How to help your kid pick the best school backpack

Sturdy, comforatble and cool.Sturdy, comforatble and cool.My son's backpack arrived in the mail yesterday...after his first day of school. But his excitement was still high all because of a Lego Bionicle bag (US$30 on eBags) He couldn't get it out of the box fast enough. And I was pleasantly surprised. The backpack was super sturdy with comfortable straps and ample room inside for a first-grader's load.

Selecting the right school backpack for school goes beyond appearance. The bag needs to do its job while not causing muscle or joint injuries to your kid. If carried improperly, backpacks can also lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain as well as posture problems.

So when you're talking to your kid about getting a new backpack, you'll need to focus on three areas: how the bag is designed, how your kid packs the bag and how to wear the bag.

Okay, so let's talk design. What should you look for in a backpack?

  • Make sure the backpack is lightweight. If the fabric and funky features make it heavy when it's empty, you're already starting off on the wrong foot.
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps for maximum comfort on the neck and shoulders.
  • Two shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight of the bag.
  • If possible, a padded back to buffer against the edges of books and binders.
  • A waist strap, which is especially good for older kids as their bags get more heavy with books.
  • Wheels. If your kid's school allows rolling backpacks, encourage it!
  • The right size for your child's grade. Is the bag wide enough to fit a basic pocket folder without curling the edges? If not, it's too small. (Most kindergarteners bring home pocket folders with their school work and important papers each day).
  • Pick one that can be easily washed. Because you know how stinky those bags get after a few weeks.

So you've picked out a cool bag that has the best features to keep your kid's back from hurting. But if they overload the bag, there's still a problem. According to the American Physical Therapy Association guidelines, a backpack should weigh no more than 15 percent of a child's weight.

A few things to teach your kids about packing their backpack:

  • Pack the bag light and keep it organized.
  • Remove items that aren't necessary (e.g., books that aren't required for homework, a lunch bag that could be carried in your child's hand, a too-heavy binder). Encourage them to clean out their bag every night so they can get rid of those unessential items (and the leftover lunch that's been stinking up their bag for days).

And when they wear the bag?
  • Make sure they use both shoulder straps along with the waist strap.
  • Keep the straps tight. If they are loose, the bag will sag and cause strain on the neck, shoulders and the lower back.
  • Encourage your kid to tell you about pain or discomfort that may be caused by a heavy backpack. If they do? Don't ignore it.
Parents should also check with their child's school to make sure that the students are allowed to stop at their lockers throughout the day.

Tomorrow, I'll show you my top picks of backpacks from preschool through high school.