a challenge. Over time, a backpack can become a mess of junk and crumpled papers. If kids can’t find what they need in there, the link breaks down.

Families can help kids get their backpacks under control. Here are eight ways to organize your child’s backpack. You can also watch this video to see these organization techniques in action.

1. Find a backpack that matches your child’s needs.

Organizing your child’s backpack begins with finding the right one. Young kids, especially if they struggle with motor skills, can have a hard time handling a large backpack unless it has wheels. Some schools don’t allow backpacks on wheels. If your child needs one, be sure to clear it with the school.

Make sure the backpack you choose is sturdy and has multiple compartments and zipper pockets. If your child gets frustrated looking for things or has a hard time with zippers, 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. But 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 two piles. One is for school supplies, like pens, pencils, notebooks, and papers. The other is for miscellaneous items that need to go back and forth from school, like gym clothes or a lunchbox. Everything else gets put away at home or goes into the trash. (Don’t forget to shake the backpack over a trash can to get out all the crumbs and crumpled-up paper.)

3. Sort and group school supplies.

Help your child sort school supplies into clear categories. For example, 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, like 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. A backpack “map” will remind your child where things go once homework is finished, or when packing up for the next day. Have your child practice using the map by emptying out the backpack and then putting everything back in its place.

Keep a copy of the map in the main front pocket of the backpack, plus another one at home.

5. Use a luggage tag checklist.

Use a clear luggage tag to keep track of stuff. Remove the address label. Then print out and follow the directions on our 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 show your child how 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 teacher 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 sign the forms that need to go back. Take out anything that doesn’t need to go back. Then have your child put the folder back 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 having extra textbooks an accommodation. Stress that having extra books makes it easier for your child to stay organized and remember to do homework.)

8. Schedule a regular time to do a backpack check-in.

Getting organized is one thing. Staying organized is another. To keep your child’s backpack from getting disorganized, set aside time for backpack check-ins. This is a good time to get rid of all that crumb and tissue buildup. You can do this together every Sunday night, every two weeks, or monthly.

Keep in mind that kids may need a lot of practice before they can consistently keep their backpacks in order. Talk to your child about the different ways to stay organized. And give lots of opportunities to practice these techniques.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD 

is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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