Backpack strategies: How to lighten it up

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2006

The American Occupational Therapy Association and The Fund To Promote Awareness of Occupational Therapy are working to educate students, parents, and communities about the potentially serious health effects from school backpacks.

Children carrying overloaded and improperly worn packs are likely to experience neck, shoulder, and back pain; adverse effects on posture and the developing spine; and compromised breathing and fatigue.

The U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission estimates that more than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 resulted from injuries related to backpacks and book bags; half of these injuries occurred in children 5 to 14 years old.

Schools are under tremendous pressure, with limited resources, to educate children about far more than the traditional academic subjects. However, there are some things teachers and school administrators can consider that will help reduce backpack loads:

· What are your students carrying in their backpacks?

· What can be done on a physical level, such as providing lockers or cubicles.

· Consider lightweight alternatives to recommended school supplies. Allow students to use spiral bound or composition books and pocket folders for note taking and organization rather than three-ring binders, and to divide class materials between two 1-inch binders rather than carry a large 2- or 3-inch binder.

· Take into consideration the total weight of each day’s class work—not only in educational content, but also in terms of textbook weight.

· Look at alternate methods of providing course information if your school has the resources to implement them, such as posting study guides and subject information online to be read and reviewed, handing out photocopied homework and review chapters, or providing duplicate textbooks.

· Clarify the due dates of all assignments and student work reviews. There is often a misperception among students that they can be asked for any of the semester’s work at any time, so consequently they carry everything with them all the time.

· Ask children what suggestions they have for lightening their backpack loads. The goal of occupational therapy professionals is the same goal as education professionals: to do everything we can to help children succeed in school.

— The American Occupational Therapy Association

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