With the school year fast approaching and students eager to gather school supplies, sharpen their pencils, and choose their favorite colored backpack, it is important to think of the ergonomics of back-to-school. As back-to-school can be a stressful time for most families there are a few tips and tricks that can help parents and their children avoid unnecessary injuries and strains. An over-weighted and inappropriately-sized backpack is an issue that can easily be addressed and adjusted.
Backpacks have been around for a number of years as the preferred way to transport items to and from school. As most parents will probably agree, the weight that students are carrying seems to increase from year to year. It is very important to talk with your child’s teacher and learn what exactly your child really needs for school. Many times it is the diligent student that wants to make sure that he or she has all the necessary papers just in case the teacher conducts a surprise binder check. However, it is possible to have just the current papers being transported to school and then have a file at home with the extra papers for reference. Discussing with teachers ahead of time can save your child from excessive worry and from carrying excess weight.
A general rule of thumb is to carry less than 15% of your body weight. This means that a child who weights 100 pounds should carry less than a fifteen pound backpack. With notebook computers, binders, hardcover texts and school supplies it is very easy to accumulate lots of excess weight. Assist your child in sorting out her bag and carrying only what she really needs. Weigh the backpack, then weigh your child and plug the numbers into the following equation to determine the percentage:
______________ x 100 = percentage weight
Every year on the third Wednesday in September, the American Occupational Therapy Association promotes backpack education with a Backpack Awareness Day. Parents, teachers, occupational therapist and ergonomic specialists across the country provide students with the opportunity to learn about appropriate backpack weight at weigh-ins held in schools, libraries and community centers. Even if your child’s school does not host a Backpack Awareness Day event you can determine the most appropriate weight for your child and continue to monitor the weight that he or she is carrying to school.
More information on backpack weights, correct loading techniques and appropriate sizing measurements can be found on the website www.ergoboing.com. Children of the 21st century are facing more health and wellness issues than just weighty backpacks. Incorrect computer set-ups, extensive text messaging and issues with gaming are cause of great concern for today’s parents. Teaching your child correct posture and assisting your child in creating an ergonomic environments can lead to a lifetime of health and wellness.
Ruth Loewenhardt is author of the book Thumbs Up! A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Ergonomic Needs of the Thumb Generation (available July 2009 at www.ergoboing.com). She has conducted several Backpack Awareness Day events at her local library in Pleasanton, California and she has spoken to many middle school students about the ergonomics of backpacks and notebook computers. After graduating from San Jose State University with a Master of Science in Human Factors and Ergonomics, Ruth started her own company, Elegant Ergo, as a division of Concinnity Ergonomics Corporation in 2006. In 2007, she received the Ergonomist of the Year award from the Bay Area Ergonomics Roundtable (BAER) for her work with children’s ergonomics. Ruth is a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and she is also chair of the Pleasanton PTA Wellness Committee. She continues to bring ergonomics education to the local community by giving lectures to middle schools and parent groups.