One of the things I always notice when September comes around is how young and small some of the children look walking to their new secondary school. Surely they can’t be at big school, I think as I walk the dog past them. And while it might be my own advancing age that makes them seem smaller every year, it might also be because over the years school bags have slowly grown bigger and heavier.
It is now widely accepted that a child’s school bag should weigh no more than 10% of their body weight in order to prevent back pain. So if for example your 11 year old weighs 35kg, their bag should be no more than 3.5kg. Not exceeding this is more of a challenge than you might think given that one of my children’s current textbooks weighs in at 1.5kg alone.
You won’t be surprised to find out that the reasons for this modern-day increase is quite literally an accumulation of many small increases here and there that have combined to make a significant difference. A more intensive curriculum has brought us more subjects with an exercise book for each; more children now take in snacks and/or a packed lunch than they used to; many carry their own water bottle; school funding cuts mean stationery is rarely supplied so pencil cases are bigger; there is less locker provision; add that to PE kits, laptops, musical instruments, ingredients for food tech and of course most recently, hand sanitiser and masks and our kids are turning into the proverbial pack horse.
Now more than ever children are being encouraged to walk or cycle to school but for this to be possible we need to ensure they are not so weighed down that they are storing up long term health problems.
So what can we do?
Get the right bag. Make sure they have a really good fitting and comfortable bag. A rucksack is the best option as it distributes the weight over both shoulders though do make sure they are using both straps. Check also that they have tightened the straps enough so the bag is close to their body and not too low – the middle of their back is what to aim for.
Pack the bag evenly. Make sure the heaviest items are close to their back and not all at the bottom of the bag as this will drag down on their shoulders.
Use a locker. Take advantage of a locker at school if you can and encourage them to use it at frequent intervals throughout the school day so they are not carrying a whole day’s worth of books around all the time.
Use lightweight containers. Check the weight of the bag itself and also empty lunch boxes and water bottles and try to find the lightest you can.
Duplicate textbooks. If they need their textbooks for homework, see if you can buy a cheap second-hand copy or find an online version so it can stay at school.
Check their bags. It’s also worth a regular check of their bags as (much like my own handbag) they can become a place where all sorts of rubbish accumulates and every little helps!
Clare Burlingham is a freelance writer and parent of two children both now at secondary school.