We’re Baaaaack—in School

Back to school is a crazy time of year, and not many parents relish all the last-minute shopping for supplies. But no matter what your kids need for school this year, they’ll definitely need a backpack to haul it around in. Here are some fun and functional choices for your students.


bixby backpackBixbee

Got a little one entering Pre-K or Kindergarten this year? He or she will love Bixbee, and so will you. These packs are adorable and come in a variety of great patterns and styles. Some have wings, some have animal faces and ears, heck, there are even shark fins. Bixbee also has a line of more typical backpacks and tamer color palettes for bigger kids. These backpacks are well-made, PVC-, BPA-, phthalate-, and lead free, and come in several sizes, which is more important than you think: The American Occupational Association says that to help your child avoid chronic pain, backpacks should rest “in the curve of the lower back” and never more than four inches below the child’s waistline. Not content to simply combine style and safety, Bixbee also donates a schoolbag with supplies to a needy child for every backpack purchased. For more info, visit http://www.bixbee.com


wildkins backpackWildkin

Wildkin’s matching backpacks and lunch bags are great for kids who like all their things to match (or for parents who find it easier to grab everything when it all looks the same). Besides backpacks and lunchboxes, there are also matching nap mats, sports bags, duffels, pencil cases, big-kid bedding sets, and more. The patterns are delightful. The only drawback is that they aren’t quite as sturdy as some others, so if your child is tough on his or her gear, you may not be able to use this year’s pack next year. Prices vary. http://www.wildkin.com


chooze backpackChooze

Chooze bags and coordinated lunch boxes are really durable (meaning that they can stand up to being used by adults) and come in great patterns. They also have padded straps (those packs will get heavier and heavier as the year progresses), plenty of pockets and pouches, and zippers that stay zipped and don’t catch, As an added bonus, they’re completely reversible—just turn it inside out and you’ve got a whole new look without you having to buy a new pack. $25-$44 at http://www.choozeshoes.com


noosa yoghurtNoosa Yoghurt

Looking for something delicious to stick into lunchboxes this year? Noosa’s great taste and flavor combinations, along with the fact that it’s produced in small batches on a family farm, make this unlike any other yogurt on the market today. Made with all natural whole milk, fresh fruit purees, and honey, it’s also all natural, gluten-free, and probiotic, so it’s good for the whole family. Comes in lunchbox- and grown-up sizes in unique flavors like Cranberry Apple, Pumpkin, Honey, and Strawberry Rhubarb, and more traditional ones like Vanilla and Blueberry.  Find a store that sells Noosa near you at http://www.noosayoghurt.com/


simply7 sea saltSimply 7

Another easy lunchbox ingredient is chips. No, not all are very health, but Simply 7’s are. Chips come in Quinoi, Lentil, and Hummus (unusual sounding but incredibly tasty) and are vegetarian, non-GMO, kosher, gluten free, and have up to 50% less fat than regular potato chips. Flavors include sea salt, spicy chili pepper, roasted red peppers, creamy dill, and jalapeno, BBQ, cheddar, and bruschetta. Best of all, the ingredients are simple and pronounceable (except possibly bruschetta). Available at many large and small retailers. To find one near you, visit http://www.simply7snacks.com/


Back(pack) to the Future

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me, and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A: You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck, and shoulders.
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School Shouldn’t Be a Backbreaking Experience

Dear Mr. Dad: School just started this week and already, our 10-year old son’s backpack is so heavy he can hardly lift it.  I see a lot of other kids with wheely packs—should we get one for him?

A: Overloaded backpacks are responsible for an increasing amount of pain, injuries, and emergency room visits. National School Backpack Awareness Day is the third Wednesday in September. But I think the American Occupational Therapy Association (which created it) should move it a month earlier so parents can be aware of their kids’ backpacks before the school year starts.

The easiest solution to the problem is to try to get two copies of all textbooks, especially the really heavy ones—one to keep at school, the other at home. If the school won’t allow that, check into digital copies. Many publishers are making their books available for iPads and other tablets.

Let’s start with wheely backpacks. They may seem like a good solution to the problem, but before buying one, consider this:

  • A recent study compared the posture of kids with wheeled packs against those with regular ones. The wheely kids were actually more asymmetrical (meaning they were leaning to one side) and were putting more stress on their spine (by twisting) than kids with traditional packs.
  • They still have to be lifted to get them in and out of cars and up and down stairs. And because of the wheels, it’s tempting for kids to put even more stuff in them than they would with a regular pack.
  • Some schools have banned them. They scuff floors, chip concrete, and ding up walls. They also cause traffic jams in hallways and because they’re below eye level, are major tripping hazards.

Wheely or not, here are a few important guidelines:

  • The pack should not weigh any more than 10 percent of your child’s bodyweight. The recommendations used to be 10-15 percent, but a recent study found that even 10 percent compressed the discs in the back and caused the spine to curve unnaturally.
  • If the backpack makes your child lean forward to carry it, it’s too heavy, no matter how much it weighs. It’s also too heavy if your child struggles when putting it on or taking it off.
  • The pack itself should be made of a sturdy, lightweight material and have two thick straps. Thin straps can cut into the shoulder and cause pain or even pinch a nerve.
  • Load heavier objects so they’ll be closer to your child’s back. And leave personal items at home or in a school locker (assuming it has an actual lock on it).
  • Lift properly. That means bending the knees, being right in front of the pack when picking it up, and using both hands. Yanking a heavy object with one hand or from the side puts too much pressure on the spine.
  • Wear it properly. Wearing a pack over one shoulder may look cool, but it can cause short- and long-term neck and back problems.  If the pack has chest or waist straps, use them. They help distribute the weight of the pack more evenly.  The pack should also be worn so it sits between the shoulder blades and not on the low back.
  • Stow it properly. Some backpack-related injuries are the result of kids tripping over them.

Finally if your son complains of tingling, numbness, or pain before, during, or after wearing the pack, have him stop wearing the pack completely until his pediatrician can examine him.