Kids are dynamic learning machines, but they have been placed in an ever-increasing sedentary educational environment. In this episode, Katy shares the small adjustments--to clothing, backpacks, and before and after school time---you can make that will help your kids get the movement they need.
(time codes are approximate)
00:02:10 - Footwear (Jump to section)
00:12:15 - Minimal Footwear and Older Kids (Jump to section)
00:20:50 - Walking Before or After School (Jump to section)
00:27:00- Desks, Sitting, School (Jump to section)
00:33:30 - Backpacks (Jump to section)
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THE SHOW
This is the Move Your DNA podcast, a show where movement science meets your everyday life. I’m Katy Bowman – biomechanist, author, and school nerd. All bodies are welcome here. Let’s get moving.
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Hey podcast listeners. The summertime, for many, is the easiest time of year to fit in more movement. The summer schedule can be less hectic. The weather is better. Others are more available for community gatherings. But as we turn toward fall, movement starts to drop off as the weather turns. Wind and rain can mean stiff shoes and jackets - literally making moving your body parts harder to do. Those friends who didn’t hesitate to meet you at the pool or river for a swim now want to hunker down inside and stay cozy. And then there’s all of those going back to school.
So, the learning container –this is the environment in which many kids and young adults spend a large portion of their literally formative years – is often the opposite of summertime movement. The educational environment definitely affects kids' movement, which is what we’re talking about today: from back-to-school shoes that ensure kids are recess ready, to backpacks and alignment, desks and sitting, and how to get more movement before and after school.
Today’s episode is a collection of questions and answers, some pulled from the podcast vault. I did a show on “ back to school biomechanics ” years ago. So, fans of my old co-host Dani will be happy to hear her again. And there are new questions and answers too. So get out your pencils and Trapperkeepers, my friends.
You’re going to want to take some notes!
August is the time of year many will head out to buy back-to-school shoes, whether they're minimal or not. Let’s talk about shoe shopping, specifically footwear fit, and how to save a little money by not getting winter shoes too soon.
DANI: This weekend you wrote a blog post , I noticed, that I wish was not just in your blog, but I wish it was in every publication that a parent could read across the nation. Because it was about choosing shoes. That’s tough – say that five times fast. Choosing shoes, choosing shoes, choosing shoes. But it was great! It was back-to-school shopping for kids’ shoes, and you could apply that to your big, grown-up feet shoes, you know, back-to-school shopping. But it was great. You gave a step-by-step thing, and I’m not going to read the whole article – you’re welcome – but if you wanted to give a few highlights from that, what would they be?
KATY: Bullet points are: It’s best – this is a tip – it’s best to shop for shoes - meaning, your feet are at a good size to be fitted for new shoes – at the end of the day, or after the bout of whatever it is that you’re doing. So, it’s soccer time right now. So for example, everyone’s like," I’ve got to get soccer shoes." And they go out and they fit their kids for soccer shoes, but the best time to fit your kids – and yourself – for shoes, especially for sport-specific shoes is after you’ve done the sport. So if you’re a runner, you don’t go shoe shopping in the morning. You go take your run so that your feet are at the size. Because your feet are malleable. They’re going to change shape based on the activity and the fluid content that’s in there. So you want to do it after the thing that you’ve just done when your foot is at your maximum size or shape for whatever that activity was. So if you’re buying shoes for kids, don’t do it early in the morning, before they’ve had a chance to be on their feet quite a bit or use it. You want to go out, and go hiking, go running, go playing. Let them be out for a little bit and towards the end of the day: 3, 4, and 5 is a really good time to fit your kids.
KATY: Kids’ feet grow fast.
KATY: This is something that we don’t really think of as a – yeah if you’re a parent, you know. When we just have a shoe size that we are, but your kids, their feet are growing constantly, and so the recommendation is that the shoe for a child is always at least a half of an inch longer than their foot at rest, because again, once you start moving, your foot does not maintain the static shape. It’s stretching, it’s reaching as your weight passes over it, it’s widening and lengthening. So if you fit a shoe to a static foot, which is, interestingly enough back to school shoe shopping is also a memory of going to Payless Shoe Source and putting your foot on the thing with the sliding dial, did you have that?
DANI: I know the word for that!
KATY: What is it?
DANI: It’s a Brannock device. That is what it is.
KATY: Is that the name of the – the – guy, I’m assuming, who created it?
DANI: I think so, but that’s the weird metal thing where they shove the other metal thing and then metal – everything was just so metal.
KATY: It was – but – I remember as a kid, going, he’s like, we have to measure your right foot and your left foot and I was like, “why? You only sell shoes in pairs.” Like – and it was just, and I guess it was just to get the larger one, right?
KATY: To make sure that the pair fit the larger shoe, but anyway. Brannock device. Thank you.
KATY: Okay, where was I? All these interesting words –
DANI: So the foot has to be – it has to be in movement. You have to know what the foot’s going to be doing while you’re walking or moving or running.
KATY: Right. So – well, your foot is going to get bigger and smaller as you’re moving, so you want the shoe to fit the bigger, right?
KATY: But a shoe that’s too big is just as problematic as a shoe that’s too small. So what are you – so I think the natural response is like, great, well, if my kid’s foot is growing constantly through the year, then I’ll get a shoe that’s like one size too big, and then that way they can kind of grow into it over the year. Because it gets expensive, right? If you have –
DANI: Oh my gosh, yeah.
KATY: So, what do you do? You have to buy multiple pairs of shoes per year, and that gets expensive, and so in the blog post, I kind of showed how I do it, right? Like, how do you delegate, dispense your shoe budget for the year, and a big secret if you want minimal shoes for kids and you don’t want to spend a lot of cash, is swim shoes.
KATY: What’s the other word for swim shoes? Like, water shoes, pool shoes?
KATY: They are – do you have another word?
DANI: I think it’s just pool shoes is what I’ve –
KATY: Pool shoes. They’re usually at – around here I see them in drugstores, you know, like in the –
DANI: Yeah, like, hanging on one of those twirly racks.
DANI: Yeah. And they’re not expensive.
DANI: I’ve never seen them for more than, like, $15.
KATY: Yeah, they’re super cheap, and the cool thing about them is they’re flat. They’re flexible, and they’re inexpensive, so – and they’re usually rubber-bottomed, so even if you live in a wet place – I live in a wet place, in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not super freezing, especially in the fall, right? So I recommend that you get one of those for fall, this early part because there might be rain on the ground but if you pair them with wool socks you’ve got something that’s warm, water-resistant, flat, flexible and it gets you through til when you’re going to need, like, your – your big guns.
KATY: Depending on where you live, right? If you live in Southern California, you’re like, what is she talking about? The socks, and boots.
KATY: Boots? But if you live in, like, where you live, you guys are going to get some snow, yeah?
DANI: Yeah, gotta get some boots.
KATY: So the best time is closer to when your foot is at the size that you’re going to be using them, so if you’re going to be wearing winter boots then try to buy them as close to winter as possible so that they’re going to match your shoe shape, then. Don’t get excited and buy your winter boots in October, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.
DANI: Okay. That’s good.
KATY: Put it off a little bit. So, and then you can buy another pair of inexpensive swim shoes in the early spring or late winter when the snow is over, but you still need a little bit of wet, and um, moccasins or other minimal shoes to kind of – it has, like, how to pace it out a little bit, I guess.
DANI: It was very helpful, very good, and especially the part about tracing the foot and how to trace it, because then you don’t have to deal with the Brannock device. You’ve got – you’ve got your own measurement with your toes spread wide, so I liked that a lot.
KATY: That’s good for adults, too.
DANI: Yeah, absolutely.
KATY: And if you’re a homeschooler, a fun lesson, right? I included that actually in a blog post, a whole link to a homeschool lesson on feet and shoes, so check that out.
DANI: And – talking about homeschooling – that’s a good time for lots of barefoot time, right? And –
KATY: If you’re inside, sure is.
DANI: Foot muscle training time.
KATY: Yeah, and um – you know, when - we could probably do a winter show, like how to move in the winter. But that was – there were a lot of blizzards. Like East Coast, eastern Canada got hit pretty hard with winters last year where they’re like, yeah, okay, walk 3-5 miles a day is just not possible, like, it’s freezing, we will die, Katy Says. It was like, okay, well, what do you – what are ways to create movement indoors and obstacle courses, obstacle courses. Obstacle courses are amazing. They’re fun to set up, they are fun for kids and adults to do. And then you can do one just for feet, though. They’re meant to be barefoot and train your feet with all sorts of wobbly, cool balancing. I threw up some pictures, and that’s a good way to strengthen the muscles in your feet, because minimal shoes, again, if you listen – I think back to our episode maybe on the Vibram lawsuit? This was like an early episode that we did...
KATY: ...where when you get, like, on the minimal footwear bandwagon there’s a tendency sometimes to think that just putting the shoe on the foot will give you more movement, but you actually have to be moving, right?
KATY: You have to be doing more movements and so, it’s not a magical foot massage device, like, you actually have to be up and you have to be walking over varied terrain, and if that varied terrain is buried under snow or the outside is not accessible to you, then create a varied terrain inside.
DANI: Which – and you don’t even have to buy extra stuff, I mean, you can use pillows and couch cushions, and stuff like that, and go to the dollar store and get a bunch of pebbles, and it’s just – yeah. I like how you do it on the cheap, I appreciate that about you.
KATY: Oh my god, I am so cheap.
DANI: No, say frugal, you do it on the cheap, but you’re not cheap, you’re frugal.
KATY: Oh. I’m thrifty.
DANI: A thrifty Scot.
KATY: But I don’t think it’s much as thrifty isn’t my motivation. Money saving isn’t my motivation as much as reusing things that already exist is my motivation, so, like, go now before it’s all covered under snow. Go get pebbles. Go find a cool balancing log, bring them in to dry them out now so that when it’s time to set up your winter stuff, you have all that stuff ready to go. Just get a big box. Start putting it in there and then create your kind of foot training kit in your back pocket so the first snow day when you’re like, what am I going to do? It’s like, I already have this plan. I’ve been planning on this since September. It’s fun. I enjoy it, it’s creative.
KATY: Hey friends, so it’s been 7 years since I recorded that last bit. My kids were young and did, you know, everything I wanted them too, for the most part. I wanted to chime in with a few more bits about minimal footwear and kids - specifically older kids, pre-teens, and teens - and share this email I received a couple of years ago. So it went:
This question revolves around a shoe issue and touches on parenting teenagers! A bit of backstory, everyone in our family wears minimalist shoes exclusively, including our two children, who have never worn anything else. Our son is 18 and has his 1 or 2 favorite minimalist shoes that work for his lifestyle and that is that. However, our 14-year-old daughter is going in a very different direction! She desires all that is part of a typical American culture and lifestyle, which is very different than how she was raised. This now includes “high heels”. I have tried to buy her all the cutest, most fashionable minimalist styles out there, and that worked for a time, but she is now putting her foot down (ha, ha) and saying “My body, my choice” and inserting her right to wear heels. As you can tell there are deeper, quite normal, and expected, developmental behaviors going on here and we are at a point in our relationship where it is key for me to begin to lessen my control of her choices and let her express herself and her autonomy. I definitely have to “pick my battles”. But, unlike the makeup or booty shorts, etc, my concern with the shoes is obviously, damage to her feet. I believe so strongly in the importance of the barefoot shoe concept, as well as actually going barefoot, that this is a hard one for me. I was hoping she would be happy with something with a very slight heel, but what she wants is quite a high heel, in my opinion. Yes, they are not the highest thing out there (near vertical!), but definitely a significant heel, especially to my feet, which never wear any heel at all. So, my question to you is, or what is just some general advice for my situation, and specifically is there any way to minimize the harm to her feet? She has had 14 years of appropriate footwear and her everyday go-to shoes will still be minimalist, so that’s good. What about a limit on the rise or angle of the heel, and/or a limit on the frequency and/or duration of wearing the heels? And what would be an appropriate or necessary time limit be? Or am I worrying too much and should just let her explore on her own terms? That would be the path of least resistance, but I still feel responsible for her health, as her mother, and I want to preserve her strong and functional feet. Those were some ideas I had, but I really wanted an expert to weigh in on the subject and help guide this thorny situation I find myself in.
So my response that I wrote back then, which I’ll share with you all is this: You may have read about "The Adorner" in my family in either Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief or Grow Wild. And P.S. an adorner isn’t someone into fashion or style as much as those who really need to express themselves by what they put onto their body. And P.P.S. I am not an adorner.
Anyhow, to y’all: for me, raising children includes both teaching them choice-making, while also holding boundaries for them until they can fully handle holding their own boundaries. So much of the former is theoretical; you're trying to explain what the result of a choice will be/feel like. I also know it's really the self-experience that guides us most or maybe I just liked to learn the "hard way" as a kid. (And honestly as an adult) On the other hand, how a body is shaped in childhood is the foundation for how the body functions over a lifetime, so where we choose to set boundaries during this time does have long-term implications. So it's a delicate dance.
Our family's shoes have always been minimal, but The Adorner is going to take three days to carve wood heels, and she'll measure and cut cardboard, and then hook it all together with painter's tape and aluminum tape. And she'll do this all by herself. I'm just gonna simply admire her creativity and pursuit of self.
She's fallen down twice, as she's clomping around noisily and most importantly she's in charge of her happy experiment of how these shoes feel and work compared to all the other shoes that she's worn. And she's noticed herself that her toes hurt, how slow she is, and how her legs can't move as much. She's noticed this along with how rad she looks so that she can make an informed choice when she's building her own shoe closet in the future.
So, I wrote this in the note and I'm just gonna say it again to everybody: I sincerely hope nobody is following me for parenting advice (please tell me you're not following me for parenting advice because I really only have HOW TO MOVE advice). But I'm just sharing a snapshot of me and my kid doing the delicate dance of handing over boundary-holding, where her movement choices are concerned.
That was, again, a letter that I wrote back a couple of years ago. But to bring things into the TODAY or really just a couple or days ago: My other kid really wanted Vans skater shoes because that’s what he’s into. And they’re flat but pretty bulky and stiff, but they were his 11-year-old choice, and amongst a couple other pairs that are more that classical minimal that he spent most of his life wearing. So I was totally happy to let him pick out the shoes that he wanted. The first month he rolled his ankle while trying to do his regular ninja moves - that's just like leaping and jumping off of stuff. So that was one of the challenges with really stiff soles that I was able to show him.: there's no wiggle room, If you catch an edge, it's just a long lever that's gonna flip over and tweak the ankle. If you've got something that's a little bit more supple, you catch an edge, and it kind of rocks and bends and you can set it back down. It was also a good physics lesson. And then last week he wore these shoes backpacking - and he woke up in the middle of the night in the tent with really bad calf cramps. Enough where calf massages were required. And in the morning, I gave him a quick explanation that without really being able to move his feet parts as much as he had been used to moving them, so he's got sort of stiffer feet now wearing his stiffer shoes so much and then he's got the extra weight of the pack and he's walking more miles - his feet weren’t as strong as they could have been going into that situation. So the next day - and we're in the backcountry and I said, "Maybe take off your shoes and spend a lot of time barefooting back here so at least you can stretch your feet in a more complex way." And he did. And I overheard him on our backpack out of the wilderness, he was creating a plan for his back-to-school shoes. He wanted - he was saying, "I want to keep my Vans, but just for skating, but I want to find a cool-looking minimal pair to wear for all the other times for all the other movements" he wanted to do. I felt like this was a parenting win. What else is there? I felt good about his self-exploration. He got to experience some of the more theoretical things that I had talked about. Him just wearing the shoes that I say doesn't really teach him anything about shoes or his feet. So, again, I don't know if this helps, but I know a lot of us are negotiating older children and autonomy. And really wanting them to learn versus sort of adopt a family dogma. So anyway ... Feet might not need support but children do, as they figure out how to be grown-ups. And this is just a little snapshot into how I'm doing it.
DANI: If I’ve got kids, how about walking to school?
KATY: Walking to school. Cherished - being walked to school - cherished memories. Just, you know, um, walking to school is one of those things that has just kind of gone away ...
KATY: ... just because of the way society is now. But escort - walking by yourself - I remember when I was in preschool, walking certain distances myself. You know, even like a block. That just doesn’t happen anymore, ok?
DANI: Can I add that in to my cherished memories? Because I always had to walk to school, and it was just like that time of decompression on the way home ...
DANI: ... and the time to get excited on the way there. "What am I going to learn today?" And I don’t think that would have happened if I were sitting on my rear.
KATY: No, and I remember - I don’t think I thought about it then like I think about it now. But I remember a sense of independence, and who knows how alone I was? So my son who is 4 just asked the other day if he could walk this quarter mile home by himself. He’s like, "can I walk this by myself?" And he asked because his 6-year-old cousin does it. His mom - we live close enough, and she’ll ride her bike to a certain point, and then she can watch him walk a certain point, and then I’m at the other end and can watch - but the kid doesn’t really know that as much. And so I was like, "yeah! Absolutely!" And then you know, you drive home and he seemed so big all of the other times until he’s walking down this huge road and I’m like, "oh my god, he’s like an ant! He’s so tiny, like a baby, crawling down this thing!" And he did the whole thing! And I- there’s just a - it’s being autonomous, right? It’s this whole experience of, “I got this,” and it’s - it was safe, you know. I felt that there were just no risks or minimal risks, I think for him. Any risk that he can handle. But that’s not an option for a lot of people, so - and also people live too far from where they go to school.
KATY: Where it’s like, "Okay, I’d like to have 2 extra hours to walk the three miles - you know, my kids back and forth, but I don’t." So our friend, Debbie, from Positively Aligned, has a really great solution for this. And when I went to visit her in Texas, I did this with her and it was genius, but I’ll let you tell it because it’s just - I just like to hear it.
DANI: Well, I mean it is pretty smart. She would - she was quite a ways away from her school, and wouldn’t - it was like 4 miles, I think, to school. So she would drive the car out to a certain point and then they would just all get out with their backpacks and walk the rest of the way. So I think it ended up being 2 miles each way for the kids, so 4 miles total. And then she would get an extra little bit in. But they beat traffic because they would have to leave earlier to get the walk in, and then they weren’t stuck in their car with everybody else at the same time who was going to school, they were out walking.
KATY: Yeah. It was great. She - so for her, or anyone else going, "how can I get more movement?" She would drive - I don’t remember exactly what the distance was, but it doesn’t matter - even if it’s – I have little kids, it’s like, great, then do a mile, or do a half mile. Whatever. She would park and walk in and they would play like shadow chasing games ...
KATY: ... which was great ...
DANI: You know, and sometimes she’d have to carry their backpacks...
DANI: ...and that was just like the tradeoff that she made.
KATY: But that’s a benefit. That’s awesome, right?
DANI: Right, right.
KATY: Like, she got to use this time to train, and it’s like going to the gym with your kids. "Here, carry all my stuff." But then she would walk back and then she would walk in to pick them up and then walk out. So she got twice as much walking as they did, half of it being fast, adult-paced, and then she got to be with them those extra hours. They got to walk. But I love that you pulled out this decompression idea. It wasn’t like, quick! Get in the car! Drive home! It was this whole, relaxing 20 or 40 minutes, however long it is for you of talking, but not where people are clamoring for your attention. Where it can be - it was just more like, we’re just out and running around, and I don’t know. It was beautiful. It felt really good. It was just a great way to break up a day.
DANI: Right, well and minds always wander when you walk. That’s just part of the nature of walking, is your mind goes places and you don’t always have the opportunity in school, so it’s a really good time to let that happen for little kids and adults, just to have ...
DANI: ...because not everybody needs to be talking at once. Or focused on the same thing.
KATY: Yeah, and I think also back to the homeschool - I like to give our alternative schoolers ideas, right? Because you’re constantly figuring out, like, cool lessons. And a good movement lesson would be for maybe older kids - or younger kids, I guess, depending on where they are - would be maybe to keep a walking journal, or to track distance.
KATY: Even if they’re in traditional schools, to be like, okay.
DANI: Have you heard about the 100 Mile Club® ?
DANI: Okay, this is really cool - this is just started, and actually the person that does our show notes that really do exist out there somewhere ...
KATY: Stop telling lies!
DANI: Our transcriptionist - she turned me on to this. It’s called the 100 Mile Club®. And it’s for schools, but you can adapt it to non-traditional situations, or even just your own family, and it’s for kids to walk 100 miles during the school year. You know, so you break it down, you log it and everything, and so it gives them something. If they're not just turned on by the idea of just walking, because some kids like to work towards something, and they can even work towards a medal or a sticker or a certificate or whatever. But yeah, it’s called the 100 Mile Club® , I think you can look it up by that, and it’s for schools to try to get everybody going. Groups.
DANI: It’s kind of a cool idea.
KATY: A good idea for teachers out there, maybe, who are trying - we get a lot of requests from teachers, going, how do I adjust my curriculum? So, anyway, by doing that! That’s great.
KATY: Me again. I know, for many of you, a big concern with the educational environment is all of the sitting. Some schools break up sitting with recess time, but many schools have dwindling recesses and many schools allow devices at student break-time, which means just a lot of sitting for the bulk of most school days.
And maybe you feel this way about your work day too - so much sitting at your work desk. And in both cases, my advice is the same. Don’t focus on the hardest part of your life to change, focus on the easiest. If kids are sitting a ton at school, then make sure your home environment isn’t also chair-forward or sitting-forward. So let’s go back in time a bit and hear what I had to say back then.
DANI: My goodness. I don’t think there’s one kid in the world that likes sitting in a school desk all day long. And sometimes I just wonder - can’t we just kind of like, demand, or petition that we just do something different? But it has to - there are all sorts of ways we could approach this.
KATY: Well, that’s - I mean, going up - like, changing a paradigm is huge, so, like you have this - we are these little people with this idea and there are institutions that have a different idea. So that’s challenging. And I think - I definitely think, it’s kind of like all activism in general, that there is benefit to organizing some sort of intervention against larger institutions who have a particular idea when you’re trying to initiate change. But before we do that, again thinking about the parent who feels overwhelmed, being like, "Hey! Petition your school district!" You know what? Just lay down in front of the desks at your school district. That seems big and overwhelming. So the first thing you can do so that you can feel empowered is to simply change your home environment. So if people are shaped by what they do all day, then make sure that your house doesn’t ... So setting up where are your kids doing homework? So if you’re like, "I don’t like this desk thing", but you have desks for your kids at home, then start with eliminating that. Create standing or floor sitting desk workstations. Oh, gosh, we came up with a bunch of ideas, right?
DANI: Oh, yeah, so some people have just, like, created a dynamic workspace for their kids when they get home.
DANI: And it doesn’t have to be pricey. You don’t have to go all out on this, I mean - you’ve got a floor sitting option and then sitting next to a coffee table and then standing up at the kitchen, you know, food bar or whatever it is.
DANI: They don’t have to sit in one spot to do their homework.
KATY: They don’t. Although the problem, I think, for a lot of people comes with - they have one home computer and the kids have to be on the home computer. So if that’s the case, consider - I just posted a picture of my new office space. So I – Don’t Just Sit There, the paperback version, has just been released, and I’m trying – because people still want visuals.
DANI: You called it your dynamic workstation. I love that.
KATY: It’s a dynamic office!
DANI: It’s not just standing – it’s dynamic, woo!
KATY: It’s dynamic! I have a low table. Find a low table. Put your computer on the low table, and then the reflex tends to be, well, there’s no way am I - the adults want to sit down there. I’m like, "it’s good for you, too". This isn’t about kids; it’s about humans. But then, also, it’s not just the work time. What about the relaxation time? You still have the couch. You still have the EZ chairs. Everyone’s just kind of...
DANI: Dining table?
KATY: ...sitting. Everything! Like, the whole house. So, consider again that furniture-free home to whatever extent you can. There’s been again on our social media pages so many good ideas where the family couldn’t quite ditch the couch, so they just cut the feet off of it, dropping it 4 inches. That’s huge!
DANI: Yeah, that was brilliant. That was great.
KATY: Brilliant. Have floor picnics, you know. Eat on the floor sometimes in the dining room. Have family challenges, where if you watch TV together as a family you do it on the floor with kind of fun movement challenges during commercial time. Also - gosh, what else?
DANI: Well, we did something cool this weekend. We took an outdoor picnic table and we moved into this gigantic house and we don’t have nearly enough stuff for it, it’s like, it’s ridiculous. It’s like we’re squatting. But –
KATY: That’s awesome! So it’s perfect is what you mean.
DANI: Well, no – yeah, it’s perfect!
KATY: What you’re saying is it’s perfect as it is.
DANI: It is perfect as it is, and we had an outdoor ping pong table, and we were looking at this huge spot where a formal dining room table would go in this sort of a house. And we’re like, "why – why would we buy another table? Let’s just move the ping-pong table in where that’s supposed to go." So it totally looks like we’re college students, but we’ve just been - I mean, no one can stay away from the ping-pong table.
KATY: Yeah. That's great.
DANI: It’s right there to play it, so there’s all sorts of little added things.
KATY: You know, I’m not such a good - again, winter. I feel like we need to do a trigger warning for all of the people on the east coast who are just like, stop saying it’s the end of summer! And have all of the...
DANI: Well, we’ll do a winter show.
KATY: Well, I meant the heavy winters that we just don’t have. You know - consider swapping out your furniture for something fun, family movement time instead of "all right, we’re going to sit down at this table for an hour." Be together in some other movement way. Put your food off to the side and go get a snack when you want, and then come and chat and play around the obstacle course or the ping-pong table or whatever else you can think of that would be fun. It’s just, uh, dynamic home. Dynamic because it’s ever-changing. Dynamic because it doesn’t constrict your movement in any way. So I think that’s kind of a cool thing. And then screen time, right? All the stuff that we’ve talked about before. There’s all these screen-free weeks, but can you do screen-free days or tech-free days with your family? Not just with your kids, but with the whole family. You know, consider having it switch off at a certain time, where it’s like, "ok, do your homework but the Internet switches off for everyone at 7". Just think outside the box, I guess. There are lots of solutions out there.
KATY: Ok, I know you want to hear about backpacks too, right? This one can be a bit tricky, to think of a daily load to carry as something we might want for our kids. Allow me to weigh in…
DANI: Backpacks. When you and I were growing up, we just didn’t have the kind of - we just didn’t haul stuff to and fro like kids today do. So I think, honestly, I carried - I don’t even think I had a backpack. I think I might have just carried whatever my lunch in my hand, or in my arms, and if I had to bring a book home, which was rare, it was in my arms. So a lot of stuff got dropped and scuffed up and all that. But you see them walking to school today and these little guys, they’re loaded down with stuff. And I guess as a parent, you know, I would kind of wonder, what’s the best thing?
KATY: Well, I have a different take on this than I think a lot of people do. So it’s a complex issue, because yes, they are carrying more stuff than we are. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. Right? Giving kids more loads to carry is not problematic. It’s kind of what we’re after, right? Having them work more, be stronger. The question is, is piling a bunch of stuff into a backpack - the loads - the way that we want to do it? So I don’t think - variables are tricky when you’re trying to flush out what the argument actually is. I don’t think that the problem is the weight. Weight is fine. Kids in other places do way more physical work and have the capacity to carry and be much stronger than our kids are currently. But what we have with the backpack is a repetitive load carried in a single way. Again, I don’t think that the weight is too much, as much as you’re asking a child who you also ask to be sedentary the bulk of the time to then carry this large burden on their spine, you know. So what is the solution there? The solution there is carrying the load in different ways. I, for a long time, have wanted to create a backpack that was similar - and sorry, fellas, if this analogy doesn’t make sense. But you know, like, you can buy those bras that are like 5 bras in one? It’s like, it’s over the shoulder and it crisscrosses in back!
KATY: And it’s strapless. So I have a long time wanted to create some sort of carrying device that had straps that went in different ways, where you can carry it in different ways. You can, of course, carry a backpack however you want. But you know, we’re talking about – I don’t know, are little kids, are 5 and 6-year-olds coming home with 30 pound backpacks? Or when does that phenomenon start? I actually don’t know.
DANI: Pretty early. Pretty early. It’s pretty crazy nowadays. But - but so you’re saying - that’s good. I’m glad that we are talking about this. You’re saying that just the variable is a big part of it. So I always believed, like, my backpack in high school: I was a one-strapper.
DANI: For those of you that don’t know what that is, I was way too cool to put my backpack on the way that it was designed, and so I carried it on one shoulder. Pretty much always the same shoulder.
KATY: Which one? Are you a lefty or a righty?
DANI: It was - oh, it was on my left shoulder, which is my jacked-up shoulder.
KATY: Sure. Right.
DANI: And then when I got older, I was like, you know, it makes sense, I’ll wear this with the two-strapper. So now I’m a two-strapper. But my son the other day - we were going off to nature school and he had his backpack on one thing, and I’m like, "you could put your backpack on both straps". And he’s like, “Mom. That’s not cool.”
KATY: You’re like, who are you talking to?
DANI: What’s wrong with you? But I guess, you know. Here I was worried that he’s going to get all jacked up, but if he varied it, it wouldn’t be such a big issue is what you’re saying?
KATY: I’m saying that you know, we have an aversion to work and weight and movement. And so it’s easy to see, like, look at all this weight they’re asking the kids to carry, and I’m like, yeah, kids are strong. They should be asked to carry a lot more stuff a lot more often. However, is a backpack - this consolidated load placed on the spine - I would find that to be the problem more so than asking them to carry the weight.
KATY: And so my kids go to outdoor school, too. They have backpacks, and it’s a little more challenging with smaller kids. But keep in mind that they’re also laboring kids, so they are constantly asked to carry and move and hang and swing, and so their bodies wouldn’t collapse under the weight of a backpack the same way someone who did not have that much other strength exercise throughout their life would collapse in a backpack. The effect of a backpack is not in a vacuum; it depends on who’s wearing it and what they do all the other time.
KATY: So for older kids, like your son, varying up how you carry your backpack.
And I wrote the pumpkin blog - there’s a pumpkin loads - It’s the Great Loads Lesson, Charlie Brown was one of my annual lessons I do on pumpkins. I always seem to do a blog once a year with a pumpkin. And so what’s the difference between carrying 10 pounds of pumpkins all stuffed in a backpack vs. carrying one on your head and a couple on your arms? That weight and how it’s distributed changes the net effect of something. And so, I remember it being cool to not have a backpack, but to have like 3 books in one arm? Right? Do you ever remember walking home just carrying your books with like, papers sticking out?
DANI: Yeah, maybe 7th grade or something, yeah.
KATY: But again, I wasn’t cool, so maybe it’s just what I did.
DANI: And here’s a question to your coolness: were you a one or two-strapper?
KATY: Ooh, two. Two. Because my glasses went over my right and left ear, so my straps had to go over my right. I had to balance the whole thing out, you know? And my permed hair was equally poofy. I was all about symmetry. I was all about - I needed to be a symmetrically a nerd.
DANI: And you said you weren’t cool! What are you talking about?
KATY: My mom said I was adorable.
DANI: My mom thinks I’m cool!
KATY: Messenger bags. I did get into it. I still prefer, like I don’t do any ... I like an over the shoulder strap. So over the shoulder strap - do it one way and then the other way. Put your backpack on the front. There were a couple of kids who did that. You know, carry their backpack on the front like a big pregnancy belly? That’s pretty hip. You should ask your son if that’s hip. You should just start wearing your backpack on the front of your body and see what he says.
DANI: Yeah, I just might do that for fun, just to shake things up a little bit.
KATY: And then put your butt pack on the back, and your – oh, my gosh.
DANI: That’s already qualified as totally uncool in my household, so.
KATY: I know. Okay, but all of that being said, if you are going "there’s my little kid is carrying all this crazy stuff", lighten their load a little bit with - like, I - we were buying stuff for outdoor school, and it’s like a huge, massive lunchbox. And I was like, what’s this huge, heavy - in outdoor school because they are hiking, you know, they’re not just wearing the backpack around in between classes. These little kids are hiking a couple miles with what’s on their back. So I do things like, they don’t have lunch boxes. Those are heavy. They have a knit sack - a mesh sack - that I put their food in because why have the extra weight of a backpack? Look for, you know, water bottles. When you’re purchasing items for back-to-school or what they carry with them on a regular basis, pick things that are lighter.
DANI: Oh, yeah.
KATY: Eliminate the need for - you know, do you need a pencil box? I mean, understanding that we all need a pencil box, do you really need a heavy pencil box in your bag, or could you just, you know, throw a couple pencils in your backpack? There is extra weight being placed in there, and extra bulk that may or may not be necessary. So backpackers will understand that you pare down your weight and don’t take non-essential items. So, I guess other things to think about if the load really is too heavy for the strength of your child right now. Pare it down.
KATY: As much as you can. They still have to bring- can you buy a duplicate set of textbooks? Some schools do that, right? Like, send their kids home with duplicates? Can you buy, you know, find used online duplicate textbooks so they’re not moving it back and forth?
DANI: Yeah, I guess I like the way that you’ve just changed my thinking about it. It’s not so much the weight, but just what they’re used to. If they’re sitting in a chair all day and then carrying the same load, it’s just too repetitive, so –
KATY: Yeah, and it’s -you know, we think, my kids are carrying too much weight! And then the next question is: how do I exercise my kids more? It’s like, we know where ...
KATY: ...we are living in the space between two paradigms right now. So you’re getting a little bit of this information, but you’re still within the culture that really goes out of its way to avoid movement, and so there is this - we live outside of a Venn diagram. We live in this space and it’s slowly overlapping, but it takes a while to start hearing, you know, the questions you’re asking. How this is too much work for my child and it’s like, well, too much work is relative. Is there - as your children get stronger and understand variability then it won’t be.
KATY: So. Anyway. That’s just, again, it’s part of that broader understanding of ergonomics vs. movement, and movement vs. exercise, but I think we got a shout-out in there for working more.
DANI: Yeah, absolutely.
And just one more note from 2022 about backpacks and cool kids, which I wasn’t, but really wanted to be: folks are always asking me if they should be worried about their kids and poor alignment, their kids wearing out their shoulders because they don’t want to wear both backpack straps at once. And m point of view is this is just a way to vary the carry. And instead of insisting that they wear both straps all the time - that's the best version of backpack alignment - encourage mixing up the use of both shoulders. So if they want to wear one strap, just put it on the right shoulder sometimes, and then on the left sometimes. They're using their body maybe not evenly in the moment, but evenly over a longer period of time.
So, to wind up: Kids are dynamic learning machines. But they’re placed in an ever-increasing sedentary educational environment. There are things that can be done though, so let’s focus on small adjustments that help kids get the movement they need. But also, parenting is hard. And being a kid is hard. And there’s no perfect, there’s only keeping moving forward the best we can. So think of all of this as food for thought, and just find the opportunities when you can. Study hard, friends, and expand your movement options. I will see you in class.
Hi. My name is Debbie from California. This has been Move Your DNA with Katy Bowman, a podcast about movement. Hopefully you find the general information in this podcast informative and helpful, but it's not intended to replace medical advice and should not be used as such. Our theme music was performed by Dan MacCormack. This podcast is produced by Brock Armstrong. And the transcripts are done by Annette Yen. Find out more about Katy, her books, and her movement programs at NutritiousMovement.com