All kids struggle with overstuffed backpacks, but for children with special health, orthopedic or mobility needs, the burden can be particularly troublesome. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lighten the load.
Time Required: A little every day
- Weigh in regularly. The About.com Pediatrics guide has devised a calculator to make sure the weight of your child's pack is appropriate to the weight of your child. Put that backpack and that kiddo on the scale and see how it balances out. If the calculator shows a problem, you know you've got to start weeding.
- Get a set of textbooks for home. If your child has a disability that makes carrying loads of books inadvisable -- or having resources available at home for extra studying desirable -- chances are you can have a second set of textbooks for home use placed in his or her IEP or 504 plan. Don't have it down in writing? It's still worth talking to your child's counselor about. If the school has spare books, they may be willing to lend them out.
- Weed through papers daily. Don't let your child's folders become choked with notices, graded tests, old homework, past projects. Each little piece of paper by itself may not weigh much, but it all adds up quickly. Your child will also be more organized and more able to find papers that are actually important without all the extra clutter. A good schedule to get into is to check the pack in the morning to make sure everthing's there that's supposed to be, and every afternoon to see what's new.
- Check every pocket and pouch. You'd be surprised how much junk a child's backpack can accumulate. Search every inch of it and remove toys, broken crayons, extra pencils, lunchroom giveaways, behavior prizes, nice looking rocks -- whatever your child puts in has gotta come out. Since you're child's likely to forget it as soon as it's stowed away, it's your job to empty out.
- Beware of wheeled backpacks. They may be better on nice flat surfaces, but how many of those does your child actually encounter? If she's dragging it over bumpy sidewalks, hauling it up the school's front steps, shouldering it as she climbs to her class on the second floor, the extra weight of that rolling frame is probably not worth the coolness of the wheels.
- Be the position police. Backpacks should go over both shoulders and rest squarely along the middle back. Check strap positions regularly and adopt a zero tolerance policy concerning slinging the thing over one shoulder, even if that is how the cool kids do it. If your child's pack is too big, or hangs too low, or has straps with insufficient padding, it may be time for a new one.
- Set a good example. Just how much does that purse you tote around weigh, hmmm? How overstuffed is that briefcase? Searing back pain in parents isn't all that good for children with special needs, either.
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