Lesson Introduction & Overview
Backpacks are a great way to carry stuff: books, homework and other items for school, sports gear, or general belongings. But backpacks can also pose problems if they aren’t used and worn correctly.
Backpacks that are too heavy, aren’t worn properly or have uneven weight distribution can cause muscle and joint aches and pains, posture problems, and even injury. This lesson focuses on the “Dos and Don’ts of Backpacks” so that young people can fix current problems and prevent future ones.
Begin by facilitating a conversation about backpacks using the following questions:
- How many of you use a backpack?
- If you don’t, how do you carry books and homework to and from school?
- Have any of you ever had a problem with a backpack? (They might say things like a strap broke, they lost it, they forgot it somewhere). How about a physical problem with a backpack, like a sore neck or back? (Give them some time to answer.)
Then explain that there are some dos and don’ts when it comes to backpacks that can help them avoid injury, and that they’re going to learn about them today.
Guess the Weight (need to have a few backpacks prepared and also give students the opportunity to have their backpacks weighed):
Most backpack injuries happen because the bag is too heavy. Your backpack should not weigh more than 15 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 120 pounds, your backpack should not weigh more than 18 pounds.
Give the young people a few minutes to calculate 15 percent of their body weight. They can just use an estimate and they don’t need to share this information.
If your backpack is too heavy, you might start to arch your back, lean forward, or lean to one side.
Ask: What do you think might happen if you do any or all of these things? Wait for some answers and if they aren’t mentioned, talk about:
Neck and upper back: If you lean forward and extend your neck because your bag is so heavy, your neck and shoulders can get sore and it is hard on your muscles and ligaments.
Shoulders: A heavy backpack puts pressure on shoulder joints, muscles tighten and your posture changes.
Lower back and hips: Leaning forward to offset the weight of a heavy bag doesn’t just hurt your neck, it can also cause problems in your lower back. At the same time as you’re leaning forward, the backpack is pulling you back which can cause strain and soreness in your hips.
Knees: Your knees can even feel the pressure of too much backpack weight, especially if you change your posture and your gait (the way you walk) because of it.
After you’ve introduced the possible problems, pull out the scale and the demonstration backpacks you’ve prepared. Ask for a volunteer to be pre-weighed (or use a luggage scale). You’ll get a starting weight for this person and then have him or her step on the scale and be weighed with each different backpack.
Ask the young people to guess the weight of each backpack before weighing it. You can do this in a variety of ways depending on your resources: people can simply call out their guesses; they can write each guess on a piece of paper or a white board; you can play a Kahoot!® game if you have that technology. Use whatever works best for you in your setting.
Then weigh each backpack to see how close the guesses were. To calculate the weight of a backpack, subtract the starting weight of the person from the weight of the person with the backpack. Also calculate the percentage to see if that backpack is at the right weight for that person.
If time allows, weigh each person’s backpack.
You’re Carrying That?! Facilitate a brief discussion of what kinds of things young people carry in their backpacks and whether they are necessary or not. Then play a little game: Who Has a _______ in Their Backpack? As you name different items, young people who have that item in their backpacks should pull them out and hold them up:
Charm or good luck item
Homework from last semester (or year or month)
Phone or other electronic
Pencil or pens
Water bottle (who has the smallest one? who has the biggest one?)
Toy or game
Music of some sort
Add your own! (You might want to have a contest for strangest item and have the young people vote on it.)
Getting the Right Fit: Ask young people to work in pairs to help each other get the best fit out of their backpacks that they can. If someone doesn’t have a backpack, they can join a pair to form a group of three. Have each young person take a turn being fitted and being a fitter. Here are the guidelines they should follow:
Wear both straps. They should fit comfortably on your shoulders and under your arms.
Adjust the straps so the bottom of the backpack rests In the contour of your lower back. Don’t let it sag down toward your butt.
Adjust the straps so the backpack is centered evenly in the middle of your back.
if you have a waist strap, use it. This helps distribute some of the weight onto your pelvis, which relieves pressure on neck, shoulders and back.
If a young person’s backpack isn’t too heavy and it fits well, that’s great!
If a backpack is too heavy, encourage them to make changes that will help reduce the risk of pain and injury. This can include reducing the weight they are carrying by cleaning out their bags each week, taking something out and carrying it in their arms, and leaving extra items at home or at school.
If their backpacks don’t fit well, encourage them to stick with some changes they made today. Buying a new bag may not be feasible, but regularly checking to make sure the straps are where they should be can help.
Continuing the Conversation
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English and Spanish so that families can continue to discuss and practice backpack safety at home.