My second-grader’s backpack is larger than he is. It droops below his bottom. He looks like a sad camel loping home from school, enormous L.L. Bean bag slapping against his spine.
I remember the feeling: I used to lug my school stuff home in an Esprit tote bag (very cool in 1989), and by sixth grade I was practically walking with a limp. Apparently, nothing has changed.
But some people are trying to fix the problem: For instance, The Rashi School in Dedham is experimenting with ways to reduce the burden on students, literally. Google Classroom is beginning to replace loose packets of paper, and digital Chromebooks have replaced notebooks, making take-home materials lighter.
It was a real problem, says Lexie Siegel, the school’s student government president.
“Big, hefty backpacks are a big problem in the United States especially. Here at Rashi, my backpack used to be extremely heavy, weighing me down through the school day. My shoulders used to ache after school each day, and my backpack [weighed] over a quarter of my weight,” she says.
Meanwhile, Rashi grandparent Irene Bloomstone is conducting research into ergonomic backpacks on wheels. She calls her campaign “We’ve Got Your Back,” and she’s planning to showcase a sample rolling backpack at Rashi’s high school fair on Oct. 11.
“It’s meaningful for me because I care for the children,” she says. “I don’t ever want to see a child in pain.”
Such as her granddaughter, Jill Rubin, an eighth-grader at Rashi.
“Heavy backpacks affect all students, especially the ones who have to walk up several flights of stairs. Teachers should make all school work available online so students don’t have to carry around backpacks that are extremely heavy and can cause back and shoulder pains,” she says.
So what’s a homework-strapped kid to do? Here are tips from Newton-Wellesley Hospital orthopedic surgeon (and former Rashi dad) Dr. Daniel Snyder:
Know the consequences. While a heavy backpack won’t cause scoliosis, a common genetic curvature of the spine prevalent in preteen girls, it can cause serious aches, pains and poor posture.
Think twice about what you carry. Does your child need to bring home every textbook, every night? Can some work be done digitally on an iPad or laptop? Look for ways to reduce the load.
Make sure your child’s backpack is no more than 15 percent of your child’s body weight. This means that a 100-pound child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 15 pounds. “Put it on a scale, if you have to,” Snyder says.
Look for warning signs. Unsure if your child is carrying his or her backpack in a dangerous way? An ill-fitting backpack pulls on the shoulders, sags below the lower back and droops below the bottom, he warns.
Wear the backpack properly. “The technology is there. Most backpacks are well-made,” Snyder says. But kids often don’t wear them as intended. Most top brands, such as L.L. Bean and JanSport, come with two adjustable, padded shoulder straps and an oft-forgotten waist strap. Wear the backpack using both shoulder straps, and fasten that waist strap, too.
Buy a rolling backpack. If your child really does insist on emptying out his or her entire locker every afternoon, consider a rolling backpack, such as this stylish number from PB Teen or this one from JanSport.