Back-to-School Safety Tips

Where did the summer go? In Gallatin County, summer always seems to whiz by, and fall is here before we know it. Most kids in the area started school just before or after Labor Day, and it’s already the season of school buses, pencil sharpeners, and homework!

As kids get older, many start to walk or ride to school on their own, or even drive if they’re in their teenage years. It’s important to make sure you cover some important safety topics with your kids to prepare them for the year ahead. Here are some important tips for what to cover from the National Safety Council (NSC):

Walking to School

  • Walk to school with a group of kids and always have a responsible adult with you.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available.
  • If no sidewalk is available, walk facing the traffic.
  • The safest place to cross is at a street corner or intersection.
  • If you are 10-years-old or younger, you need to cross the street with an adult. You should not cross by yourself.
  • Before you step off the curb to cross the street, stop and look all ways to see if cars are coming.
  • When no cars are coming, it is safe for you and an adult to cross. But look left-right-left as you do it, and hold the adult’s hand.
  • Walk, don’t run. This gives time for drivers to see you before you enter the roadway. Running also makes you more likely to fall in the street.
  • Don’t dart out in front of a parked car. The driver of the car coming down the street will not be able to see you.

Biking to School

  • Always wear your helmet when riding your bicycle.
  • Make sure that your helmet fits correctly. The helmet should fit low on your forehead so that two fingers fit between it and your eyebrows. Another way to check is to put the helmet on your head and look up. If you can’t see your helmet, it is too far back.
  • To ride safely, you need to know the rules of the road. If you don’t, then you should not ride in traffic or without an adult.
  • Ride on the right side of the road or trail in a single file line in the same direction as other vehicles and come to a complete stop before crossing streets.
  • Wait for a driver’s signal before crossing the street.
  • When you ride your bicycle, you should wear bright colors during the day and right before the sun rises or sets.
  • Riding at night can be dangerous. If you have to ride your bicycle at night, you should ride with an adult. You should have a white light on the front of your bicycle and a red reflector on the back. You also can get lights and reflective materials to put on your shoes, helmet and clothing.
  • Practice makes you more skilled at riding your bicycle. The more skilled you are at riding, the less likely you will be to crash. Practice riding skills in an empty parking lot or a place with no traffic. Practice such things as riding in a straight line, looking over your shoulder, signaling with your hands and starting and stopping.

Playground Safety

  • Soft surface: Because nearly 80 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls to the ground, improper surfacing is the first thing parents should watch for when inspecting a playground. Wood chips, mulch, wood fibers, sand, pea gravel, shredded tires and rubber mats cushion falls well—better than those with grass or dirt surfaces. Avoid playgrounds with concrete surfaces, as they are too hard. The surface material should be at least 12 inches in depth and 6 feet around each piece of playground equipment.
  • Swings: Swings are the pieces of moving equipment that are most likely to cause injuries to children. Metal or wooden seats should be replaced with soft seats. Swings should be set far enough away from other equipment so that children won’t be hit by a moving swing. Only two swings should be in each supporting framework, and they should be at least 24 inches apart. Full-bucket seats are recommended for younger children. Half-bucket seats are dangerous because babies and toddlers can slide out of them.
  • Smooth sliding: Slides should be well-anchored, have firm handrails and good traction on the steps. There should be no gaps between the slide and the platform, and teach children to sit before going down. Teach children to slide down rather than walk up the slide. Another great danger with slides occurs when drawstrings on children’s clothes get caught at the top of the slide, so select play clothes without drawstrings or loose pieces that can get caught.
  • Safe seesaws and merry-go-rounds: Spring-loaded seesaws are best for young children. Avoid adjustable seesaws with chains because children can crush their hands under the chains. A traditional seesaw should have a tire or some other object under the seat to keep it from hitting the ground. Merry-go-rounds, or “whirls” or “roundabouts,” are best for school-age children. They should have hand grips, and the rotating platform should be level, free of sharp edges and have adequate clearance to prevent crushing or severing limbs.
  • Climb carefully: More children are injured falling off climbing equipment or horizontal ladders than anything else on the playground. Children under 4 should only play on this equipment with adult assistance and supervision. Watch older children when they’re climbing, check that steps and handrails are in good condition and make sure a guardrail or barrier surrounds raised platforms. Any climbing ropes should be secured at the top and bottom. The number of injuries caused by monkey bars is so significant that many experts recommend that they be removed from all playgrounds.
  • Improve your playground: If your child’s playground is unsafe, report problems to the owner or operator. There are no national mandatory standards for playground equipment, but Texas, California, New Jersey, Michigan and North Carolina have laws that require playgrounds to follow standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials. Some states require playgrounds to follow standards set in the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Handbook for Public Playground Safety.

Safe Backpack Use

  • Lighten the load: A heavy backpack forces the wearer to bend forward. Choose to carry only those items that are required for the day. Each night remove articles that can be left at home. When organizing the contents of the backpack, distribute the weight evenly. Place the heaviest items on the bottom to keep the weight off of the shoulders and maintain better posture.
  • Wear both straps: Use of one strap shifts the weight to one side, causing muscle spasms and lower back pain. This is true even with one-strap backpacks that cross the body. By wearing two shoulder straps, the weight of the backpack is better distributed and it will help a child’s posture.
  • Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles: The size of the backpack should match the size of the child. It is also important to pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and allow free movement of the arms. Make sure that the straps are not too loose and that the backpack does not extend below the low back.
  • Use proper lifting techniques: Bend at the knees and use your legs to lift the backpack, placing one shoulder strap on at a time.

For more tips from the NSC on School Safety, check out their Back-to-School Safety Checklist

For more tips on Parenting, check out our Parenting Pages.