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How to shed a few pounds and do homework, too
Scripps Howard News Service


October 04, 2005

DEAR DR. FOURNIER: My daughter is in the fifth grade and I can't believe what she is expected to carry to and from school. Her book bag last night weighed 54 pounds and she didn't even have all her books with her! Is this illegal? Are teachers required to carry 54-pound packages when they go home? I have told my child to only bring home what she needs, but she is afraid of leaving something at school.
jpg Dr. Yvonne Fournier

THE ASSESSMENT: Our generation has asked schools to give our children more and more - sooner and sooner. Unfortunately, this includes not just knowledge, but also learning materials.

So many children have come to my office with book bags I could not lift that I often wonder about the cumulative, long-term effect of this heavy load. No wonder as students get older and can decide for themselves what to take home, they take the minimum - only what they need for that night's homework - in spite of the fact that they should be learning material for next week's test.

Your daughter's fear of "leaving something at school" is quite real, but you can take some specific action to try to lighten her load.

WHAT TO DO: First, weigh your daughter's empty backpack. Then weigh each of her books individually and other materials that she must bring home. Write these weights on top of your daughter's homework pad. This will help her recall the heavy load she must carry every time she brings home all of her books.

Help your daughter use her daily homework pad to figure precisely what she needs to bring home to complete the night's homework and to learn material for long-term assignments.

Here are some examples:

Subject: Spelling

Assignment: Learn words for spelling test on Friday.

What I Need to Take Home: I have a written word list at home.

Subject: History

Assignment: Prepare for Chapter test on Friday.

What I need to Take Home: I have taken notes on each section as it was assigned. I have made up my own practice questions that might show up on the test. I will use these notes to review for the test.

In these examples, a careful analysis of what needs to be taken home reveals no need to bring heavy textbooks. You might want to add a fourth column to the homework pad to note how many extra pounds will be placed in the backpack, based on the unnecessary books and notebooks your child decides to bring home.

As you strategize together, you and your daughter might come up with other ideas to shed pounds. For example, some parents photocopy chapters in subjects such as social studies or science. This strategy also allows the student to underline or highlight information, which cannot be done in school-issued textbooks. If you can afford to do so, you might ask the teacher or administrator at your child's school about purchasing an extra set of books to keep at home.

With a few strategies, your daughter can learn more efficiently and lighten her load at the same time.


Write Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Fournier Learning Strategies Inc.,
5900 Poplar, Memphis, Tenn. 38119.
E-mail YF7thsense(at)


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