I have some pretty strong opinions about theme days. More often than not, they are a burden on families (don’t get me started on last year’s Twin Day debacle with my first grader). And at their worst, they’re highly exclusionary. But I’m not a total Grinch (all evidence to the contrary). When chosen with care and forethought, theme days can be a great way to build school spirit and community. And that’s exactly what “Anything but a Backpack Day” does! Read on to find out more about this fun and easy theme day.

How did “Anything but a Backpack” get started?

“Anything but a Backpack” actually got started as a proposed solution to a serious problem. In September 2021, Jefferson School District 251 in Idaho banned backpacks after a gun was found in a 13-year-old middle school student’s backpack (it was the second gun-related incident at the school in the same year). Following the ban, students staged a tongue-in-cheek protest by bringing their books and materials in shopping carts, strollers, and ice chests. Superintendent Chad Martin took it in stride that “it was good to see the kids turning it into a positive thing.” The TikTok video went viral, and the hashtag #anythingbutabackpack was born.

Since then, schools like Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, Connecticut, have jumped on the “Anything but a Backpack” bandwagon, turning it into a school spirit day to the delight of their students.

Image source: @nonnewaug_high_school

How can it work in my school?

Got a spirit week coming up? Simply designate one day Anything but a Backpack Day. You may need to set some parameters. Obviously, students need to make safe choices, and size may be an issue (“as long as you can carry/push/pull it and get it through the door” are good expectations to set). But the best part of this is that students get to decide, and truly, anyone can do it. Let their creativity lead the way!

Isn’t it kind of a distraction?

In a word, yes. But I personally think it’s worth it for the payoff of building that sense of belonging and community in your school. And it’s not like the whole day has to be a wash. Granted, you probably don’t want to schedule a big test on “Anything but a Backpack” day, but you should still be able to get some solid instruction time in. In elementary school, you may want to designate a certain part of your classroom to store the various receptacles. For middle and high school, it might be a good idea to make passing periods a little longer, just for the day.

What are some fun backpack alternatives?

Here are some of the best we’ve seen:

  • Laundry hamper
  • Little red wagon
  • Microwave or toaster oven
  • Easter basket
  • Dresser drawer
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Football helmet
  • Life raft

How can teachers get involved?

I don’t know about you, but I think staff participation can really up the fun factor here. Why not swap our your briefcase, laptop bag, or teacher tote for something a little more fun for a day? Bring your computer, graded papers, and keys to school in a pet carrier, roasting pan, or shoebox. Why should the kids have all the fun? Now pardon me while I go fashion a bindle.

For more classroom ideas like this, subscribe to our newsletters!