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Ask an Expert: Heavy backpacks and kids

A mom is worried that her fifth-grade daughter’s backpack will cause her to tip over on her bike or hurt her growing spine. Children’s health expert Chris Marchioni offers some tips.

Q. My fifth-grader is practically tipping over on her bike because on certain days her backpack is so heavy. The math textbook in particular is like a few bricks. Is it OK to have such weight in a backpack and do you have any tips to make sure she doesn’t pull something or hurt herself? Or should I talk to the teacher about getting rid of the textbook?

A. This is a great question and common problem. Unfortunately, your daughter is among many who struggle with the overweight backpack issue. There are two main issues here, safety and health.

From a safety standpoint, carrying heavy backpacks on bikes presents a risk for kids. The weight impacts how kids manipulate the bikes and reaction times. The heavy weight can be a distraction from concentrating on traffic – both cars and pedestrians.

From a health standpoint, the weight of heavy backpacks leads to neck, shoulder, back and head aches. It is almost impossible to maintain healthy posture when you have pounds of dense books stressing young spines and draining young muscles.

What do you do?

  • Many parents are buying used copies of textbooks on Amazon and keeping one copy of the textbook at home and the other at school in the student’s desk.
  • Some schools are purchasing a classroom set of books for use during classroom time. You may want to speak to the teacher as there are often extra copies of textbooks available upon request.
  • Some districts even have extra textbooks in storage that go unused. Some schools also offer an online version of textbooks for home use.

The key here is to advocate for your child.

Of all the issues in education, the heavy backpack one is easy to correct. You will find that parents are the best advocates for their children in education and in health.

Please write back and let us know how this situation is corrected. Your efforts inspire other parents!

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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