Back-to-school safety is different this year, with many children returning to school after a year of social distance learning at home.
Some students have gone months without traveling independently and may have forgotten even basic rules. There are also new practices to stay safe as the nation recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. Safety experts say it’s a good time for parents to review with their children what to do and what to avoid.
People have been so isolated that simple things like pedestrian safety and bus safety rules are things you have not had to worry about for a long time. So if you haven’t done the following yet you can still do it.
How to walk to school safely
Safety experts say parents should walk the route to school with children in advance and make sure they have plenty of time to get there. Having extra time will prevent children from feeling rushed and taking unnecessary risks when crossing streets.
Parents should not assume that children remember how to get to school, or the bus stop, even if they’ve done it before.
Parents might also want to review simple rules for crossing streets with younger children. Those simple rules include:
- Walking on the sidewalk when one is available and facing traffic if forced to walk on the street.
- Stopping fully and looking left and right to make sure there are no cars coming before crossing a street.
- Crossing at crosswalks and making eye contact with drivers to ensure they are stopped and will remain so.
- Avoiding distracted walking, such as walking and using a phone at the same time, put your phone away.
How to bike to school safely
Many children in middle school can ride a bike to school by themselves. Safety experts say children who bike to school should follow simple safety rules:
- Ride on the right side of the road, with traffic, in a single-file line.
- Stop completely before crossing a street and walk the bike across the street.
- Wear properly fitting helmets and bright clothing.
How to safely ride the bus
To prepare students to ride a bus to school, parents should go to the bus stop with their children and teach them the correct way to get on and off the bus. The biggest risk regarding school buses is children approaching and exiting the bus.
To stay safe, children should:
- Stand six feet, or three giant steps, away from the curb.
- Walk on the side of the street until they are 10 feet ahead of the bus before crossing in front. The bus driver and child should always be able to see each other.
- Avoid trying to retrieve anything dropped near the bus. Instead, let the bus driver know and ask for help.
- Avoid walking behind the bus or in other places the driver cannot see.
- Sit facing forward and remain seated as the wheels on the bus get rolling.
- Listen to the bus driver and report anything unusual, such as an unfamiliar adult or bullying.
Parents who drive and drop their kids off to school should be extremely careful in the car lane. Watch for kids biking and walking, especially during school start and end times, and within roughly a mile radius around schools.
Avoiding injuries and peer conflict
According to the National Safety Council, many school-related injuries are completely preventable. To prevent common school injuries, children should:
- Use both straps on their backpacks to evenly distribute the weight on their shoulders.
- Keep backpacks at a reasonable weight and not overstuffed. They should weigh no more than 5-10 percent of a child’s body weight. Brighter colors are better for visibility.
- Be careful storing rolling backpacks, which can create a tripping hazard in crowded areas.
- Leave necklaces and backpacks with drawstrings at home, since children will be spending time running and jumping on the playground.
Safety experts say that social interactions are an area parents should monitor carefully. Because many children spent long amounts of time at home in the last year, without direct peer contact in classrooms, the complex social dynamics and relationships that take place in a classroom setting and playground may cause friction. Parents should talk to their children about the return to in-person school, asking specific questions that give some insight into what’s going on. Look for signs of bullying or other problems that can occur. Mental health is extremely important.
Throughout the pandemic, we saw a huge surge in anxiety and depression, going back to school might show us a different dynamic, having trouble reintegrating.