Your Day Care Backpack

What your child should bring to day care.

children wearing backpacks

Transitioning from having your little one at home to packing him or her up for day care is hard enough without worrying about forgetting to pack something essential. Most day cares provide guidance about what to bring and what to leave, but it never hurts to be the parent who double checks.

No matter what you pack, says former day care teacher Karen Chapman, label it clearly because your child will misplace it and it's hard for day care providers to keep track of it all.

"Label everything from underwear to diaper cream, as well as sheets, blankets and stuffed animals. So many kids bring the same items, making these hard to keep track of," says Chapman. "For bottles and sippy cups, I've seen parents go online to buy stretchy bands that list your child's name and other information like allergy warnings. Other parents have marked items with their kids' initials using colored nail polish sealed with a clear coat of polish. In my experience, permanent marker does wear off despite its name."

These are the must-haves and no-nos when stuffing your baby's backpack.

What to Pack

  1. Two changes of clothes and sealable bags: No matter what the age, every little one should come prepared with spare clothes, seasonal wear, bibs, under wear and burp cloths. Accidents and spit-ups happen, so don't leave your precious cargo without backup. Be uber-prepared by including plastic bags with a seal for those soiled clothes, especially during potty training.
  2. Diapers: If your kids are still in diapers, be sure you send enough diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream to cover a change every two hours. Depending on your day care's policies, you may be able to leave a full week's worth in the classroom, but always arm your kids' backpacks with emergency coverage.
  3. Food: What to bring depends on the age and needs of each child said Bonnie Lamenti, a nanny and former head teacher at several daycare centers. Pack enough formula, breastmilk and/or baby food, plus a little extra just in case, to get your baby through the day. Include sippy cups and baby/finger foods for older little ones.
  4. Comfort items: Whether it's medicine for teething, allergies or pain/fever, be sure your childcare provider has it and knows how to use it. Pack that blankie, pacifier, teether and/or stuffed animal with the typically required crib sheet and blanket for nap time to ensure your little one isn't stressed when it's time to wind down. "Now that (my son) is in a biting phase, his bag also includes a few soft teethers just in case," said Deborah Wren, who recently enrolled her 1-year-old in a day care center in Huntington, New York. "I see some other kids with big bags and I wonder what they keep in there."
  5. Weather-appropriate clothing and protection: For babies, this includes swaddling blankets. Older little ones will need sunblock, swimsuits if your facility offers water play and jackets for colder weather. "I always include an extra layer like a hoodie or sweater, healthy snacks and a blanket from home for his nap," said Wren.

You know everything your little one needs for day care, but it's always tempting to throw in a few extras. Day care professionals discourage additional items. You may believe they are harmless, but little extras can cause big problems for caregivers and other kids.

What Not to Pack

  1. Toys: "It's too hard to keep track of toys brought from home, and many kids at this age don't know how to share...It causes lots of tears, so it's better to leave these at home," says Chapman. "If children need their loveys to sleep with, these items can stay in backpacks until nap time." One very specific type of toy should stay out of day care, however, as they send a message most parents aren't comfortable with. "I never allow play guns, water guns included," she says.
  2. Junk food behind: "The other kids get really upset when they see a kid with a cupcake, cookie, etc. and cannot have one for themselves," says Chapman. "They often cry. Either try to bring these special snacks for everyone or send in healthy snacks so others don't get upset."
  3. Fancy clothes: "Leave plastic and dress up shoes at home," says Chapman. "Please let kids wear shoes they can run and play in. Save dressy clothes for church as kids in daycare can get really messy."
  4. Medication: Though not a leave-at-home item, it's important that no medications or vitamins are left in lunch bags or backpacks. "Other kids may get a hold of them," says Chapman. "Please label all medications and give directly to the teacher."
  5. Sharp objects: Parents know kids shouldn't bring sharp objects to daycare, but sometimes children still slip them into their bags. Lamenti suggests talking to your kids about the dangers of sharp objects such as scissors and craft-kit tools.

Maria Adcock is a proud first-time mom and a freelance writer in Long Island, NY. She has worked for publications such as InStyle, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, Cooking Light and Health. Her work can be found here.

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