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Another way to refer to backpack awareness is backpack "bewareness!" As a teacher and parent who checked kids' backpacks periodically, I still cringe when I think of some of the items I found. To parents of elementary, school-aged children, here is a little advice from a teacher: Check and clean out your child’s backpack weekly. All the papers your child completed for the week are in there. If you do not check their backpack for several weeks (or months), the teacher will know it. I have seen papers from the beginning of the school year still in backpacks in December! This is a great opportunity to spend time reviewing the week’s work and talking about it with your child. You can keep up with the areas in which your child may be struggling and interventions that the teacher is implementing. Do not hesitate to send a note to the teacher requesting a phone call or conference to discuss areas where you have a concern. You can also learn which subjects in which your child excels, as well as those he/she enjoys or does not enjoy. Backpack checks are an excellent “information gathering” session.
Oh, the mysteries I have seen in backpacks. I was always very careful before I stuck my hand into the dark unknown. I've pulled out molded sandwiches, melted candy, dead frogs, insects, and, yes, papers from the beginning of the school year. You can imagine how crumpled the papers were after being in the backpack for several weeks. Several papers housed in a backpack for an extended amount of time will definitely produce a very messy backpack where nothing can be found. I tend to support the idea of transparent backpacks. Some districts mandate “mesh” backpacks so the contents are easily visible.
For parents of older students, I suggest having a weekly “backpack check.” You can set one, specific night of the week to go through your child’s backpack. This is an activity you can do together. Have him/her take everything out, and you look at it. There will probably be papers, notes, etc. in there that you may not have seen. This is the perfect time for you and your child to discuss what is going on at school and his/her perspective of how he/she is doing in all of the classes. When you, the parent, take time to schedule a weekly "backpack check," it accomplishes a couple of things:
1. It's a great opportunity for you to stress and model organizational skills. Develop a checklist for necessary materials that should always be in the backpack. For example, sharpened pencils, pens, paper, homework folder, assignment notebook, calendar with due dates for assignments and more. Here, the goal of having a clean, organized backpack is achieved.
2. It provides you the opportunity to spend quality time discussing a very important topic - school. This also sends the message to your child that education is important to you.
3. It establishes high expectations for your child. During the discussions about your child’s week at school, you'll be able to stress your expectations for achievement. I don’t necessarily mean only academic achievement. If your child has an IEP, then the successful completion of goals/objectives are critical to success. If you and your child discuss this weekly during "backpack check," your child will not only know what is expected, but he/she will also strive to meet those expectations. I am a very strong advocate of always including the child, no matter how old, in discussions that revolve around goals and objectives on the IEP. The child needs to know the skills he/she will be focusing on and why. It gives him/her ownership and responsibility in progress.
On a side note, I solicited input from my readers regarding experiences they have had regarding backpacks. One mom had an interesting concern. Because her middle-school-aged daughter had homework in every class each night, she would have to bring all her books home… in her backpack. Her daughter weighs 100 pounds and her backpack weighs 60 pounds. She wondered if that could be harmful to her daughter’s back. I would certainly think so! That is ridiculous! Don’t you agree?
A well-organized, properly stocked backpack is critical for your child’s daily success in school. If it's well-organized and complete with needed materials, then your child is going to be fully prepared to have a successful, stress-free day, and you will be abreast of exactly what your child is achieving as well as any areas of concern – academically or socially.
Remember, "backpack check" is quality time with your child and a prime opportunity to stay abreast of your child’s perspective of how things are going at school. If your child has communication or physical challenges, it's crucial for you to make sure he/she is sharing everything about their day, such as interactions with other students, teachers and staff.