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Should you buy a preschool backpack? Here's all the info and 7 right

Jun 24, 2024

Do preschoolers need backpacks? Parents and preschool teachers provide insight, as well as shopping tips and packing advice for school.

Sending a little one off to preschool can be emotional and challenging, but having a properly packed preschool backpack can help make it a smooth transition. Even though preschool is a time for play-learning rather than traditional academic schooling, backpacks are often recommended for transporting necessary items to and from preschool.

Liesl Schuh of San Antonio, Texas, has three daughters, including a 5-year-old who just finished preschool and a 2-year-old about to begin preschool. “My preschooler uses a backpack and has used one since beginning pre-K,” says Schuh. “I’ve been very happy using them for the last few years,” she says.

And beyond being a simple vessel for carrying stuff, a backpack can help in child development too, says Amanda Vierheller, co-founder and teacher at Playgarden Prep preschool in New York City. “Using backpacks to carry their own things to and from school helps encourage students to build independence and responsibility,” says Vierheller.

So how do you pick the perfect preschool backpack? And what does a well-packed backpack look like for a preschooler? I’ll tell you what I’ve learned working in the preschool classroom, and I also asked parents and preschool teachers to provide tips and advice for this ultimate guide to buying and packing a preschool backpack.

Before you start shopping or packing up your child’s bag, it’s important to communicate with the preschool director and teachers and ask if the children should bring a backpack. Most preschools will have clear recommendations and can tell you what should be included (and not included) in your child’s backpack.

A preschool backpack is like a regular school backpack for kids, but made smaller for younger kids. Retailers often label them with preschool, mini or junior sizing.

Preschool backpacks allow children to carry their belongings to and from school, including necessary items like extra clothes, lunchboxes and school communications.

Karissa Whitman, mom of two preschoolers in Southern California, says, “Both of my little ones were required to bring a backpack to school so that their teachers can send home any important notices, progress reports and for bringing home their artwork.”

Yes! Many preschool-age kids won’t have this skill down just yet. It may take some practice, but your preschooler should be able to open and close their backpack. Practicing using a zipper will also help them with their fine motor skills, according to Vierheller.

The National Safety Council says that a child’s backpack should “not be wider than your child’s torso or hang more than four inches below the waist.” Most backpacks labeled “preschool” will fall into the right size range, which is typically not larger than 16 inches.

Of course, all preschoolers are different sizes, so make sure to have your child try the bag on before you buy. A preschool backpack should be small enough for the child to comfortably carry on their own while still large enough to fit everything they need. I’ve also seen preschoolers struggle with stuffing their backpacks into narrow preschool cubbies, which makes it difficult to access, so keep that space in mind too.

Preschool backpacks can be very cute, but don’t bypass good quality.

“Backpacks for preschoolers should be extremely durable,” says Vierheller, “as little ones tend to drop, drag and use them in a variety of ways.”

Schuh adds that she looks for backpacks that are “easy to clean or machine washable.”

Think easy-access water bottle side pockets! “Water bottles are more visible in outside pockets,” says Vierheller, “and can serve as a visual reminder to drink and stay hydrated.”

You can use a preschool backpack for many other purposes, like as an overnight or vacation bag. Many of the preschoolers I’ve worked with have had multipurpose backpacks they also wear hiking or camping with their families.

Lead by example and help kids set up a daily routine.

“I go through my child’s backpack every day after school,” says Schuh. “Homework needs to be taken out, supplies need to be replaced and lunch needs to be made for the next day,” she says.

Try to include your preschooler in this process and encourage them to help out with packing and unpacking, as well as putting their empty lunchbox in the kitchen or their nap blanket in the laundry at the end of the week.

Again, be sure to follow directions from your child’s preschool, but here’s a list of items experts and parents recommend (and I commonly find useful in the classroom) for a preschool backpack packing list.

Unless specified by your preschool, no. Preschools usually have everything the children will need, including school supplies. “Unless a teacher asks you to pack a specific item, you probably don’t need it,” says Whitman. Schuh says she packs the “school-provided daily folder” in her child’s backpack.

Preschools will most likely require that all medical items be given directly to teachers for safety reasons. “Medication should not be packed in a child’s backpack but given to the teacher with specific instructions on use and administration,” says Vierheller. Preschool classrooms should have a designated safe storage space for medical items that is out of reach of children but accessible to adults in an emergency.

With all of these details in mind, the best preschool backpacks are simple and easy to access. Here are some cute and functional backpack options for your little one!

This 16-inch backpack is the perfect size for a preschooler. It has two small pockets in front and a water bottle holder on each side for easy storage. It comes in five different styles, and each one includes a small fidget toy attached to the front pocket.

Where to buy: Cat & Jack Backpack With Double Front Pocket ($20, Target)

The North Face is known for outdoor gear, so this backpack is not only cute but durable. This backpack is almost 12 inches in height, perfect for a preschool classroom and could double as a travel or hiking bag as well.

Where to buy: Mini Explorer Backpack ($39, The North Face)

A familiar face like Thomas the Tank Engine might make the child feel more connected to their backpack and excited to use it. This 10-inch backpack has all the elements of a great preschool backpack, plus Thomas!

Where to buy: Thomas The Train Fast Friends Mini Backpack ($15, Walmart)

LL Bean is another outdoor brand known for its durability, and this junior backpack is no different. It comes in several different patterns, including an adorable teal and purple butterfly pattern.

Where to buy: Junior Original Book Pack ($35, LL Bean)

This space-themed, 17-inch backpack is designed with extra long straps to fit around the back of a wheelchair. It also comes with water bottle pockets and a cute plush planet toy attached to the front pocket.

Where to buy: Cat & Jack Adaptive Backpack Navy Space ($20, Target)

A classic design with a gorgeous floral print (or two other fun designs), this 16 1/4-inch backpack is adorable and functional. The zippers are reflective, which helps keep kids safe when going to and from school.

Where to buy: Print Backpack ($54, Hanna Andersson)

This 13 1/2-inch backpack comes in black and green or pink and blue color combinations, and features a small front pocket and two side water bottle holders. In addition to the side pockets, there’s a water bottle pouch on the front with a drawstring closure, which is great for traveling because the water bottle won’t be able to fall out of it.

Where to buy: Twise Tots All-Set Backpack ($40, Target)

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