Topic of the Month: August 2015

Back to school with plastic

© istockphoto / Bolot
Children are starting school all over the world. For many of them, this marks the beginning of a completely new chapter of their lives, during which they will experience and learn no end of new things. The effectiveness of polymer materials is something that they will find out about without having to be taught.

Thousands of girls and boys have already done it and others will be doing it soon and in future – packing their school bags for the first time. Whether they are in Rome, Munich or Helsinki, all the children who are starting school anywhere in the world have one thing in common: they are looking forward enthusiastically to their first day at school.

It is a tradition in Norway for children to be given new clothes in honour of the day. In Germany, every first-grader is given a cone-shaped “Schultüte” that is filled with lots of things that are (hopefully) useful for everyday school routine, fresh fruit and toys to play with.

What children do not realise on being given these little presents when they start school is that life now has a serious side for them, since they are, after all, obliged to attend school in most countries.

Serious but fun at the same time?

Schoolchildren are required to be and do things they have never faced before: from now on, they have to be punctual, sit still and concentrate. They are supposed to listen attentively and participate actively in lessons. They are supposed to learn, demonstrate their achievements and, in particular, not do silly things any more or fidget, even though scientists have found out that moving around on chairs helps the blood to circulate and improves oxygen supply. This in turn improves concentration and performance.

Sooner or later, some primary school children start to feel a little sad; the time they spent in nursery school had simply been fun all the time. Playing, enjoyment, excitement and freedom to do what they wanted every day: anyone who did not want to paint or make / build something any more just moved on to a different activity.
Run Lola Run

© istockphoto / VYCHEGZHANINA

Everyday school life is not like this at all. There is the teacher, who makes demands and, ideally, gives encouragement; there are the schoolchildren, who have to satisfy requirements and find their place; there are rules and timetables, tests and homework; and there is the breaktime bell, which is lord over time and place at the school and has no mercy on anyone who comes to lessons too late. Some children find it difficult to adapt to their new lives.

Making it easier for children to adapt to school life

The Italians rely on Saint Remigio to protect schoolchildren and make sure that everything goes smoothly. People in the Rhineland sees things in a similar way, except that they do not have a patron saint. They depend on past experience and believe in the maxim that what is supposed to happen will happen and that everything has always worked out so far. Exceptions prove the rule.

In reality, however, more than just a saint and clever sayings are needed: what are essential are the active support of parents, teachers and the entire education system, so that children enjoy learning and do not find school a burden.

In order to make it easier for their children to adapt to school life, parents and guardians should, in particular, pay close attention to what their children carry to school: not just the contents but also and above all their school bag or rucksack itself, which is probably any schoolchild’s most important piece of equipment.

Although it is possible to make right choices when buying a school bag

... it is easy to make mistakes too. Anyone who fails to think the requirements through carefully when buying a school bag and only takes visual or purely functional factors into consideration is taking the risk that the school bag may very easily be too heavy and difficult for the child to handle. Posture damage due to strain can have far-reaching consequences for the child’s physical and mental health.

Plastic school bag

© istockphoto / David Franklin

But how do you recognise a good school bag? There are a number of different criteria that a school bag needs to meet so that it can be classified as acceptable. The basic rule that applies in the case of a child’s first school bag also applies, incidentally, to the many different things that the school bag should contain, such as pencil cases, pencils or notebooks: experts advise parents to opt for quality when shopping.

Plastic school bags are definitely the best option

Dr Rüdiger Baunemann from PlasticsEurope recommends that the school bag should be made of hard-wearing, rainproof material that reflects light when it is dark, so that the child is safer when it encounters road traffic. The school bag should also be stable, not too heavy but not too light and have properly cushioned straps that can be adjusted to the right length for the child, to mention just a few of the main points.

High-quality plastic school bags of the kind that are standard nowadays are definitely the best option. They satisfy the requirements that are made by acknowledged test institutions in exemplary fashion. In spite of this, there are quality differences between manufacturers that need to be taken into consideration. In other words: no buying decisions should be taken before an adequate comparison has been made of the different school bags available.

What is certainly true is that plastic school bags play a major role in making them comfortable to wear, in increasing road safety and in improving environmental protection. Dr Rüdiger Baunemann: “A high-quality school bag that is made of plastic is a high-tech product and easily lasts a child’s entire primary school career – and what is hard-wearing does not need to be produced again at high cost. This approach is good for the environment and the parents’ bank account. When the school bag is, finally, taken out of service, it can be recycled very efficiently; the recycling level in Germany is 99 per cent.”

FAMILY

Talking about recycling: Rethaka is a company in South Africa that has tackled a problem which the 11.4 million schoolchildren in the country often face when they have no electricity at home, although they need it to do their homework without having to rely on moon- or candlelight, something that makes their lives so much more difficult. Light is essential to learn. Repurpose produces stylish schoolbags that are equipped with solar cells and generate the electricity needed for a desk lamp. Rethaka uses recycled plastic to make the trendy school bags. [www.repurposeschoolbags.com]. More information about Rethaka you will find here: Apropos K.

Trolli oder Ranzen?

When it begins, a school career will be lasting a number of years and a high-quality school bag made from polymer materials should easily last this long in good condition – even if it is not always looked after carefully in the school yard and is sometimes thrown, bumped or kicked instead. In itself, plastic meets the necessary requirements as regards toughness, strength, flexibility and weight – to mention just a few – although it is important to take a close look at how the material has been processed, as there can be huge differences between manufacturers.

Let us take a look at some of the details that are important when buying a school bag for a first-grader: as a basic rule, experts advise opting for a school bag that the child carries on his or her back. Although trolleys appear to be better for the child’s bone structure at first glance, they prove to be a handicap on closer consideration, for example when the child has to negotiate stairs or use public transport. Contrary to earlier assumptions, carrying a school bag on one’s back can have a positive impact on back health, because it helps to develop the child’s muscles.

Test

School bags on trail. © UdS/dasbilderwerk

Light or heavy school bag?

How heavy should a school bag be? It is reported that no scientifically sound proof has been presented that backache or posture problems among adolescents can be associated with the weight of the school bag carried. The latest findings have even shown “that adolescents of average fitness display no signs of excessive strain even when the weight carried corresponds to 20% of their body weight (‘kid check’ study carried out by Saarland University in 2008), whereas physically weak children may well show signs of excessive strain when carrying only 12% of their weight”. The association Verein Aktion gesunder Rücken points this out on its website, without adding that standard figures can easily lead to misleading purchasing decisions and distract from problems that are in actual fact more complex.

Gute Haltung

© istockphoto / TatyanaGl

The main causes of backache among adolescents that are also the subject of debate in connection with age, individual stress tolerance levels (strength and co-ordination), stress duration, the ergonomic quality of the school bag / rucksack and individual carrying patterns are various risk factors such as lack of exercise and sitting for hours on end.

Focus on an ergonomic carrying pattern

In a nutshell: problems could occur if the school bag is heavier than about 15 per cent of the child’s body weight. What is crucial, however, is less the weight than the ergonomic carrying pattern: the straps should be at least four centimetres wide (so that they do not cut into the child’s shoulders) and should be adjusted in such a way that the school bag rests firmly against the body, in order to guarantee good distribution of pressure. If the school bag is too light, it may not be stable enough to maintain healthy posture.

The weight of the school bag is influenced primarily by the contents: what the child carries to school. If parents make the checks they should and take a regular look at the school bag, it is easy to determine swiftly what the important contents are and what needs to be removed from the child’s back because it is unnecessary ballast. What the school bag should contain: the work for the day and, of course, a healthy breakfast, consisting of whole-grain products, fruit and water; ideally packaged in reusable containers and plastic bottles – because plastic is tougher than glass and is more sustainable than breakfast bags made of plastic or paper.
Guido Deussing