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Essential backpack items for a gifted learner. By Sue Breen

Sue Breen, giftEDnz board member, shares an extended metaphor about being adequately equipped for life's journey with all of its challenges and adventures. Sue has written this post to the gifted learner, but I suspect that many parents and teachers of the gifted who read it will realise that they value similar equipment.

Public domain backpack image by lalolalo from OpenClipart.

Along the way through your journey there are going to be those (hopefully a large number) who understand you and are excited about the journey you are on. There will also be those who think the journey is the wrong one for you. Some of your ‘backpack’ items may help them begin to understand your journey and your reasons for it. There will be some (hopefully only a few) who will make it more difficult.

I have put together a backpack of essential items you may need along the way.


(Commonly known as a ‘bag of holding’.)
This works similarly to The Doctor’s Tardis - much larger on the inside than it appears from the outside.
This is needed to store the essential items. It needs to fit well because it will be carried a very long way.


To enable you to see far into the distance and to bring concepts or ideas closer and into focus.
Others may also be able to see what you see so clearly if you allow them to use your binoculars. You can be generous with sharing them before, during and after each adventure.


To record your journey for those who could not be with you - and for those who wish to make the journey later. A good record for you to keep as well.
Take many, many pictures.
Some pictures are better when displayed in a landscape orientation, some in portrait. Choose the best setting to capture the ‘lay of the land’.

cell phone: (or two-way radio, satellite phone)

This is to keep in contact with, and to reassure, those who are concerned about you (and possibly even to keep in touch with the media.)


(Extra and appropriate clothing for the various environments.)
A hat will prove helpful in shielding you when the ‘weather’ turns nasty unexpectedly. Sometimes even the sun can be a little bright and it is nice to be able to hide away.
Rain gear and extra clothing may be necessary.
(The weather man does not always get it right.)
Make sure your raincoat is of good quality and has many, many pockets.
Use those pockets to keep all of your ‘bits and bobs’.
Your journey may be mostly in good weather but you need to be prepared for the occasional bout of rain or sleet.
An extra pair of dry socks is also a good idea for when you just have to jump into those mud puddles.
Nice comfortable socks are like a friend, they are soft for cushioning the blows and they protect your toes.

code book:

This is necessary to be able to explain your journey to others you meet along the way - and to explain to those who will meet you on your return. Some of those you meet will already know the code. Remember to leave a copy behind for those who may follow later.


This is essential to locate where you are when you are off into the unknown.
While the intent may be to be able to navigate your way to your destination you also need to be able to find your way to the new, alternate, destination or to find your way back should you get lost.
Your compass can help you find your way through unfamiliar terrain, especially in bad weather or where you can't see the landmarks you were intending to use as locator beacons.
A compass also reminds us that there will be both positive and negative views, reactions and interactions.

fire starter:

The warmth of a fire and a hot drink can help when you need a pick-me-up and fires are a great way to signal for help if you get lost.
(Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.)

first aid kit:

For those bruises and cuts you will get throughout your journey when others are unsympathetic or hurt you through their insensitivity or indifference.
You may also need to take a basic first aid class so that you can better understand what to do when bruises and cuts occur and also how to prevent avoidable wounds such as blisters on your heels.


This can signify the conquering of your journey, help with an SOS, or represent where you stand. Make your own flag to represent ‘you’ and look out for others’ flags - enjoy sharing each other’s cultures.


Take an energy bar or two - fresh fruit and/or some nuts.
Packing some extra will give you a cushion in case you're out longer than you intend.
Any number of things could keep you out longer than expected: a lengthy detour, getting lost, an injury, difficult terrain.
Extra food will help keep up energy and morale.
An offering of food and drink is often part of friendship rituals.
Make sure you pack extra food to provide for others who join you for a while and those you may meet.


It is important to have someone - or to find someone along the way - who can ‘be there’ for you, catch you when you fall, ‘have your back’ or point you in the right direction.
Someone you can laugh (or cry) with. Someone who understands you. If you are starting out alone be prepared for the ‘inconveniences’ of having a companion. (When two people meet there are the possibilities of differing points of view.)
Note: More than one of these precious items will fit in your back pack.

hiking boots or quality walking shoes:

Whatever type of footwear you pick, make sure it fits well and is comfortable. Otherwise your adventure could quickly become a nightmare. (Hopefully you won’t have to pick your way through the minefield.)

ice axe:

For glacier or snow field travel. Your journey may not need one - but better to be prepared. (Your bag of holding means you won’t feel the extra weight.)


Have a picture ID always with you. This will help others identify you and help them understand you.
You should always carry information about any medical conditions or allergic reactions. (People may be more understanding if they know that you also have specific learning needs.)
Remember to update your identification regularly as you grow and change.


A photo, a note from a special person or a well loved toy can be important. The road may have uphill, or even steep, slopes. Familiar and well-loved items will help to keep up your morale.

swiss army knife:

This will enable you to cut strips of cloth into bandages, remove splinters and perform repairs on malfunctioning gear.
(A tool kit of multiple skills.)
When opening your box - which learning tool(s) will you decide to use?

magnifying glass:

Don’t forget to ‘stop and smell the roses’ occasionally.
Your magnifying glass will help you examine things more closely. You can get a totally different perspective.


A map tells you where you are and how far you have to go and helps you to chart future journeys. It also helps you to show others where you have come from and where you are headed.
Your map needs to be one without borders, without the limits of the edges found on regular two-dimensional maps.
If you don’t see a path ahead you can cut your own path.

miner’s lamp: (head mounted lamp)

This is used to shine your way into new territory.
Sometimes your road will need to be travelled at night.
It can shine in places where a torch is less useful and can be used to illuminate your ideas when they are a bit foggy.
A head mounted lamp leaves your hands free.


To provide a safeguard - or to catch you if you start to fall or if you need to climb to new heights.

plastic tarp:

You will need this for shelter. It can also be used to collect water. Make sure it is big enough to share with others.

repair kit:

This should include duct tape and basic sewing materials.
(Read the enclosed booklet - “1001 uses for duct tape”.)


Very handy for unexpected situation. You may need to cross rivers or abseil down slopes.
A rope is very useful when you need to ‘tie’ your ideas together.
A rope’s strength comes from the intertwining of many fibres. You can also think of it as a rope of friendship and connections.


For protection from those on a different journey and who see your journey as a threat. You may also need it for those ‘slings and arrows’ moments.
Can be decorated with heraldic symbols or your family crest.

signalling device:

(a whistle, unbreakable signal mirror or a flare)
For those times when there is no cell phone coverage.
People left behind will worry if there is no news for a while. Remember that communication is important.

sun glasses, sunscreen and insect repellent:

So you don't have sunburn or itching bites to deal with upon your return home. When there is a skin-scorching combination of sun and snow, you'll need sunglasses to prevent snow-blindness, and sunscreen to prevent sunburn. (Good vision is essential.)

toilet paper:

Toilet paper also doubles as tinder for starting a fire and can be used to wrap up your precious ideas.
In its original use it reminds us that not all ideas are good ideas and it is fine to discard these - flush them away. Make sure your toilet paper (and any disposal of it) is green and eco-friendly.


Remember if you take a dynamo torch you don’t need to worry about running out of batteries.
Your torch can also be used to light the way for others.

translation book:

To understand where others are at and to help them understand you. You may need two - a child version and an adult version because the language needed for children and adults can be different.

walking stick:

For when the going gets tough. Use to lean on, to help
(A ‘forked’ divining stick can also help you find water.)


It's advisable to take more if you are in an unfamiliar area, just in case you get lost. Sometime the journey is so exciting and fascinating that you will need more sustenance than you have packed. Water will allow you to keep going.

Enjoy the journey. 

Remember always tell someone your planned route and when you intend to return.


(What else needs to be added? What extra uses can you suggest for the items already listed?)


This post is part of the #NZGAW Blog Tour.


#NZGAW Blog Tour




An organisation for anyone with a professional interest in gifted and talented education.