Backpack Checklist to the Rescue
By Wanda Haskel
Parents of school-age children seem to have as much homework as their kids
these days. Checking assignments, signing permission slips, supervising
projects…the list goes on and on. It’s no wonder the adult in charge of the
backpack occasionally (or, in some cases, often) overlooks an item or two. Add
a grownup’s forgetfulness to a little person’s nature, and you have a recipe
Last year, morning drop-offs at my then second-grader’s Baltimore County
elementary school had become a nightmare. Every day before exiting the car, she
would panic about the contents of her backpack.
“Is everything in there?” she’d fret.” “Is my lunch in there? Did you sign my
fluency? Did you check my math?”
I used to reassure her because what else could I do when we were holding up the
car line? But as I drove away, I would pray that I hadn’t been
lying—which sometimes, it turned out, I was.
Like the Friday the secretary called me because my daughter had forgotten her
gym shoes. Or then there was the day when I forgot to sign the reading log and
my daughter had to endure the penalty of losing some of her recess time.
Talk about mommy guilt! I got tired of running back to school with a water
bottle or library book.
And I got really tired of the
recriminations at pick-up: “You forgot my (insert incredibly important backpack
But most of all I was fed up with the feeling that I was failing at a relatively simple task and, in turn, feeding my
daughter’s shaky nerves.
I had to get better at this. For both
I considered handing complete responsibility for packing the bag over to my
daughter but quickly dismissed the idea. After all, I would still have to write
the checks, initial the homework, make the lunch, etc. I couldn’t see a way to
remove me from the equation.
Then I thought about some of my friends who applied their considerable skills
as lawyers, project managers, and strategic marketers to their parenting. What
would they do? I wondered.
Implement a system. That’s what they would do. These highly organized people
seemed to have a system for everything—from couponing to discipline,
meal-planning to volunteering. It was time to take a hint from my
super-planning pals. It was time for a checklist.
To produce the checklist, appropriately titled, Backpack Checklist, my daughter
and I worked together to write down any and all items that might need to be in
the backpack on any given day. I was amazed by how long it got:
signed reading log
checked math homework
checked spelling homework
signed fluency homework
signed permission slip/payment
note explaining absence/health condition
signed PTA communication envelope
We posted it on the fridge and resolved to use it every school day after
Nonetheless, the first morning was a bust. I breezed through the list, but my 8-year-old wasn’t really
paying attention. So at drop-off, I
felt secure, but she still didn’t.
So, as the cars behind us idled impatiently, she continued her pattern of
anxiety, until I whined, “But we went through the checklist!”
That didn’t help.
The checklist on its own was not the solution. Success, I realized, hinged on
my daughter’s involvement in the process. Neither one of us could do the whole
thing alone. We needed to strike a balance of joint responsibility.
The next day, I had her read off the list, and we packed the bag together. As
we placed each item in her backpack, I put it under her nose and had her
verify: “My reading log is signed; my lunch is in there; you wrote the check
and signed the permission slip.”
Check, check, check—until she had checked off everything on the list.
Then I looked her in the face and said firmly, “Everything’s in there.” And
then I had her say it back to me.
Finally, she believed me. Not only because it was true, but also because she
had been an integral part of making it true.
Our mornings became a lot smoother, which made everyone happier. I no longer
suffered through drop-off. Instead, I was back to enjoying the moment when my
carefree girl skipped enthusiastically toward the double doors. Her bouncing
backpack looked huge in comparison with her slight frame, but I knew her strong
shoulders were carrying her load with confidence.
It’s with that same confidence I look forward to the new school year. BC
© Baltimore’s Child Inc.