LIFE
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How to lighten the load of your child's book bag

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 11:38am

My daughter is in Year Two and her school bag is so heavy that I have to carry it for her. Some of her books and folders have half a year's work in and she has to take these to school most days. It's ridiculous that she has to carry so much.

It is common in Hong Kong to see small children weighed down by a school bag that, in some cases, is almost as big as them and almost heavy enough to pull them backwards.

Sadly, it's just as common to see a child skipping along the pavement with a sweating parent, grandparent or helper, trying to keep up, with the school bag over their shoulder.

Children should be encouraged to be independent, but it seems wrong to expect them to carry such a heavy weight. It's not an issue for students who travel to school by bus or car, but for those who walk more than a few metres, the long-term effects on their small bones, shoulder muscles and back is a concern.

You as a parent can do something about it. First, check that everything in your daughter's bag is necessary for school on that particular day. You may find, for example, that several textbooks or items such as recorder books have been left in there by mistake and may be being carried back and forth for no reason.

You may find that several textbooks or ... recorder books have been left in there by mistake and may be being carried back and forth for no reason

It is amazing what you can find in a child's bag if it has not been emptied for a few days. From my experience it can vary from rotting sandwiches and soggy pieces of unidentifiable paper to toys they have sneaked in without your knowledge.

Especially during the hotter months, water bottles are one of the heaviest items in school bags. If your daughter does not need to drink on the way to school, she could carry hers empty and fill it once she gets there. Alternatively she could have it half full.

Check to see if the school will allow any unneeded items to be left in a cubby hole. And when your daughter gets home, help her get into the routine of emptying her bag completely so she only packs things that are necessary for the next day. This will boost her problem-solving skills as she balances items that she needs to take with those that she chooses to.

Children in Hong Kong have so many different subjects a day that demand a wide variety of books. Perhaps you could work with the school to take a look at streamlining - or even cutting down - the weight of folders and books. The school might be completely unaware of this problem.

On your end, make sure you buy a quality, comfortable bag that is the right size for your daughter. Some schools have their own designs and sell them through either approved suppliers or a parent-teacher association. The bags should have padded, adjustable shoulder straps and an adjustable strap around the waist or hip to help support the weight. Back pains are a growing problem given our modern lifestyles.

Nobody wants to see a generation of children with health problems when a solution is easily available.

Julie McGuire teaches at a Hong Kong primary school

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