Teaching kids to pack: a prospective, randomised, uncontrolled trial

Parents of young travellers have concocted a variety of tools to aid in the development of packing skills in their children, as they transition from incapable neonates to mature adults.

In this experiment, we supply two children (a three-year-old female and a six-year-old male, respectively) with two randomly-selected visual packing guides for kids, and observe to determine if there is an effect on their performance.


For the three-year-old, we used Creative With Kid’s pictorial list. The six-year-old used the readable version [pdf] provided by Stuffed Suitcases.



Both child-friendly lists were printed, using a HP Laserjet printer which was very nearly broken and has since been replaced, and two sheets of A4 paper with 70% recycled content.

The lists were edited by crossing out the item “pyjamas”. The six-year-old was taken aside so I could explain that “swimsuit” means “togs” and “flip-flops” means “thongs” but he should actually pack sandals or crocs, at which point I silently vowed to create my own printable children’s list next time, to avoid confusion.

Both children were then given a suitcase and told to put the things from the list inside their suitcase.


Observation 1: 10:11

Me: Oh look at that! You’ve ticked everything off the list already! You’re all packed!

P (looking crestfallen): Oh. No, I didn’t pack anything, I just ticked it.

Observation 2: 10:56

Me: I appreciate your enthusiasm, P, but could you not stuff too many things in that suitcase along with your sister? Especially those plastic bags. I’m trying to use them. And, er, they may cause suffocation.

Fig 3: A typical three-year-old packs a suitcase.

Fig 3: A typical three-year-old packs a suitcase.

Observation 3: 11:18

Me: T, are you finished packing, then?

T: {blank stare}

Me: You’re supposed to use the list to choose some clothes to pack for the trip.

T: {wanders off}

Observation 4: 11:34

P: Look mum! I’m all finished!

Me: Oh wow, not only are you packed, but you’ve neatly coloured your sister’s list!

P (looking crestfallen again): Oh. No, I haven’t packed. I was telling you I’d finished the colouring.

Fig 4: By midday, P had progressed to reading in his pyjamas as T jumped naked on the bed.

Fig 4: By midday, P had progressed to reading in his pyjamas as T jumped naked on the bed.

Observation 5: 11:41

Me: P! Did you hear me about the bags? Stop playing with them – I’m using them.

P: And they might cause suffocation?

Me: Right! Yes.

Observation 6: 12:22

Me: Alright T! Stop screaming! And P! Stop calling your sister “wasabi”! She doesn’t like it!

P: Why doesn’t she like it?

Me: I don’t think it’s what you’re saying, P, I think it’s the way you’re saying it.

Observation 7: 12:23

Me: Ok P! Let me rephrase: it is definitely the way you’re saying it. There is no need to experiment by calling her “pfeffernusse”.

Observation 8: 12:36

Break for lunch. Resist wine.

Observation 9: 14:16

Me: Right… a book, a beauty product, a snack food, music, and one ‘free choice’ item, just like the blog hop Jen tagged me in the other week said*.

Let’s make it… Spillover by David Quanmen for the freak-out it will give me as we’re canoeing through the bat caves of Phang Nga Bay; moisturiser (in case of sunburn) but not, for some reason, tropical-strength mosquito repellant; Let It Go from Frozen seems musically appropriate for reasons which may be more apparent towards the end of the trip; those really expensive organic fruit and muesli bars the kids picked out when I said they could choose whatever they wanted for the bus ride from that shelf at the supermarket without first comparing prices can come; and… hm. Let’s make it print-outs of our tickets and accommodation bookings, because I can choose to be organised if I want to.

Fig 4: Leaving your laptop accessible while you check the printer may cause googling and subsequent sketching of Mars Rovers.

Fig 5: Leaving your laptop accessible while you check the printer may cause googling and subsequent sketching of Mars Rovers.

Observation 10: 14:52

P: Look! I’ve finished again!

Me: P, this is more colouring-in. Have you actually packed anything?

P (looking crestfallen again): No.

Me: T! That shelf is not for climbing!

Observation 11: 15:01

Me: Someone has drawn on my arm. Who has drawn on my arm?

P: You didn’t notice who drew on your arm?


Observation 12: 15:07


P: I was just trying to see if you’d notice.

Observation 13: 16:04

Me: P, where did you get a second copy of the packing list, anyway?

P: I used the copy function on the printer.

Me: That’s very clever, P. But… you know this is not supposed to be like a school worksheet, right? This is actually supposed to help you pack.

P: It is?

Fig : A similar look of realisation appeared on P's face.

Fig 6: A similar look of realisation appeared on P’s face.

Me: {…}

Me again:  P, could you please pack… ok, look. See? This is a picture of a shirt. It has the number “three” next to it. That means I want you to pack three shirts. You can put them in this suitcase.

P: Oh! Ok. You didn’t explain that before.

Me: {The type of silent teeth-gritting produced by somebody counting to about a hundred because they totally did explain that before.}

Observation 14: 16:38

(Resounding crash.)

Observation 15: 17:02

Me: Right! So I think we are finished.

Fig : "Finished"

Fig 7: “Finished”

Me: P, you’ve put three shirts, three shorts, one long pair of trousers, your crocs, a hat and your togs into your bag. And T has put…  a very good effort in. Thanks, T. Now let’s relax until bed time.

Observation 16: 23:59

(Æ and Bronwyn repack everything from scratch once the kids are in bed.)


This new method represents a clear and substantial improvement on our previous packing technique, which was, frankly, chaotic.

It’s worth tweaking the children’s list into a dialect they’re more familiar with, and teaching the younger one to read. Also, next time I will make sure P ends up with any underpants at all. Even if he did seem to kind of enjoy not wearing underpants for a week.

Otherwise, though, we look forward to experiencing this same level of streamlined efficiency during the packing phase of our next trip.

 Teaching Kids How To Pack | Journeys of the Fabulist

*This sentence is the only made-up part of this post.

The post Teaching Kids To Pack is part something-I-was-going-to-write-anyway with a dash of Swag Bag Blog Hop from Jen of ExpatLingo, who is awesome, and relocating, and probably therefore thinks this whole escapade is kind of puny and lame.

To pre-emptively avenge her imagined derision, I’ve decided to tag another Jen (burn!) – this time Jen-ny over at And Three To Go. Look out for her post listing five items she’d have in her swag bag probably sometime mid next week. 


Suitcases and Sippy Cups details the family packing technique I aspire to (for primary-school-aged children).

Our master packing list – this is the all-purpose all-seasons family travel list (covering newborns to adults) we use each time we travel.