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Right backpack can ease load

Consider its construction, and use both straps

The backpack is the preferred way to transport books, science projects, gym shoes and lunches to school. Packs come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, and their prices vary as well.

Not all backpacks are created equal. Even more important: If they aren’t carried correctly, they can cause shoulder and back pain, even in the littlest students.

And backpacks tend to get very heavy, very quickly.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says a pack shouldn’t weight more than 20 percent of the kid toting it.

But that “seems a little high to me,” said Sarah Griffith, a nurse for Spokane Public Schools. “Think of a 100-pound child caring a 20-pound backpack – that’s a lot of weight.” Griffith said she has seen literature recommend no more than 10 percent of the child’s weight as safe.

The most important thing is to carry the backpack correctly.

“Use two shoulder straps,” Griffith said. “If you have a sling-style bag, the strap shouldn’t be around your neck, it should be all the way across your body.”

It’s important to take the time to find a backpack that not only appeals to the student, but also fits correctly and can handle the load of books and projects that will be hauled between school and home.

For younger students, backpacks with cartoon characters are appealing but not always the best, as they sometimes have narrower straps and are meant as overnight bags – not to hold heavy loads. “And sometimes the cartoon character is out of style tomorrow,” said Griffith.

With older students who carry more books and walk between classrooms at larger schools, Griffith said it may be worth investing in a more expensive hiking-style backpack.

“Especially if it gets you better compliance with the student wearing it right, it’s worth it,” she said. “But who am I to talk? I wrestle with my two boys about that over and over again.”

Families should also take the daily commute into consideration when picking a backpack.

“Many students walk to school, and we like that, we want to encourage that,” Griffith said. “Having a backpack that’s too heavy or not the right fit may impact whether a student wants to walk or not.”

If a student leans forward to carry the backpack it’s definitely too heavy, Griffith said.

A regular backpack clean-out is also a good idea. Not only will that cut down on clutter and unnecessary weight, it’s also a good way to keep track of what’s going on at school.

“As a school nurse I sometimes go to put a note in a backpack,” said Griffith, “And I look in there and I think: This note will never be found by anyone.”