Burdened children

Consumer Reports weighed backpacks at three New York City schools, reports the New York Times’ Well blog. Elementary students carried only about five pounds, but the weight soared in sixth grade.

On average, 6th graders in the study were carrying backpacks weighting 18.4 pounds, although some backpacks weighed as much as 30 pounds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s weight. Consumer Reports recommends keeping the weight closer to 10 percent of a child’s weight.

Glenn Reynolds estimates his daughter’s backpack is one third of her weight.

About Joanne


  1. Just returned from the Dr., where my son was looked at for a curvature of the spine. The doctor said many of these problems, including my son’s, are caused by the backpacks. My son is 10. Just one more problem associated with assigning loads of homework to elementary students, a practice that, according to study after study, is not associated with increased achievement.

  2. Mike Curtis says:

    I’ve been teaching high school for 10 years and have observed that the student with the heaviest backpack is most likely to be the student who consistently asks if anybody can lend him a pencil and some paper.

  3. Don’t necessarily blame the school. And don’t say “drill and kill” doesn’t work–the studies that say it doesn’t are designed by and use teachers who are bored by actually *teaching* the information the kids need to learn.

    No, the fault behind the too-heavy backpacks lies with the textbook companies that replace content with glossy pictures and colorful graphics that have little bearing on what the kids actually need to learn.

  4. AndyJoy says:

    When I taught 6th-8th grade last year, at least 50% of my students were carrying around more books than necessary. The reason? They didn’t want to “waste time” going to their lockers between classes. This was a small school with ample time between classes, but they preferred to suffer and whine about heavy backpacks. Many of them also took all their books home so that they could show up at school right before the bell rang without going to their lockers.

  5. Here’s a silly practice that caused my son to have to lug around a heavy backpack all year. The students had to have a binder that contained everything… all of their subject folders, notebooks, take-home folder, and even workbooks at times. It was required that they bring it home every night – even if all they needed was a single sheet inside. I understand the efforts to help kids be organized and always have everything that they need, but this policy in particular was just plain silly. Throw into his oversized backpack his lunch box, water bottle, and sometimes a textbook and library books… the weight was completely extreme for a 4th grader…

    Small portable computers, intuitive and simple network interfaces and cloud computing will one day change the way kids do home-based work and access information… and they’ll move from heavy backpacks causing back problems to too much sitting with bad posture in front of computers and carpal tunnel syndrome 🙂

  6. Devilbunny says:

    AndyJoy, how much time is ample? We had 5 minutes between classes at that level in late 80s, but if you had to take a class over in the senior high building 5 mins was a very, very short span – just shy of running over there. The schedule was revised my senior year to drop that to 4 minutes between classes, which is adequate within a single small building but impossible between them. Especially so, if the teacher didn’t have you set to run right at the end of the period.

    Of course, my elementary school load was limited by the fact that I, along with several other kids who lived in the neighborhood, rode our bicycles to school in fair weather. Riding up and down hills isn’t any fun with 15 lb of books on your back.

  7. AndyJoy says:

    My students had 6 minutes, but we’re literally talking about 8 classrooms for grades 6-12 and one row of outdoor lockers outside 4 of the classrooms.

    I don’t disagree that kids generally have too much weight to carry. I’m just pointing out that sometimes the kids make things worse on themselves because of poor time management or laziness. My students’ common complaint of “too much homework/too many books to take home” could often be countered with the fact that they completely wasted the 1 hour study hall in which they could have finished the majority of the work.

    I agree that modern textbooks are ridiculously huge due to useless pictorial fluff. When I was a high school senior in 2000, I took an accounting class with a nice-sized, fairly plain book. The teacher loaned me the new, “updated” version and asked me to review it for him. I thought it was a ridiculous waste of paper. It was full of photos, biographies of minority accountants, flashy titles, bright vocabulary sections, etc. It was hard to find the content because of the distracting layout and bright colors. On my recommendation, the teacher decided to keep the old version until the school made him change.

  8. Laura K says:

    On the plus side, at least this was a district where the students were actually issued books. That’s not always the case.

  9. Methinks this is going to be part of the “A Kindle for every Kid” propaganda.

    Some of my college students, I will note, use rolling backpacks or rolling cases for their books – but usually only the folks who live far away from campus and walk.

  10. You know, they do make backpacks with little wheels at the bottom that can be pulled around campus.

  11. Just adding to my above comment…. Boo frigin hoo.

  12. As a corollary to Mike Curtis’s observation — the kid dragging around the 48-pound bag from class to class is invariably the one who is failing nearly everything.

  13. My kid had a backpack with wheels. For some reason, though, those backpacks were forbidden when she entered middle school. That seems like a boneheaded policy and I’ve never figured out exactly what the rationale was.

  14. NYC Educator said:
    “For some reason, though, those backpacks were forbidden when she entered middle school. That seems like a boneheaded policy and I’ve never figured out exactly what the rationale was.”

    And why would you expect a rationale for any policy in the modern school system? They adopt intricate mazes of rules, spelled out in excruciating detail, so that no administrator actually has to use common sense or be accountable for their decisions.

  15. At my jr. high, we were only allowed to go to our lockers at certain times of the day (not between every class). You had to carry materials for at least 2 classes and if you wanted to work on something from another class (review for a test during a break, etc) you had to carry that too. Our textbooks were huge – I routinely carried home a 30 lb backpack plus my band instrument.

  16. Frank Zavisca says:

    Could it be that our children are not being physically conditioned.

    Perhaps some exercises could make them less vulnerable to backpacks.

    Yet time management sholud perhaps be part of the curriculum – and teachers giving students advice on how to organize their backpacks.

    How about a scale in the classroom?

  17. Elizabeth says:

    My DD’s darn text books are twice as large and heavy as mine were! They resemble coffee table books more than traditional texts – tons of pictures and big margins.