No Backpack Allowed: Rethinking School Supplies for Middle School

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School supplies for middle schoolers

UPDATE: We’ve been using this binder for 2 years and it’s worked out perfectly. It’s held up for 2 years and we’re replacing it with the exact same one.

I am now the mother of a middle school student.

know. Can you believe she’s in sixth grade now? I can’t either, but here we are.

Middle school a milestone because it means my oldest is growing up. It also means that her class structure has changed. Instead of spending most of her days in one or two classrooms, she will rotate through a series of classes each day. She’ll have to work harder to keep track of her assignments and manage her time even better.

The other big change: she’s not allowed to carry a backpack in school. Students can bring a backpack to school, but they must leave it in their lockers during the day. They can only carry their binder to classes. My daughter keeps everything in her backpack: an extra book to read, sketchbook, pencil colors, her lunch box, and random bits she’s collected throughout the school year.

As a parent, it’s hard not to worry how she will manage all her papers and things without out her backpack. Luckily, I have friends whose children are currently in middle school. They assuage my worries and gave some tips.

Case-it Mighty Zip Tab O-Ring Binder close-up

Tip #1:  purchase a high quality 3-ring binder. My daughter uses a Case-it Mighty Zip Tab O-Ring 3-inch binder that will work perfectly. If you remember Trapper Keepers from our school days, this is the souped-up version of a Trapper Keeper–without the velcro giving you away every time you open it. This binder is so big, it can function as her backpack (except for holding her lunchbox). The binder has a shoulder strap and a hand strap to make it easy to carry. It’s sturdy and will survive traveling from bus to school and back again.

Inside the Case-it Zip Binder

Inside is where the magic happens. The 3-inch binder on the right is big enough to hold her papers for all her classes. The left side contains a zippered pencil pouch for small things. There’s also a mini-accordion file where she can organized papers and worksheets. The accordion can be easily accessed with a separate zipper so there’s no need to unzip the entire thing.

Dude, I kind of want one of these. It’s a portable office! Maybe I should get a second one as back up. You know, just in case.

Tip #2: don’t stress about feminine products. This is the time where many girls will start their periods. When I was in middle school, I kept my “girl things” in a small purse. While I don’t agree with the school’s rule against small purses, we still have to abide by it. (For now). I’ve been told by another middle school girl that she tucks her items inside her binder. So binders will plenty of pockets that can be discreetly opened and closed will make it easier for middle school girls to grab their feminine products during bathroom breaks.

Note: this is definitely a case of mom worrying more than our daughters. This isn’t as big of a deal for them.

School supplies for middle schoolers

Tip #3: give them the tools and space during homework time. My daughter is easily distracted while she’s doing homework. Especially when her brother is hovering. Consider picking up a set of noise cancelling headphones to help your student concentrate on their homework. The headphones can be used to help block out noise or plugged into a computer or laptop for listening to homework media. They’re worth the investment since so much of students’ work is online these days.

I know these headphones will get a lot of use since my daughter prefers to do her homework at the dining table. (I like having her in the next room while I cook dinner. )

Middle school supplies

Tip #4: let your middle school student pick out their school supplies. Most school supply lists are pretty rigid on the type and brand teachers want. However, allowing your student to pick out the color of their binders, highlighters, and pens will make them more excited about shopping for supplies. My middle schooler is very excited about her Frixion erasable pens. If you don’t want to drag the kids to the store, send them to and let them choose their supplies.

We still have a few more weeks before school starts. I’m trying to be a chill parent and not worry about the big changes for my daughter. I’m glad that the one thing I don’t have to worry about is school supplies. No backpack means less things to purchase and less for my daughter to juggle during school. Can’t beat the minimalism!

Does your middle school have a no backpack policy? How did you adapt?


  1. Jane August 17, 2017 Reply
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  2. Here’s Johnny! August 15, 2019 Reply
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