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Backpack awareness refers to the growing concern by primarily occupational therapists as to the weight of children’s, or even adult student’s backpacks. Carrying too much or carrying things improperly can result in strain on the back, neck, arms, and even damage to the body if things are always carried improperly. Due to growing concerns that children could be suffering injury, organizations like the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) have created days like Backpack Awareness Day, usually observed in September when many kids return to school, and have issued guidelines on safe carrying methods for backpacks.
Probably one of the key guidelines in backpack awareness material is the amount of weight a child carries on his/her back. AOTA recommends that this weight should not exceed 15% of a child’s weight. If you’re carrying multiple books back and forth to school it’s fairly easy to exceed this limit right away. For this reason, some schools now give children a “stay at home” set of books, and have books in the classroom provided for students’ use during class time. Alternately, if large numbers of books exceeding weight limits must be carried, roller backpacks are a better alternative.
Other guidelines important in backpack awareness include safe carrying methods. For instance, the backpack should be securely strapped in front, and should always be worn on both shoulders. A heavy backpack carried over one shoulder can cause injury or at the least transitory muscle pain and strain. AOTA also recommends in their publications on backpack awareness that heavier items be packed nearest to the child’s back, with lighter items in the front or farther away, and that well-padded straps will promote greater comfort.
Unfortunately, not all schools facilitate safe backpack guidelines. Some schools may ban backpacks in all but locker room hallways to be placed in a locker at the beginning of the day, and taken out at the end. This can worsen back or neck issues if a student must hand carry awkwardly shaped binders and books to two or more classes, especially if they exceed weight limits.
Other schools cannot afford to implement backpack awareness guidelines. For instance, some schools cannot afford to provide more than one copy of the same book to students, meaning they will pretty much have to carry all books (especially if they are high school or middle school students) back and forth to school each day. If multiple binders are required for classwork, the weight problem gets worse.
If your children attends a school that doesn't acknowledge backpack awareness, and your child is complaining of back or neck pain, or routinely having to carry home material that well exceeds weight requirements, you may want to address this with your child’s teacher, principal, parent organization or school board. Since children in pain are less likely to be attentive students, AOTA, and many supporting parents argue that backpack awareness should be followed with action to help eliminate potential injury to children.
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