One of the most exciting parts of going back to school is choosing a new backpack! Of course, finding the right color or character or theme is essential, but there are other components of a backpack that are important too. A backpack that doesn’t fit properly or that is too heavy can impact posture, balance, independence and can even cause pain. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has put together many resources related to safe backpack use. In this blog post, I will summarize some of AOTA’s tips and suggestions and provide links to additional resources that can be helpful as you start the school year.
Tips for Choosing a Backpack
Ensure proper size. According to AOTA, the backpack should not extend above a child’s shoulders or below the hips. Additionally, if your child will need to take home a folder, you want to be sure the backpack can easily fit one!
Check the straps. Take a look at the kinds of straps on the backpack. You may see shoulder straps, chest straps and hip straps. Using these straps effectively can help distribute the backpack load more evenly. You may want to look for a bag that has these options. Also, padded shoulder straps can help make wearing a backpack more comfortable.
Tips for Using a Backpack
- Ensure proper fit. Encourage students to use both shoulder straps in order to distribute weight evenly. Additionally, using the chest and hip strap can increase stability. The backpack should fit close to the child’s back. You do not want the backpack to hang down.
- Check the weight. A backpack that is too heavy can cause issues such as pain, increased fall risk and decreased independent use of the backpack. AOTA recommends ensuring a backpack’s weight is no more than 10% of a child’s weight.
- Load items with purpose. First, ask yourself- does this item need to go in the backpack? Can a student have 2 sets of heavy school books to avoid lugging them back and forth? Are there other items that could be removed from the bag to lighten the load? If you do find yourself needing to load a lot of items in a bag, AOTA recommends loading heavier items closer to the back of the bag, and light items in the middle and front.
- Encourage your child to bend at the knees to pick up the backpack, instead of bending at the waist.
Backpack safety is an important topic to think about as we return to the classroom this year. Choosing and using a backpack properly can also lead to increased independence during arrival/departure routine. Please be sure to check out the resources below from AOTA and be sure to reach out to your classroom OT as well! Happy backpacking!