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Preschool and Kindergarten Backpack Essentials

Putting together the perfect set of school supplies for kids can be tough, but these backpack essentials for school are exactly what your child needs at each stage of his or her development.

Mackenzie Navy/Turquoise Kitty Hearts Backpack

Half-day preschool and kindergarten kids have different needs than elementary-aged kids, and typically, they need smaller backpacks. Sometimes a kid tote is a good choice, but regardless of what you pick, your child still needs room for the basics, including:

  • A full change of clothes
  • A water bottle or drinking cup
  • A sweatshirt or sweater for chilly classrooms
  • Winter gear, depending on location
  • Take-home projects
  • Art supplies, like crayons, colored pencils and glue

Elementary School Backpack Essentials

Between first and fifth grades, kids are responsible for toting all kinds of things between home and school: big projects, homework, lunches, snacks and weather-specific clothing. Kids attending elementary school generally need bigger backpacks than their younger counterparts do so there's space for:

  • Composition books
  • Take-home folders
  • Homework and textbooks
  • Writing and art supplies
  • Projects
  • Lunch bags and water bottles
  • Changes of clothes for younger children

Middle School Backpack Essentials

Kids in middle school or junior high have to make room in their backpacks for most of the same things elementary-aged children do, but because kids in this age group go through such rapid growth spurts, it's a good idea to make sure you focus on adjustable straps and plenty of pockets. Usually, the amount of homework that makes its way into a middle-schooler's backpack is a lot larger than what comes home in elementary school, and you may need extra room for food storage and other essentials, like:

  • Sports gear and after-school clothes
  • Binders
  • Laptops and tablets
  • Extra notebooks

Mackenzie Pink & Navy Puppy Pencil Case

What to Look for in a Backpack for School

When you're choosing your child's backpack, one of the most important factors is whether he or she likes the print, pattern or style. Some of the most popular backpacks come with personalized monograms and matching lunchboxes so kids can be perfectly coordinated in the classroom and beyond.

It's also important to shop backpacks by size. Typically, kids' backpacks are available in a range of sizes, including extra small Pre-K backpacks, as well as small, medium and large. Depending on how far your child will need to tote his or her bookbag and whether it will double as kids' luggage, you may need to pick one with larger interior compartments than your child needs for school supplies. Remember, though, that most backpacks with designated sizes are geared toward children of a certain age, so you have to ensure that the straps are a proper fit. Most kids' backpacks are adjustable, which means you have a little leeway when you're choosing the right piece for your child.

You can find backpacks with carrying straps and rollers, which are often good when you need a carrier that pulls double duty. Backpacks with rollers and straps are easier to take on trips - and they're easier to transport when your child has an extra-heavy load of homework or gear to haul between home and school.

Other features to look for in a kids' backpack:

  • High-denier fabrics that can stand up to rough use
  • Sturdy zippers that won't break over time
  • Easy-to-clean fabrics (polyester is usually best) for spills and other mishaps
  • Ample pockets
  • A mesh area where kids can stash gear that needs to "breathe"

How to Fit a Child's Backpack

Most backpacks are equipped with shoulder straps and a sternum strap, so if you're fitting your child for a backpack, here's how you can make sure it's just right for everyday use. First, make sure the shoulder straps are adequately padded (even if your child isn't going to carry heavy books or other items inside). Kids will reject backpacks that aren't comfortable.

Shoulder straps should fit closely and be able to hold your child's backpack up against his or her back. This keeps the load forward so that your child's shoulders aren't actually carrying all the weight; his or her back muscles will pitch in to share the load. You can adjust shoulder straps by pulling down and back on the ends to tighten, or by wiggling the clip that folds the strap over itself to loosen.

Sternum straps should be snug against the chest, but they need frequent adjustment based on what your child is wearing. They're designed to provide freedom of movement for the arms and to distribute the weight evenly between the shoulder straps, so some children prefer backpacks sternum straps that adjust on both sides.

Whatever your child’s needs, Pottery Barn Kids has backpacks in a range of styles and colors that any child will love!

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