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School is underway.  Mentally exhausted kids with tons of pent up energy enter their homes in the afternoon and toss their backpacks just about anywhere.  They head to the kitchen for a snack and then off for some much needed downtime, whether that is jumping on the trampoline in the backyard, riding their bike down the street or sitting in front of a screen to play video games.  The last thing on their minds is that backpack, let alone organizing it.

Let’s set kids up for success this year and help them to keep their backpacks organized for ease of access to important school work.  At the same time, we can also ensure that their backpacks are not too heavy but just heavy enough to offer much needed proprioceptive input.

Organize the Backpack

Backpacks have already been purchased for the school year so you will have to work with what you have.

If you have a bag with multiple compartments, you are on your way toward organizational success.  Set up a system that works best for your child.  It may take some trial and error to determine what works best.  To get you started thinking in an organized fashion, consider using the front compartment for lunch money and a snack.  The side pocket can be used for a water bottle.  The inside pocket can be used for the homework folder and notebooks.

Color Dividers

If you have a big bag with a single large pocket, you may wish to consider adding colored dividers.

For middle-schoolers with multiple teachers and subjects, consider creating sections with laminated color coded construction paper. Don’t have a laminator?  No worries, pick up clear contact paper and cut 2 pieces about 1/4 inch bigger than the construction paper.  Apply the sticky side to the construction paper.  The edges will stick together.

Add Accessories

An attractive pencil case is a great place to put pens and pencils rather than having them scattered all over the bottom of the backpack.

Daily planning is important to record the homework assignments.  Decorate the assignment book with your child to highlight all their favorite things.

Use the zippers and a harbinger to hang your child’s favorite characters.  To foster even more organization, consider hanging a laminated “to pack list” to remind the forgetful child what needs to go into the backpack.

Location is Key

Ok, so we are not talking about a vacation or real estate here, but location is still key when it comes to getting into a good habit of storing the backpack in the same spot every day after school.  If there is a home for the backpack, there is not mass chaos in the morning trying to locate where it was last left.

Consider hanging some hooks by the door or where ever they hang up their coats.  If you have more than one child, label each of the hooks by placing a small chalkboard above each hook and write your children’s names on the hooks.  We love the image above that perfectly demonstrates this organizational concept!

Next to the hook, hang a list of essentials needed inside the backpack.  Children can look at this list and check it off before they head out the door for the day.

Morning & Afternoon Routine

Consider establishing a packing up morning routine and an afternoon unpacking routine with your child.  Work with them to load and unload the backpacks together to ensure they have everything they need.  Start having them do pieces of the packing and unpacking independently adding on more responsibility as you move through the weeks and months.


Go Visual  

Get your hands on some colorful sticky notes and place the labeled notes where you want the children to place said object.  For example, place a sticky note labeled “homework” at the location where they do their homework.  Take another sticky note labeled “lunch box” and place that where ever you want your child to place the lunch box.

Mom or Dad, if you have a file box or a special place on the kitchen counter, place a labeled sticky notes that reads “school notes” in this location for your child to place all the notes and work from school that you need to review, sign etc.

Clear it Out

Backpacks can turn into a nasty mess of smushed snacks, leaky juice boxes and lost homework that was not turned in.  Avoid this potential disaster by clearing out the backpack once a week.  Every Friday or another day of your choosing, have your child empty out their backpack.  Toss whatever is no longer needed into the trash.  Sit with your child while he or she empties out the backpack and serve as their guide.

For some kids this process may take longer than others.  Keep in mind, these steps will become part of a weekly routine and these organizational skills will become automatic.

Some Backpacks are Way Too Heavy

Each year in September, The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) designates one day for National Backpack Awareness.  The concern is that backpacks that are too heavy are causing falls and spinal damage.  A backpack should not be any more than 10% of your child’s weight.  Remember above, we mentioned to use all those pockets for organization?  Well, all those pockets also help to distribute weight more evenly.  Learn what should go where in AOTA’s 1 , 2, 3’s of Basic Backpack Wearing.

The Facts

In one study, 64% of the students reported back pain as a result of heavy backpacks.  In another study, 55% of students were discovered to have been carrying backpacks heavier than the recommendations.  Discover more facts in Backpack Facts: What’s All the Flap About?

If you are noticing that your child’s backpack is way too heavy, explore Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students, by the AOTA.

Go Sensory!

Many occupational therapists will recommend that a child wears a backpack filled with a back of rice.  They will also advise that this bag of rice does not exceed 10% of the child’s body weight.  This added weight offers the child proprioceptive sensory input that is calming to the nervous system and thus helps to regulate a child’s system.

For children who have long bus rides home after school, consider using some of those extra pockets in the backpack for a variety of sensory tools.  Explore ideas from fidgets to snacks in A Sensory Toolkit in Your Purse (or in this case, backpack).  If you are looking for fidget ideas, look no further than Fidgets 101.

A Social Backpack

“There are so many social situations, nuances, and things we as parents and professionals can’t understand that our kids stress about until there is a huge meltdown. So we need to fill the “social backpacks” of our kids with tools and strategies they can use when faced with social worries, glitches, and roadblocks.”

Explore some “eye-opening and “real” statements made and some suggestions for parents (and educators) to think about.”

Discover how to pack a social backpack for your child in Don’t Forget to Pack as Social Backpack.

Whether you are looking to get more organized, prevent injuries, add to your child’s sensory diet, or increase social skills, there was something for everyone in this article to honor this year’s National Backpack Awareness Day.

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Using her background in health care administration, education and marketing, Tiffani created Special-Ism, an educational resource for parents, teachers, and clinicians of children with various isms. Currently, Tiffani serves as the Editorial Director at Special-Ism, focusing on solutions to the isms for all children at home, in the classroom and community.