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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Backpacks are a Real Pain

Published July 20, 2015 4:31 PM by Debra Karplus
It's back-to-school time again, the time when parents and children, from pre-kindergarten to high school head to large discount stores for great deals on school supplies. Backpacks are essential for students regardless of age, grade or physical size. How else can they transport essentials, such as pencils, markers, calculator, textbooks, spiral notebooks, and loose leaf binders, plus daily assignment books and organizers?

When I was in school in the 1950s and 1960s, we walked to school daily. I don't remember carrying anything to school. Notes that needed to be sent home from school for Mom to see or possibly sign were simply pinned to our shirt. (If you did something like that today, it could possibly be construed as some sort of child abuse!)The school supply list was simple back then, ruler, scissors, pencils, paste or glue, and some notebook paper. And, I'd never seen or even heard of a backpack; we simply didn't have much to carry. I believe the books just stayed at school because I don't remember ever transporting them. I probably saw my first backpack while in college in the 1970s.

By the time my children entered kindergarten in the early 1980s, backpacks found their way onto the school supply list. Small, lightweight items went to and from school in those bags, and on occasion, a small school library book to be read at home and then returned.  My children also carried separately their lunchboxes, as we were committed to eating meatless meals and healthier food than could be found in the school hot lunch program. But the backpacks that my children carried were never even close to heavy enough to cause any injury.

These days, school kids of all ages are carrying major amounts of "stuff" to and from school. For a short ride on the school bus or in the family car, that is not such a big deal. But the middle school and high school kids, who have classes in different places around the school building or buildings carry their very full backpack from classroom to classroom all day long.

The recommended ratio of backpack weight to body weight is about one to ten, meaning that a 100 pound middle school student should carry a backpack weighing no more than ten pounds. But some of the statistics found online claim that an average sixth grade student might be carrying around eighteen to even thirty pounds of stuff on a given day.

As occupational therapists, I believe we have a role in this, particularly in the area of prevention. I know that I have a small roller suitcase with a handle that I use for myself when I lead workshops, seminars and teach classes. It is a smaller version of the bags you see people using to travel by air or train. I seldom see a student at school using one of these, but ergonomically, it is the way to go.

I welcome input from other occupational therapy practitioners on this issue of backpacks.

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