Kid's Stuff

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As every parent knows, school-age children go to class burdened with ominously overloaded backpacks. What the heck is in there? Lauren John has the answer.

Recently, as an after school tutor, I was asked to teach Silicon Valley kids how to get organized — managing their work space and getting homework in on time. I thought it would be easy. Kids have laptops and i-Phones. Mom and Dad can text reminders. I confidently arrived at the home of a fifth grade boy. I had stickers and folders. I thought we’d be done in an hour. I was wrong. The boy hauled his backpack onto the dining room table.

I dug in and discovered ... a granola bar stuck to the bell tower of a tiny model of Mission Santa Barbara. Under the mission project, I found five math worksheets, and an unsigned permission slip for last month’s field trip. There was an orange, one sneaker and a copy of the "Adventures of Captain Underpants, Book One," overdue from the public library.

“What's all this?” I croaked.

“Stuff!” he said brightly.


I thought somehow that online education and mobile technology would enable us to have, well, less stuff. Instead, the technology supplements our stuff. Students may be handing in homework online, but they have paper worksheets, too, at the bottom of their backpacks.

Part of the reason why stuff gets lost is that stuff moves, a lot. Many kids do homework at the dining room table and finish up in the car on the way to school. I suggest putting unfinished “stuff” in a plastic shopping bag with handles. Then, the finished stuff can be moved from the basket into the backpack.

Will kids actually do this? Maybe. But here’s what I know for sure. At some point, someone, somewhere — a kid or a parent — is gonna miss a deadline, or forget to sign a form. When that happens, fix it fast or let it go and move on. Yelling and screaming and blaming and reverse engineering over lost stuff wastes valuable time.

Instead, schedule a family meeting to talk about ways to organize your stuff. And then remember to show up.

With a Perspective, I’m Lauren John.

Lauren John teaches English at Menlo College and tutors kids after school.