Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Does Backpack Safety Awareness go far Enough?

ImageDoes your child come home like this?  Does your child complain of back pain?  Do you think that your child’s backpack is too heavy?  Well, it probably is.  The American Occupational Therapy Association has done an admirable job at promoting backpack safety awareness  and offers additional suggestions for parents and students. 

Most schools provide a double set of books to each child-one for school and one for home.  This is a good option but it does not go far enough.  There are some students who carry an overstuffed backpack because they do not know how to organize, others because they don’t want to be caught without an assignment.  When the time comes, though, the assignment is nowhere to be found.  There are other options.

Have you ever heard of a flipped classroom?  A flipped classroom provides supportive learning activities in the classroom [homework done in class not at home] while providing lectures through other media at home.  What about doing this with handouts, notes and other backpack materials.

Suppose handouts and lectures were viewed at home with a parent.  The parent would be learning the same material as the student, in the same way that it is taught in the classroom.  Handouts and paperwork could be viewed at home, while the actual labs and other materials were viewed in school.  This would then provide a significant measure of consistency between home and school.

In order to improve backpack safety and reduce pain and injury, I propose the following:

  • Parents access the handouts on a weekly basis either through e-mail or downloaded from a school server or even Google Drive.
  • Parents will review the handouts with their child prior to going to class [part of good note-taking-preview the material first]
  • Students will engage in activities based on the handouts and be scored on their knowledge using rubrics
  • Students will engage in class lectures in other media at home, with parent involvement [can be previewed or reviewed at any time]
  • Lectures can be provided daily or weekly and need not be long- Facts and a few examples provided with leading questions for thought to be addressed during the school day.  Class time is then spent on implementation of the lecture material to real life situations fostering critical thinking.
  • Engagement in after school team sport’s can be considered physical education–criteria can be scored and met with supervision of the physical education department–providing more class time
  • Parents can review a student’s progress at any time via a parent portal-[teacher needs to upload activity results daily or even weekly]

In my opinion, this can also increase educational time without having to increase the length of the school day or the length of the school year.  This may be a simplistic view, but in order to maximize parental involvement, educational exposure and decrease injury due to a lack of knowledge or follow through on backpack safety, this is an option.  Backpacks would be significantly lighter since little paper work goes between home and school.  Handouts and other paperwork is stored on a server so that it is never misplaced.  In addition, technology would then become a learning tool and not just for play.  Teachers could recommend apps and programs to support learning targeted skills turning gaming into learning.

The Common Core is probably here to stay since it’s goal is to develop and to reinforce critical thinking.  There may be modifications along the way, but the concepts will remain.  Critical and computational thinking are the skills that will bring our children into the future, the basis of STEM Programming and problem solving.  No backpacks will be required in the near future.



I am an occupational therapist with 18 years of experience in the pediatric sector, much of that time as an independent contractor. I am very passionate about my work and my writing. My degrees include a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Sciences and a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Touro College. Since graduating as a non-traditional student, I have worked in a variety of settings throughout the life span but settled in the area of school-based therapy. My interests lie in the area of using technology to support independence and I often train students to use programming not only to monitor their own goal progress but also support educational, vocational and life skills. Another area of particular interest is documentation. As an independent contractor for many years, I feel that it is important to align methods of documenting goal progress with educators for greater consistency and understanding when writing for an IEP. It is better to plan a format for documentation used in the IEP, such as for assessment and goal progress and that a rubric, in many ways, fulfills the need for consistency in documentation across all domains. Combining my interest in technology and documentation, I use Microsoft OneNote to maintain all documentation. I create a digital notebook for each student or patient with any forms required uploaded as templates which can then be completed, and saved automatically. I strongly believe in student centered approach to therapy. Students must be active participants in developing goals and documenting progress. In order to help students understand their progress, I teach my students to develop electronic portfolios and to use spreadsheet programming with graphs to collect data and view progress, whenever possible.