The Organized Backpack? Yes, it’s Possible!

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Have you looked inside your child’s backpack lately? If your child has ADHD there’s a good chance that it’s pretty messy in there! ADHD can make it hard to stay organized, and messy backpacks often lead to lost homework, missing or crumpled permission slips, and heavy loads that weigh kids down. Try these tips to help your child clean out their backpack and keep it neat all year long.

  • Make a list. Together with your child make a list of things that should be in the backpack. Be very specific. For example, if your child likes to keep library books in their backpack, allow them to carry only one book (two at most) at a time.
  • Have a homework folder. Select one specific folder that is used to bring homework sheets to and from school. Use the left side of the folder for unfinished work, and the right side for completed worksheets. Check the homework folder every day to make sure the “completed” side is empty when your child comes home. Kids with ADHD often forget to turn in completed work!
  • Have a second folder for notes to parents and other papers. Keep permission slips, notes for parents, and papers that don’t belong in the “homework folder” in a second folder. This keeps the backpack from getting cluttered with loose paper.
  • Use a pencil pouch. Keep pencils, pens, and erasers in a pouch. They’ll be easy to find and will be less likely to be lost or broken.
  • Set limits on toys in the backpack. Kids often want to keep non-school related items, like figurines, stuffed animals, or trading cards, in their backpacks. Usually they’ll get into trouble with teachers when they pull these things out in class. So, it’s best to keep them at home. If your child insists on bringing toys to school, set limits. Allow only one item at a time.
  • Do a backpack check every day. To keep the backpack in tiptop shape, you’ll need to do a quick backpack check every day. Give your child lots of praise when they’ve used their checklist and organization plan! If they are backsliding, catch it early. Try not to criticize. Just let them know what is out of place and how to fix it.
  • Clean out the backpack every week. Pick a time once a week when your child will go through the backpack checklist and do a cleanout. Check the backpack once the cleanout is complete, and help them along the way if they need it. Praise their effort! If they meet their checklist goal, consider providing a small reward.

An organized backpack is a great way to start teaching important organization skills that can help kids stay focused and get things done.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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