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Do they know it’s Backpack Awareness Day? September 17, 2008

Just a couple of days ago I wrote a slightly off-topic post after noticing how potentially debilitating my older son’s backpack had become. I asked a bunch of questions ranging from why backpacks have gotten so heavy over the years to what we can do about it.

I had no idea that today, September 17, is officially National School Backpack Awareness Day, promoted by the American Occupational Therapy Association. So thank you, AOTA, for calling attention to a study that found six out of 10 students between the ages of 9 and 20 reported chronic back pain related to their cumbersome backpacks.

They can’t either lessen homework, concentrate homework on one particular subject per night, or make schools paperless– I guess they’re not in charge of that — but AOTA does have some tips I’m sure they won’t mind my listing for you:

  • Never let a child carry more than 15 percent of his body weight. (But what if his homework necessitates all the heavy textbooks? Still, check bullet #4.)
  • Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back, at the very back of the pack.
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the pack.
  • Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary to the day’s activities. (Great idea. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I think my 11-year-old uses his backpack as a locker.)
  • On days the backpack is too loaded, your child can hand carry a book or other item.
  • If the backpack is too heavy, consider using a book bag on wheels if your child’s school allows it. (I can’t imagine a school requiring students to carry too-heavy books wouldn’t allow adaptation like this. If they don’t, please let me know and I’ll start a movement to forward OT, PT and medical bills to the school district–for each student’s whole life.)

For more tips on backpack safety, visit the AOTA Backpack Strategies page.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever



It ain’t heavy, it’s my bookbag September 12, 2008

Filed under: Issues — jbmcqueen @ 7:15 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Does anyone else have a child whose school backpack weighs more than he or she does?

I was watching my poor 11-year-old son lug his backpack to his carpool ride yesterday morning and was flabberghasted to see how he was straining under the weight of it. He’s in fifth grade now, at a new-to-us charter school, and he was so pleased to receive a locker at the beginning of the school year.

So I asked him, is he really keeping anything in his locker, seeing that all his heavy textbooks seem to come home with him in his backpack all the time?

I work from home and usually write in quiet all day but happened to turn on the TV and catch Rachael Ray’s show one day last week. There was a segment profiling some school-related problems affecting several people, one of them an elementary school girl whose heavy bookbag load was causing her back problems.

Back problems — a middle-aged malady affecting schoolchildren now because they have to carry around too many heavy schoolbooks. Rachael’s trusty staff came up with a solution for this little girl, which was a new (and delightfully pink) backpack designed for comfort, with air pockets to help with the burden. She was thrilled and said the new backpack really helped.

And I know they have those backpacks on wheels. So many schoolchildren look more like they’re off to catch a plane in the morning, not go to school. Before I go purchasing these things for my kids, though, first I’m going to ensure all these books being omnipresent is really necessary. I mean, what’s the dang locker for? 

Do you remember having to carry so MANY books around when you were in school? I don’t, and I attended a pretty challenging institution. I think I’d have remembered back pain being a problem.

Is there more homework now? Schools are more pressured to accomplish more, so they send home more work at night. And these little students already have to pay for it with allotting school more than its deserved share of their free time. Now we must factor in a physical hardship that could easily morph into lifelong physical problems because of the strain on their immature frames.

Is this what’s behind these crippling backpack burdens? Is this really necessary? And is it worth it? Are the school administrators really seeing these schoolyards full of kids hobbling and lurching to and from their buildings? Believe me, this is no exaggeration. I just mentally pasted the image of Riley limping to carpool yesterday and multiplied it.

I realize this post is fraught with questions, with pretty much no answers. I hope someone will help us all come up with some solutions other than to automatically install wheels on book satchels or bring the pack mule to urban society.

posted by Janie McQueen, author of The New Magic Bookshelf: Finding Great Books Your Child Will Treasure Forever