August 2, 2013 – Here we go again! The school bells are just about to ring in the new school year! Children will be excited to see their classmates and have so many stories to share about their summer vacations. Smiles and laughter will fill every corner of every schoolyard and shrill voices will be heard from far and wide!
Whether your child will be attending school for the first time or entering the 1st to the 8th grade, the information and reminders in this article will be of particular importance to you. I have covered every conceivable subject towards the safety of your children I could think of – and then some. So, let's begin!
It's time to talk to your children about sleeping routines, extra-curricular activities, the complex, conditional layering and distribution of responsibilities, and most importantly - measures and precautions to get to and from school safely.
Before School Begins – Set a Routine
Before the new school year begins, it's important to get your children back to a sleeping routine so that your children are not sleep deprived. It's a good idea to start the transition about one month before school begins so they have time to adjust to earlier bedtimes and the ever-dreaded early rise.
- Maintaining a regular bedtime, reducing the amount of time your children watch television and limiting their sugar intake will help your children get the sleep they need to focus, study and learn in school.
- Develop a 'family emergency plan' in case an emergency occurs on the way to school, coming home from school and while at school.
- Inquire about the emergency and evacuation plans for your children's school.
- Teach your children their home address, telephone number, your work or cell telephone number, and how to dial '911' in case of emergency.
Caution to Drivers
- When driving through neighbourhoods be very mindful of children walking or cycling to school. Children's safety and well-being are dependant on your alertness and cautionary measures.
- Please abide by the rules and drive in accordance to the Municipal school zone speed limit indicated on the road signs.
- Avoid distracting behaviour i.e. talking on your cell phone, texting, reading, eating, etc. All Canadian provinces and territories (albeit Nunavut) have active laws against the use of handheld cell phones and/or text messaging while driving.
- ALWAYS stop for school buses and be very careful of children getting on and off the bus.
- When backing out of a driveway or a garage, be mindful for children walking or bicycling to school especially in your blind spots.
- Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus or school may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
- Please allow an extra 10 or 15 minutes for your morning commute during the first segment of the school year. The extra time will not only reduce your stress in trying to get to work on time but more importantly, keep our children safe.
Yellow flashing light alerts motorists of a pending action:
- The school bus will make a stop
- Children will be boarding or disembarking the bus
Red flashing light and the extended 'STOP' sign alert motorists that:
- The school bus is at a full stop
- Children are boarding or disembarking the bus
Whether on a city street, highway or county road, and regardless of the speed limit and the number of lanes, motorists travelling in both directions must stop when approaching a stopped school bus with its upper red lights flashing. A flashing stop arm will swing out while children are boarding or leaving the bus. There is only one exception. For highways that are separated by a median, traffic coming from the opposite direction is not required to stop. Once all passengers have boarded, the STOP arm will fold away. Do not start moving until the red lights have stopped flashing and the bus begins to move.
- If you're behind a school bus, be sure and leave lots of room (20 metres) between you and the bus in case of sudden stops.
- Watch for school buses near railway crossings. All school buses must stop at all railway crossings. The upper alternating red lights are not used for these stops, so be alert.
- If your vehicle illegally passes a stopped school bus, fines can range from $400.00 to $2,000.00.
The Safest Way to Get to School
- Map out a route to the school or the bus stop and walk the route with your children before the first day of school begins so they have a sense of familiarity and security.
- Children can be impulsive and less cautious around traffic, so be realistic about your child's pedestrian skills, and carefully consider whether your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision.
- Children under the age of 10 need supervision when cycling or walking because they do not have the required skills or abilities to be safe in traffic.
- Select a route that is well lit and take into consideration the short winter days when it gets darker sooner. It is vitally important for your children to be visible when they are walking to and from school.
- Avoid walking by, and through, vacant lots and other sparsely populated areas.
- Teach your children to never take shortcuts when walking to and from school and make sure they understand the potential traffic dangers.
- Point out landmarks on your route to give your children more confidence of their surroundings on the trip to and from school.
- Choose a route that has the fewest street crossings or intersections.
- Choose street crossings and intersections that have well-trained crossing guards. If the crossing guard is not present at the intersection, your children should know how to cross the road safely or know to ask other parents for assistance when crossing.
- Teach your children to always walk on the sidewalk. If a sidewalk is not present, children should walk on the edge of the roadway facing traffic.
- Teach your child to only cross streets at crosswalks and to 'STOP, LOOK & LISTEN' at all crossings and driveways.
- Teach your children to be alert of their surroundings at all times.
- Teach your children to avoid walking in front of, behind, and between cars. Children can see the cars but drivers in the cars cannot see the children.
- Teach your children not to wear headphones while walking or cycling to school. This is a very unsafe practice because children cannot hear oncoming traffic or someone's approach should they be summoned.
- Teach your children to always obey the crossing guard and follow their instructions in a safe manner, i.e. do not cross the road until the crossing guard says it is safe to do so.
NO, GO, and TELL
- Use the 'buddy system' and have your children team up with other children and parents when walking to and from school. Consider getting together with neighbourhood parents and devise a schedule where an adult is always accompanying the children – each taking their turn to supervise the children. This will not only give all the parents peace of mind but make your children feel more secure.
- Teach your children that they cannot go anywhere without your permission – not even a relative.
- Teach your children to never talk to strangers or accept rides or gifts.
- Teach your children how to react when approached by a stranger – 'NO, GO and TELL'. If anyone approaches your children, offers them a ride, asks for directions or makes them feel uncomfortable, instruct them to say “no,” get away from the situation “go”, and “tell” a trusted adult. Ensure that your children understand who they can trust, i.e. teachers, parents, friends of parents, neighbours, police officers, firefighters and relatives.
- Children should report an incident to '911' first before calling parents.
- As an added safety measure, create a 'family password' that only the person who is picking up your child will know readily. Practice situations with your children so they understand the circumstances in which a person who doesn’t know the password might be persuasive, i.e. if someone tells them they must come with them because their parent is in the hospital, etc. Make sure your children have not told anyone the password. Ensure that they understand to never leave school with anyone that has not been given permission from either parent.
Before Your Children Get on the Bus
- If your child takes the bus, establish a safe, visible pick up/drop off spot, preferably with a group of children and in an area where they can be clearly seen and heard. Make sure there are no obstructions.
- It is vitally important to teach your children that while they are waiting for the school bus they should avoid roughhousing and stay away from the curb of the road.
- It's a good idea to teach your children to arrive at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus arrives or make it a good habit to always show up on time.
- Before leaving home, parents should make sure that children do not have loose drawstrings or ties on their children's clothing as a precautionary measure against strangling or choking.
Boarding the Bus
- Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching the curb.
- Teach your children to board the bus in single file and always use the handrails to avoid falls.
While on the Bus
- Teach your children to remain seated, face forward, and keep the aisles clear of backpacks.
- Once your child is seated on the bus, it's a good idea to stay put and not move around to other seats.
- Teach your children to obey the bus driver and not cause distractions, i.e. shouting, etc.
- Teach your children not to put their head or hands outside the window or any other object.
When Disembarking the Bus
- Children should make sure they always remain in clear view of the bus driver and cross the street at least 10 feet (five giant steps for a child) in front of the bus.
- Children need to wait until the school bus comes to a complete stop before exiting.
- Children should wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street.
- Children should look left and right to make sure there are no cars passing the bus before stepping onto the street.
- Children should only exit the bus from the front doors.
- Children should ask the bus driver or another adult for help if an item is dropped while entering or exiting the bus.
- Walk, never run, to where your parent or caregiver is waiting for you.
Children that go to School by Bicycle
- Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride to and from school.
- Before the school year begins, bicycles should be fitted properly, in good working order and have a bell.
- Ride on the right hand side of the road - the same direction as automobile traffic.
- Use appropriate hand signals.
- Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
- Know the rules of the road.
Child Health Assessment Before a New School Year Begins
It's a good idea for your children to get routine physicals before starting the new school year to detect any hearing or vision impairments or behavioural or developmental issues that might encumber your children from doing well in school.
- If you suspect your child is developmentally delayed or not processing information correctly, speak to a teacher or your Family Physician for advice to obtain professional testing. The sooner you discover a disability, the sooner your child can be taught how to compensate at a comfortable pace.
- Ask yourself important questions about your child’s behaviour. Are his/her reactions appropriate in most situations? Is he/she anxious or apprehensive about going back to school? Factors such as a new school, a class bully, or a new transportation routine could cause your children a lot of anxiety. If your child seems anxious or worried, talk to your paediatrician or a Counsellor who can identify the source of the behaviour and work out a solution.
- If your child takes medication for asthma, allergies, diabetes or any other chronic problem, make sure you have plenty of medication on hand for home and school. Inform school nurses and teachers of your child’s needs, especially if a school employee needs to administer medicine during school hours. Speak with staff members before school begins and work out a course of action for emergencies.
- If your children wear glasses or contact lenses make sure they are in good condition and that the prescriptions for the lenses are current.
- Immunization is the key factor to prevent the spread of childhood diseases. Is your child properly vaccinated and/or immunized against childhood diseases? Staying up-to-date with immunizations and keeping a record or log will ensure your child's health against needless suffering, extended absences from school and protect the younger children in the family.
- Do your children get a flu shot every year?
- Organize your child's 'Medical History Records' and 'Emergency Medical Contact Information' and provide copies of this information to your child's school and any other person that would be responsible for your child should he/she become sick or injured. The document should include information relating to prescription medications, medical problems, previous surgeries as well as pertinent family history and emergency contacts.
- Complete a 'Consent to Treat' form and give copies to the school nurse and any other caregiver that is assigned to take care of your child should they need to go to the emergency department.
- Coordinate with the school nurse and your child's physician to develop action plans for known health issues, such as asthma, diabetes, or food allergies and communicate these plans to all appropriate caregivers.
- Schedule dental check ups before the school year begins.
Here is a list of some of the items that your child may need for school:
- Coiled Notebooks Glue sticks
- Lined paper Rulers
- Pencils Report Covers
- Pencil sharpener 3-prong Binders
- Pencil Case Sheet Protectors
- Pens Graph Paper
- Highlighters Calculator
- Markers Dictionary
- Erasers Lunch Box
- Computer Copy Paper Backpack
Sports Equipment Supplies
- Ensure that you have all the necessary protective sports equipment for your children.
- If your child is involved in the same sport as the year before ensure that all the sports equipment fits properly.
- Children with braces and/or glasses require extra protective measures especially for gym class.
- Invest in sports frames for the eyes and a mouthpiece to protect your children's teeth.
- You can save time by completing forms and physical exams in the summer.
School Lunch Tips
- A health, well-balanced lunch will give your children the energy and sustenance they require to concentrate during classes and the strength to participate in sports as well as after school activities.
- Aim for five servings of fruit and vegetables every day and abstain from sugar sweetened drinks.
- Involve your children in the selection and purchasing of healthy lunch choices.
- The health and safety of all students depends on everyone following the school's allergen policy. When you’re packing lunches for your children make sure you’re being 'allergy aware' and abiding by the restrictions and policies of the school that your children attend.
- If your kids pack their own lunches, teach them how to be allergy aware as well.
- For more information on allergen free lunches please click on School Lunches.
- Designate a specific area for homework and studying, i.e. the child’s room, the kitchen or dining room table.
- An organized desk is an organized mind and essential for getting homework completed with minimal distractions.
- Hang a cork bulletin board where your children can display their schoolwork.
- Integrate a house rule that when study time begins, the TV and radio are off (no distractions).
- Have your children use a 'Stay at Home' notebook to write down their assignments so that parents are aware of when they are due.
- Keeping general school supplies on hand and check with your children about their needs.
- Organize a homework schedule so that it becomes routine.
- Teach your child that studying is more than just doing homework assignments; it's understanding the concept.
- Have a home dictionary at hand. Encourage children to look up a word in a dictionary if they do not understand what it means. This simple act will inspire integrity and a continued thirst for knowledge.
Your Child's First Day of School
When your children walk into a classroom for the first time they are dealing with many emotions. While they are really excited by the new experience and observing other children's faces, they might be feeling insecure because they are not with you.
Focus your efforts on getting them used to being with other people without your presence and making them comfortable in their new environment. Here are some simple ways to help your children adjust.
Before School Starts
Teach your children to play and share with other children by arranging with our other parents to leave them at their homes for a couple of hours and return the same kindness for them. This will build up your children's confidence that you will return.
If the classroom is somewhat familiar to your children they will accept your departure on the first day of school more easily. Check with your school to see if they offer staggered enrolment and home or classroom visits to help children get accustomed.
- Visit the school with your children around registration time or before school starts so that they are familiar with the atmosphere.
- You can ease your children's new schedule by speaking with them about the things that will be required of them once they are in the classroom, i.e. listen to the teacher, not talking in class, etc.
- A week before the first day of school begins, have your children dress themselves. This may take longer than expected so it might be a good idea to get up earlier.
- Teach your children how to put on their shoes and tie up their shoe laces.
- Teach your children how to put snacks into their lunch box.
- Label your child's belongings, i.e. shoes, boots, jackets, mitts, scarves, sweaters, school bags, and snack packs but not in places that are clearly visible to the public eye.
- Teach your children how to recognize their name and identify their things.
- During the weeks before school starts teach your children their full name, address and telephone number, babysitter's name, mother's and father's first and last names and where they work.
On the First Day
Some parents suffer from separation anxiety. Letting go is a fact of parenting and you'll have more peace of mind when you know your children are prepared for their new life as a student.
- Arrive at school just a few minutes before starting time.
- Ensure that the teacher has greeted your children and made them feel welcome – and then in a non-emotional way say 'good-bye', tell them you will see them in a short time, and then leave.
- You may be tempted to stay at school especially if your child cries and begs to stay - but don't. If you stay will be sending a few negative messages:
- you don't trust the teacher,
- the school is a dangerous place, or
- you don't think your children can handle a new situation on their own.
- Make sure your children are picked up on time. If they are the last ones to be picked up they will get nervous and feel terribly insecure.
- Now that school is part of your children's daily routine, they will be anxious to tell you about their teachers and fellow students, about their subjects and projects, etc. Enjoy this very special time together and rejoice in your children's enthusiasm and happiness!
- Children are rarely injured while riding in a school bus in Canada. Children are at much higher risk of being struck by a car while boarding or exiting the school bus.
- School bus seats are designed to protect children using 'passive protection'. The back of each seat is padded and a specific distance from the seat behind it. If the bus stops suddenly, the padded seat back absorbs the forward energy of the child seated behind.
- Child safety advocates recommend that while riding in a school bus, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers be properly restrained in the appropriate child seat for their height and weight. School buses that are manufactured after March 2007 have a minimum number of lower anchorage systems in place, and tether straps for those car seats that require them.
- Injuries are the leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 1 and 44 and the fourth leading cause of death for Canadians of all ages.
- Many non-fatal injuries result in impairments and disabilities, i.e. blindness, spinal cord injury, and intellectual deficit due to brain injury.
- Injuries impact not only the injured person but also their families and greater society.
Parents can find tips on keeping their children safe on and around school buses at: www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/schoolbus/smarts.shtml
Please click on Back to School Safety and scroll down to the bottom of the document to obtain the latest statistics on school related and travel injuries from the following organizations:
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Injury in Review, 2012 Edition
- Canadian Hospital Injury Report Prevention Program (CHIRPP),
- Transport Canada's National Collision Database (NCDB), and
- Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF)