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Back-to-School Safety Tips

When we parents talk about school safety these days, we usually are referring to the surge in violence at schools.

But research shows that school-age children are actually nine times more likely to sustain an unintentional injury — whether on the playground or in school — than to be the victim of violence while at school.

In fact, an estimated 2.2 million children ages 14 and under are injured in school-related accidents each year, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign.

Accidents can be prevented if we are on the lookout for potential hazards. To help you keep our kids free from harm, here are some safety tips from SAFE KIDS, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Traveling to and from School

Walking

  • Plan a walking route to school or the bus stop.
  • Choose the most direct way with the fewest street crossings and, if possible, with intersections that have crossing guards.
  • Walk the route with your child beforehand.
  • Tell him or her to stay away from parks, vacant lots, fields and other places where there aren’t many people around.
  • Teach your child never to talk to strangers or accept rides or gifts from strangers.
  • Be sure your child walks to and from school with a sibling, friend, or neighbor.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision.
  • Bright colored clothing will make your child more visible to drivers.

Biking

  • If your child bikes to school, make sure he wears sturdy shoes and a helmet that meets safety standards. Research indicates that a helmet can reduce the risk of head injury by up to 85 percent.
  • Mind all traffic signals and/or the crossing guard — never cross the street against a light, even if you don’t see any traffic coming.
  • Walk your bike through intersections.
  • Wear reflective material and bright colors – it makes you more visible to street traffic.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic.

Taking the Bus

School bus transportation is safe. In fact, buses are safer than cars. Even so, last year, over 20 students were killed and another 9,000 were injured in incidents involving school buses.

More often than not, these deaths and injuries didn’t occur in a crash, but as the pupils were entering and exiting the bus.

Remember these safety tips:

  1. Have a safe place to wait for your bus, away from traffic and the street.
  2. Teach children to arrive at the bus stop early.
  3. Teach kids to stay out of the street (3 giant steps from the curb) while waiting for the bus.
  4. Teach kids to stay away from the bus until it comes to a complete stop and the driver signals them to enter.
  5. Remind your children to stay seated at all times and keep their heads and arms inside the bus while riding.
  6. If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus.
  7. When exiting the bus, children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, exit from the front using the handrail to avoid falls and cross the street at least 10 feet (or 10 giant steps) in front of the bus.
  8. Tell your child not to bend down in front of the bus to tie shoes or pick up objects, as the driver may not see him before starting to move.
  9. Never walk behind the school bus.

In the Car

  1. All passengers should wear a seat belt and/or an age- and size-appropriate car safety seat or booster seat.
  2. Your child is ready for a booster seat when she has reached the top weight or height allowed for her seat, her shoulders are above the top harness slots, or her ears have reached the top of the seat.
  3. Your child should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4’ 9″ in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age).
    This means the shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat; the lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, not the stomach; and the child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her legs bent at the knees and feet hanging down.
  4. All children under 13 years of age should ride in the rearseat of vehicles.
  5. Remember that many crashes occur while novice teen drivers are going to and from school.
    You may want to limit the number of teen passengers to prevent driver distraction.
  6. Do not allow your teen to drive while eating, drinking, or talking on a cell phone.

Backpack Safety Tips

According to experts at the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), wearing backpacks improperly or ones that are too heavy put children at increased risk for spinal injury.

Here are 10 backpack safety tips:

  1. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back, multiple compartments to help distribute weight in the pack and provide easy access to contents and reflective material to enhance visibility at night.
  2. Pack light. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of the student’s body weight.
  3. Only carry items that are required for that day. The heaviest items should be placed closest to the back and in the center of the pack in order to protect against posture problems and muscle strain.
  4. Wear both straps in order to better distribute the weight and to promote a well-aligned symmetrical posture. Using a single strap forces one side of the body to bear all the weight.
  5. Make sure kids use the backpack waist strap.
  6. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  7. The backpack should be positioned over the strongest mid-back muscles. It should rest evenly in the middle of the back and should not extend below the low back. The shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow a child to easily put on and take off the backpack and permit free movement of the arms. However, the straps should not be too loose.
  8. Be careful when putting on and removing backpacks. Keep the trunk of the body stable and avoid excessive twisting.
  9. Warning signs that a backpack is too heavy include a change in posture when wearing the pack; struggling when putting on or removing the pack; pain when wearing the pack; tingling or numbness in arms; red marks on shoulders.
  10. Consider a rolling backpack but remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, and they may be difficult to roll in snow.

On the Playground

  • Check the playground equipment at your child’s school. Look for hazards such as rusted or broken equipment and dangerous surfaces.
  • The surface around the equipment should be covered with wood chips, mulch, sand, or mats made of safety-tested rubber or fiber material to prevent head injury when a child falls. Report any hazards to the school.
  • Avoid any drawstrings on the hood or around the neck of jackets and sweatshirts.
  • Drawstrings at the waist or bottom of jackets should extend no more than three inches long to prevent catching in car and school bus doors or getting caught on playground equipment.
  • Make sure that the school’s athletic director or a custodian anchors soccer goals into the ground so they won’t tip over and crush a child.
  • Teach children proper playground behavior: no pushing, shoving, or crowding.
  • Give your child some strategies for coping with bullies. He should not give in to a bully’s demands, but should simply walk away or tell the bully to stop. If the bullying continues, talk to the teacher.
  • Make sure your child’s school has up-to-date information on recalled toys and children’s products.
    Schools, daycare providers and parents can receive recall information by fax, email, or in the regular mail free of charge by calling the Consumer Product Safety Commission hotline at 800-638-2772, or visiting http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html.
  • For a good resource on Playground Safety Publications, visit http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/playpubs.html