By Laura Spanel
With school in full swing, now is a good time to check your child’s backpack. Every year the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has a National School Backpack Awareness Day. This year it was held yesterday on September 17, 2014. They have also published several handouts on proper backpack use and safety tips as well as several videos for both kids and adults to watch.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in 2013, nearly 22,200 strains, sprains, dislocations, and fractures from backpacks were treated in hospital emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, and clinics. It is recommended that kids don’t carry more than 10% of their body weight in a backpack in order to prevent back aches and injuries. This means if your child is 50 pounds they shouldn’t be carrying a backpack that weighs more than 5 pounds. Due to the high number of injuries from backpack use, it is recommended that you talk to your children about telling you if their back hurts, they have numbness or tingling. Watch to see if they arch their back more or slump more when wearing their backpack. All of these are signs that the backpack is too heavy or not fitting correctly.
When looking at your child’s backpack, first make sure the height of the backpack extends from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles. Straps should be worn on both shoulders to evenly distribute the weight. A backpack that offers a hip or chest belt will help take some strain off the neck and shoulder muscles. Some other suggestions include using backpacks with wheels and remembering to organize the backpack so that the heaviest items are the ones that are closest to the back and that books and materials won’t slide around in the backpack.
When shopping for your child’s backpack, it is recommended that you have your child come with you and try on the backpacks to ensure proper fit. Try to find backpacks with limited outside pockets to decreased clutter. Remember a middle school child’s backpack needs to be bigger than elementary school child’s backpack. The book Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran offers simple, yet practical suggestions for purchasing different backpacks. In the beginning of the book there is a quiz you can take to determine your child’s best organization style (visual, spatial, chronological) and the authors make suggestions on the type of backpack that might best suit your child. For example, children who are visual organizers might prefer backpacks that are bright and colorful versus children who are chronological organizers might like backpacks with separate compartments to store different materials.