A short lesson on schoolbags

Nurturing

IN THE BAG A few small considerations are worth bearing in mind when choosing and using a schoolbag.

Health
Andrew O'Brien

It’s that time of year again. The Mayo GAA rollercoaster is in full swing (what an epic win on Saturday!), and the days are getting a little bit shorter. All the signs point to one thing: it’s nearly back to school time. Our son groaned the other day that it’s not fair that back-to-school ads seem to start in mid-July, reminding kids that regardless of how much fun they’re having, it’s all going to come to a screaming halt soon.
Amidst all the last-minute running around sourcing uniforms and stationery, there is something worth putting a little bit of thought into: schoolbags. We have made the mistake before of starting the year with a cheap and cheerful one that barely lasted until Christmas. But quality (and the environment) aside, it’s worth considering a few things when looking at schoolbags.

Fit and use
The size of the bag is obviously important, both from the point of view of how much needs to fit in, and also when compared to the size of the child.
A bag that fits a teenager is going to be way too big for a child in First Class, so rather than just grabbing one off the rack, get your child to try it on. A bag with adjustable straps is crucial – anyone who has ever carried a backpack for even a little while knows how much fidgeting it takes to get the fit right. Chest straps on backpacks can make a big difference to how well the bag sits on your shoulders. Similarly, a bag that is too small to carry everything that’s needed can be incredibly awkward to carry, regardless of whether it’s a backpack or a sports bag.
It’s worth thinking a little about how to pack a bag as well. And before you say it, I know kids are just going to stuff things in however they like in order to get out the door, usually with the squishiest foodstuffs at the bottom. If using a backpack, heavier books should be kept as close to the body as possible, with lighter items being further away. This stops the bag from hanging back and dragging on the shoulders.
When using a sports bag, the heaviest items should be at the bottom so that they are less likely to slide around when carrying.

Surplus stuff
Worth considering too, is how much of what is in the bag actually needs to be there. This is a comment that could just as easily be made about handbags as much as schoolbags, but I’ll leave that battle for another day. Why carry extra weight if you don’t need to? It can be a hassle to go through a bag every day, but taking out the excess ‘stuff’ every so often is a pretty good idea. God only knows what wonders you might find!
For students who have to carry a lot of books, a wheeled bag can be quite useful. A few years ago, the Australian Physiotherapy Association partnered with a manufacturer to design schoolbags. One of the main products that came out of the partnership was a wheeled backpack – obviously not a groundbreaking idea, but a relatively new one for primary-school-aged kids. The combination allows kids to carry the bag when it’s relatively light or wheel it if it’s too heavy to carry.

A load off
After all this talk of worrying about schoolbags and how heavy they can be, a point worth finishing on: There is actually no evidence to show that carrying a heavy schoolbag causes back pain in children. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it is good for the growing back to be loaded somewhat.
There is, however, plenty of evidence to show that inactivity is bad for the back, along with health in general. So don’t panic too much if the bag seems a bit heavy, you’re probably only dropping them at the school gate anyway!

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.