Take a Load Off Your Child: 11 Ways to Lighten His Backpack Burden
Let schoolwork be the heavy lifting
The homework load might be heavy this school year, but your child’s backpack shouldn’t be.
Toting textbooks, gym clothes, electronics and other gear can add up to a crushing load, one with the potential to cause back aches, shoulder pain and falls. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 14,000 kids are treated annually for backpack-related injuries.
SafeBee asked Damon DelBello, MD, a pediatric orthopedist at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, New York, for tips on how to ease the backpack burden.
1. Buy a bag with kid-friendly features. Wide, padded straps and a waist strap will help distribute weight and make the backpack easier to carry. Or, if your school allows them (and your kid is willing to use one), wheeled backpacks take the weight off your child entirely.
2. Encourage him to use both straps. “A lot of people sling their backpacks over one shoulder, but you need to distribute the weight evenly,” says DelBello.
3. Tighten the straps so the bag doesn’t sag and swing between her shoulders as she walks, shifting the weight in unpredictable ways.
4. Put the heavy stuff in the center of his back. Help him arrange his bag so the big stuff — like textbooks — rests close to the center of his back. “This keeps the weight closer to your child’s center of gravity,” DelBello explains.
5. Use all of the backpack’s compartments. Those large and small pockets can be lifesavers, helping to spread the weight all around the bag. They make items easier to find, too.
6. Teach her to lift the bag the right way. Bend at the knees (not at the waist) and lift the bag by both its straps instead of just grabbing hold of one.
7. Put the knapsack on a chair at home instead of on the floor. When your child has to put it back on again, he won’t have to lift it all the way from the floor.
8. Remind her to visit her locker. It’s there to stash unneeded books and gear between classes — there's no need to carry everything all the time.
9. Review his weekly school calendar with him. Does he have a science test on Tuesday? If so, there may be no need to bring his biology book back and forth the rest of the week. Check which days he has gym class, and make sure he’s taking sneakers and workout clothes to school only when he needs them.
10. Take advantage of technology. If she has a smartphone, perhaps she can snap pictures of the pages she needs to read, if there aren’t too many, rather than bringing the book home.
11. Talk to the school about “lightening up.” Can assignments be posted online? Is there a chance some textbooks could be done away with altogether? “Some schools have switched over to tablets,” DelBello says. “It may be worth a conversation to see if that’s possible.”
How do you know if your child’s backpack is too heavy? Weigh your child, then weigh her bag.“The American Academy of Orthopedics and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that kids’ backpacks should be no more than 10 to 15 percent of a child’s body weight,” says DelBello. If her bag exceeds this limit, if she struggles to get it on and off or if she leans forward just to carry it, it’s too heavy.