“Uh, Ms. P, I never received that paper.”
“That’s funny, Isaac, because I specifically remember giving it to you last class. And the class before. Let’s check your backpack.”
“Good luck,” he replied. Isaac opened his bag and I goggled at the contents. It was a sea of crumpled papers without a notebook or folder in sight. “Sooo, come after school and I will help you organize it,” I responded.
Over the years, I experienced this multiple times. Students with a nightmare of a backpack – papers mixed up in the wrong notebooks (if they had notebooks) with old lunches, gym clothes, and gum wrappers mixed in. How did they get anything done?
Isaac’s untidy bag was a giant, flashing, neon sign that his organizational systems were a) never put in place or b) fell apart. For Isaac (and most kids), it was the former. The papers were all over the place because Isaac never put notebooks together. As the mess grew, he just started throwing everything in the bag. Consequently, he often didn’t have the papers he needed to complete his work and his grades suffered. He rarely turned in homework and his test grades were low. Isaac wanted to be a better student, but he didn’t know where to start.
Can you relate to Isacc’s story? Is your backpack a giant blackhole? Unfortunately, your junky backpack is definitely holding you back in school. Your junky backpack is definitely holding you back in school. Click To Tweet
How can you turn in homework papers if you don’t know where they are? Study for a test when the notes are buried in the wrong notebook? Plan for next week’s assignments when your Gatorade spilled all over your planner and ruined it? Simple – you can’t.
However, you can change your backpack and set yourself up for success!
Empty your bag by dumping it out on the floor. Give it a good shake and make sure it is completely empty. If the bag is washable, throw it in the washing machine.
Create 3 piles – Keep, Give Away, and Throw Out. Go through everything now on the floor and place it in one of the piles. Be ruthless! Field trip form from last semester? Toss it. Five sets of earbuds? Keep 1 for the bag and find new homes for the others. An almost empty English notebook. KEEP IT!
Focus on the Keep pile. Put similar items together. For example, put the your pens and pencils in one pile. Organize all the papers by class.
If you have notebooks set up, place the papers in the correct notebooks. If you don’t have notebooks, check out my post on notebook organization and put them together. Though I provide 2 options, I cannot recommend the “BIG Binder” option enough.
Repack your back, but keep it lean. Less is more here. Do you really need 3 lipsticks and 3 lip balms? No. One of each will suffice. The less you carry in your bag, the easier is it to find the essentials and the more likely your bag will stay organized. The less you carry in your bag, the more likely your bag will stay organized. Click To Tweet.
For Isaac, we spent some serious time emptying his bag and organizing. He filled a small trash can with all the junk in it! Once we created a system for him (including a BIG binder), he was able to keep it going and his grades improved. Yours can, too!
These are the items you need to create and keep an organized backpack:
- The backpack! It needs to have at LEAST 2 different areas, a big pocket for notebooks and another smaller pocket. Many bags today will also have a laptop sleeve. If you’re taking a laptop with you everyday, consider it. But if you’re not taking a laptop, skip the bulk. When I went shopping, I purposely bought the smallest backpack I could find. A smaller bag is easier to keep organized!
- Notebook(s): I’m on Team BIG binder all the way. Either way, you need to have your notebook situation squared away. All those papers you get in school need to go somewhere other than the bottom of the bag.
- Student Planner: This is also a must. You can’t do your homework if you don’t know the assignment. If you use the BIG binder, the planner will be in your notebook itself.
- Lunch bag: I recommend a reusable bag that closes! If your salad dressing explodes, only the lunch bag gets saucy; not your entire backpack.
- Pencil Pouch: You need something (other than your backpack) to corral all those pens and pencils. If you use the BIG binder, your pencil pouch will be inside the binder.
- Cosmetic Bag: To keep female products discreetly hidden or *actual* cosmetics.
- Earbud Case: Most students carry earbuds; keep yours clean and untangled.
- Water bottle: Stay hydrated and be eco-friendly at the same time by using a refillable water bottle. (My last school had filling stations at every water fountain. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!) Stick to water, so if the bottle leaks, nothing gets stained.
Packing the Bag
In the main pocket, keep your notebook(s), lunch bag, planner, and water bottle. Depending on the size of the smaller pocket and your other items, keep your supplies, earbuds, and cosmetic case in the front.
It takes time to keep a notebook organized, especially if your kid’s notebook had gotten to the a-bomb-went-off-inside-it stage. Help your teen clean out his bag, but let him make the decisions about how to set up the new one. Check the bag every few days to make sure it’s not being treated like a trash bag. If it does become junky again, ask your kid why and LISTEN to the answer. Together, brainstorm possible solutions to the problem.
Organize your notebook this week and share a pic on Instagram #lptorganizedbackpack!