I can’t help but wonder what young kids carry in their backpacks these days. When I attended Prince Phillip Public School I walked to school and can vividly recall not carrying anything—no lunch, no bag, no backpacks. I came home for lunch, also by walking, and had no need to carry a lunch.
Now when I watch kids getting off school buses, or my own grandkids coming or going to school, I see them with backpacks about half the mass and size of their own bodies and designed for three nights of survival training. What, I thought, is inside those backpacks that is so important that these kids lug them about at the risk of back disfigurement and personal injury? I had to know.
I took the opportunity to see the contents of my granddaughter’s backpack as she emptied it, searching for her agenda book. First I saw the remains of several lunches which included an array of numerous shapes and sizes of multi-coloured plastic containers, each with remnants of fruit, sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and other food groups in various stages of decomposition. I discovered backpacks were a good source of compost.
I also saw a complete change of clothing. Is this now an overnight bag? Socks, shoes, pants, raincoat, and a small retractable umbrella. I kept looking to see if any formal wear would emerge; both relieved and disappointed, I discovered no dresses, tiaras or glass slippers.
In a side pocket was a section full of notes to parents that dated back several months and probably could add about a pound of material to the recycle bin.
At the very bottom of the bag, in a separate grocery bag, was what looked like a load of gravel, but was, in fact, a valuable mineral collection probably weighing in at about 2.2 pounds.
There were of course books, many books, for her reading program. There were toys for either playtime at recess and/or show and tell. This included one doll who also had several changes of clothes including dresses, a tiara and shoes. There were various writing materials including pencils, aromatic markers and a box of 64 crayons. In my deprived childhood, only eight colours had been invented.
My childhood was very much a more black and white world. We now live in a colourful world of choice, variety and weight according to the contents of what may likely be a typical backpack belonging to a six-year-old girl. Although I never had the opportunity to weigh the backpack and its contents, I estimate the approximate weight at about 37 pounds, which I think may be about half my granddaughter’s total body weight when fully dressed in winter gear.
I didn’t get my first backpack until I was an adult and even then I didn’t know what to put in it. I think I may have a learning disability. However, I continue to watch kids barely able to ascend the steps of a school bus wearing their life support systems like little astronauts setting foot on the moon… one giant step for childhood.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marty has retired several times from teaching to take teaching contracts in Kuwait, China and a native reserve in Northern Alberta. He is now teaching Chinese students in Waterloo and spending time with his grandchildren, poking—with curiosity—through their backpacks.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Winter 2019 issue.