Children's, Health and Safety

Back to School Safety 101

From incoming kindergartners to graduating seniors, back to school is an exciting time. As children prepare to meet their new teachers and reunite with classmates, here are a few tips to help them return to the classroom. 


An essential accessory for students of all ages is a backpack. More important than a backpack with trendy designs and favorite cartoon characters is one with a good fit, said Karen Cochrane, Children’s of Alabama patient health and safety information educator. Select a backpack that is lightweight when it is empty. “It will only get heavier – and harder for a child to carry – when it is full of textbooks, notebooks and binders,” Cochrane said. A general rule is that the child shouldn’t carry more than 10 to 15 percent of his body weight.

Cochrane recommends a backpack with features such as:

  • multiple compartments to distribute the weight of backpack contents
  • compression straps to cinch up the sides of the backpack, bringing the weight closer to the body
  • two padded shoulder straps to evenly distribute the bag’s weight; wider straps are preferred over narrow straps that can dig into the shoulders
  • waist straps to bring the backpack’s weight closer to the body
  • cushioned back panel that makes the bag more comfortable to wear and also keeps pencils and other sharp objects from poking through

Parents should be prepared to buy a bigger backpack as their students get older to ensure they are using an appropriate size, Cochrane said. The load will get heavier as well. Elementary students may only carry their backpacks to and from school, while middle and high schoolers will carry their backpacks throughout the day, full of books, to different classrooms.

School Buses

Before the first day of school, particularly for first-time bus riders, parents should walk with their students to the bus stop to review safety procedures. Cochrane shared these suggestions:

  • Wait for the bus on the sidewalk, at least six feet from the curb.
  • Line up and wait until the bus driver gives the OK before boarding the school bus.
  • Sit quietly on the bus to keep from distracting the bus driver.
  • Never walk behind the bus.

If children need to cross the street once they get off the bus, they should do so in front of the bus, Cochrane said. Then they should take five giant steps (about 10 feet) in front of the bus and make eye contact with the driver before crossing in front of the bus.

“If a child drops something while crossing in front of the bus, don’t pick it up right away. Make eye contact again, and tell the driver right away,” Cochrane said.

And for those of us driving cars, be alert once school is in session. “As you approach a school bus stop, even if you don’t see the bus, assume that children are around,” Cochrane said. If lights on the bus are flashing, be prepared to stop.

Home Alone After School

Some children may come home to an empty house after school. Alabama doesn’t have a law that sets an age when children can be left home unattended. “Even without a law in place, it’s more important that parents ask themselves if their child is ready,” Cochrane said. Consider:

  • the child’s maturity level
  • a record of responsible behavior
  • physical ability to provide care
  • good decision-making abilities
  • how the child responds to stressful situations
  • how comfortable the child is being home alone

“Take the time to talk to your child, discuss the house rules and set the expectations,” Cochrane said. “Another way to prepare with your child is to role play likely situations they could face while home alone: What would you do if ‘this’ happened?” she said.

Parents should specify exactly what the child is allowed to do in the home after school, such as watch television, use kitchen appliances, have friends over, or do chores. But even with rules in place, Cochrane advises that the time when children are home alone should be within limits. “Don’t overdo it,” she said. “Even the most responsible child shouldn’t be left home alone too frequently.”

Avoiding Germs

With a classroom full of students, there will be germs. Washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes are two ways to keep germs from spreading. “If your child is sick, it’s better they stay home,” Cochrane said. “If you’re sick and keep pushing through, you’ll never get better, and the same applies for our children.” And chances are, if your child is attending school when they aren’t feeling 100 percent, they aren’t able to give 100 percent in the classroom.

Establishing Back to School Routines

Summer may be a time when rules are bit more relaxed, and bedtime is later than it is during the school year. But it’s not too soon to resume some school year routines, Cochrane said.

  • Make sure your child is getting enough sleep.
  • Serve a healthy breakfast.
  • Write down ‘need to know’ information: locker combinations, class schedules, teacher names.
  • Organize the night before (pick out clothes, pack a lunch, etc.) so that the morning isn’t rushed.

A few simple changes now could lead to a smoother transition when school is back in full swing.

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