Back to School Safety

two boys studying at their school desk
two boys studying at their school desk

Before the first day of class begins, it is important to talk to your children about sleep routines, homework, lunch planning and school supplies so they are well prepared for the school year.

This article contains numerous tips for your children’s health and well-being – everything from the safest way to get to school, bus safety, and preparing your child with a good, daily routine to packing lunches, homework tips – and if it’s your child’s first day of school, there’s even a section on separation anxiety.

While COVID-19 health and safety measures are of the utmost importance, it is also imperative that children understand the precautions required to get to and from school safely.

Set a Routine

Children should get into a good bedtime routine so they are not sleep deprived. Starting the transition about one month before the first day of school will allow children to get into a healthy routine so their bodies have time to adjust to earlier bedtimes and a well-adjusted morning rise.

By maintaining a regular bedtime, reducing hours of television and limiting sugar intake, your children will get the sleep they need to succeed in school.

Develop a 'family emergency plan' for unexpected occurrences that may happen on the way to school, coming home from school or while at school.

Inquire about the process for emergency and evacuation plans at your child’s school.

Teach children their home address, telephone number, your work or cell number and how to dial '911' in case of emergency.

two children with backpacks walking to school

Caution to All Drivers

When driving through neighbourhoods, be very mindful of children walking or cycling to and from school. Children's safety is dependent upon your alertness and cautionary measures.

Drive in accordance of the Municipal school zone speed limit indicated on the road signs.

It is against the law to talk on a hand held cell phone or text a message while operating a motor vehicle in Canada.

ALWAYS stop for school buses and be very mindful of children getting on and off the bus.

When backing out of a driveway or a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to and from school - especially in your blind spots.

road sign that denotes a school area

BE ALERT. Children arriving late for the bus or school may dart into the street without being mindful of traffic.

Allow an extra 10 to 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.

mother and child crossing a road

Yellow flashing light alerts motorists of a pending action:

  • The school bus will make a stop
  • Children will board or disembark the bus

Red flashing light and the extended 'STOP' sign alerts motorists that:

  • The school bus is at a full stop
  • Children are boarding or disembarking the bus

Whether on a city street 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 to this rule.  On highways separated by a median, vehicles coming from the opposite direction are not required to stop. 

Please click on Children Getting on and off a Bus to view images and comprehensive information regarding railway and school crossings, stopping for school buses and pedestrian crossovers.

Once all children have boarded the bus, the STOP arm will fold back to its original position.  When the red lights stop flashing and the bus begins to move, you can continue driving.

bus stopping on roadway

If you're behind a school bus, be sure and leave at least 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.

The penalty for failing to stop for a school bus is:

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. Carefully examine whether your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision.

Children under the age of 10 need supervision when cycling or walking to and from school because they do not have the required skills on the roadways, i.e. estimating the speed of oncoming vehicles before crossing a road, judging safety gaps in traffic and the ability to choose a safe crossing route.

Select a route that is well lit and take into consideration the winter season, when days are shorter and it gets darker sooner.

 It is vitally important that your children are seen and heard going to and from school at all times.

Avoid walking by, and through, vacant lots and other sparsely populated areas.

Children crossing a street to go to school

Teach your children to never take shortcuts when walking to and from school and ensure they understand the potential dangers.

Point out landmarks to and from school so that children gain confidence and security of their surroundings.

Choose a route that has the fewest street crossings or intersections.

Choose street crossings and intersections that have crossing guards.  Teach your children to always obey the crossing guard and follow the instructions in a safe manner, i.e. do not cross the road until the crossing guard says it is safe to do so.  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 sidewalks do not exist, children should walk on the edge of the roadway facing traffic.
  • to only cross streets at crosswalks and to 'STOP, LOOK and LISTEN' at all crossings and driveways.
  • to avoid walking in front of, behind, and between cars.  Children can see the cars but drivers in cars cannot see the children.
  • not to wear headphones or text messages while walking or cycling to or from school.  Children can be so easily distracted and not able to hear oncoming traffic or someone's approach.

NO, GO, and TELL

It’s a good idea to have your children team up with other children when walking to and from school. If you live in a high-traffic community, consider getting together with other parents in your neighbourhood and devise a schedule where one adult is always accompanying the children – each taking their turn to supervise the children. This will not only give each parent peace of mind but also give your children a continual sense of security.

Teach your children:

  • that they cannot walk anywhere without your permission
  • to never talk to strangers or accept rides or gifts from strangers.
NO, Go, and TELL
  • 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,” then get away from the situation “go”, and “tell” a trusted adult.
  • to know who they can trust, i.e. teachers, parents, friends of parents, neighbours, police officers, firefighters or relatives.
  • to report an incident to ‘911’ before calling parents.

As an added safety measure, create a 'family password' that only the person who is picking up your child will know.

Practice situations with your children so they understand the circumstances when a person who doesn’t know the password might act and be persuasive, i.e. if someone tells your child they must come with him because their Mom is in the hospital, etc.  People with bad intentions will use every trick in the book to lure children.  Make sure your children know not to tell anyone the password.  Make sure they understand to never leave school with anyone that has not been given permission from either parent.

Before Your Children Board the Bus

school buses

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 are clearly seen and heard. Make sure there are no obstructions.

Teach your children:

  • that when they are waiting for the school bus they should avoid roughhousing and to stay away from the curb of the road.
  • 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, check your children’s clothing for loose drawstrings or ties as a precautionary measure against strangling or choking.

Boarding the Bus

street sign denoting children in the neighbourhood

Teach your children:

  • to wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before approaching the curb.
  • to board the bus in single file and to always use the handrails to avoid falls.

On the Bus

Children should remain seated face forward and keep the aisles clear of backpacks.

It’s not a good idea for children to move around to other seats on the bus or place their heads, hands and any objects outside the window.

Children should obey the bus driver and not cause distractions, i.e. shouting, etc.

Disembarking the Bus

a group of very happy children

Children should:

  • wait until the school bus comes to a complete stop before exiting.
  • wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street.
  • remain in clear view of the bus driver and cross the street 10 feet (five giant steps for a child) in front of the bus.
  • look left and right to make sure there are no cars passing the bus before crossing the street.
  • only exit the bus from the front door.
  • ask the bus driver or another adult for assistance if they drop an item while entering or exiting the bus.
  • learn to walk - not run, to where parents or caregivers are waiting for them.

Children that go to School by Bicycle

Children should always wear a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved bicycle helmet and reflective clothing no matter how short or long the ride to and from school. 

Before the school year begins, bicycles should be fitted properly, are in good working order with front and rear lights and a bell to alert oncoming pedestrians or vehicles.

parents teaching their child how to ride a two wheel bicycle
hand signals for bicyclists

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.

Health Assessment Before a New School Year Begins

It's a good idea for your child to get a routine physical before starting the new school year to detect any hearing or vision impairments - or behavioural or developmental issues that might encumber your child 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 a professional evaluation. 

Ask yourself two important questions about your child’s behaviour. 

  1. Are your child’s reactions appropriate in most situations?  
  2. Is your child anxious or apprehensive about going back to school?
Doctor checking a child's lungs
Doctor inspecting a child's throat

Factors such as a new school, a class bully, or a new transportation routine could cause your child 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 problem and work out a solution.

If your child takes medication for asthma, allergies, diabetes or a chronic condition, 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 child wears glasses, ensure they are in good condition.

Immunization is the key factor in preventing the spread of childhood diseases.  Staying up-to-date with vaccinations will ensure your child's health against needless suffering, extended absences from school and as well protect younger children within the family that are not fully immunized.

young boy wearing eyeglasses sitting in a classroom

While immunizations are not mandatory in Canada, Ontario and New Brunswick require proof of immunization before your child or adolescent can attend school.  Exceptions to this rule are medical or ideological reasons.

During an outbreak, children who are not immunized will be asked to stay home from school and childcare, which can last for several weeks. 

Please click on Provincial and Territorial Immunization Routine and Catch-Up Vaccinations Schedule for Infants and Children in Canada for the most updated information. 

Alternately, you can click on Vaccinations Schedules.

Organize your child's 'Medical History Records' and 'Emergency Medical Contact Information' and provide copies for 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 issues, 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 caregiver assigned to take care of your child should they need to go to the hospital.

Coordinate with the school nurse and your child's physician to develop an action plan for health issues and communicate these plans to all appropriate caregivers.

Schedule a dental check up before the school year begins.

School Supplies

books, pens, pencils and ruler
List of school supplies

Sports Equipment

running shoes and a soccer ball

Here are some helpful safety tips:

Does your child have the necessary protective sports equipment?

If your child is involved in the same sport as the previous year, ensure that all sports equipment fits properly. 

Children with braces and/or glasses require extra protective measures especially for gym class.  Consider investing in sports frames for the eyes and a mouthpiece to protect dental work.

Complete forms and physical exams before school starts.

School Lunch Tips

A healthy, well-balanced lunch will give your children the sustenance they require to concentrate during class and endurance 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 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. 

lunchbox and sandwich

Look for ‘Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances’ in the Resource Section at the end of this article to read highly detailed information on this subject.

If your cildren pack their own lunches, teach them how to be allergy aware.


young boys studying at their desks in the classroom

Designate a specific area for homework and study, i.e. the child’s bedroom, kitchen or dining room areas are common choices.

An organized desk is essential for getting homework completed with minimal distractions.

It’s a good idea to keep the TV, cell phone and radio off when children are doing their homework.

Have your children use a 'Stay at Home' notebook to write down their assignments so that parents are aware of the due dates.

Hang a cork bulletin board where your children can display their schoolwork.

Keep general school supplies on hand and ask your children about their specific needs.

Organize a homework schedule so that it becomes routine.

Teach children that studying is more than just doing homework assignments and memory work; it's about 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, independence and a continued thirst for knowledge.

mother helping her daughter with homework
mother and daughter working on a laptop

Your Child's First Day of School

When children walk into a classroom for the first time, they are dealing with many emotions.  While they can be excited or nervous by this new experience, children tend to feel a bit insecure because they are not with you.

mother and baby waving good-bye

Focus your efforts on getting your children used to being with other people and making them comfortable in their new environment.  Here are some simple ways to help your children adjust.

Before School Starts

Teach your child to play and share with other children by arranging to leave them with parents in the neighbourhood for a couple of hours.  This will build up your child's confidence that you will return shortly.

If the classroom is somewhat familiar to your children, they will accept your departure on the first day of school more readily.  Check with your school to see if they offer staggered enrolment and classroom visits to help your child get accustomed.

Visit the school with your children around registration time or before the school year starts so that they are familiar with the atmosphere.

Talk to your children about the wonderful activities they will experience, subjects they will learn and new friends they will meet.

happy boy in pre-school

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 set aside extra time in the morning.

Teach your children how to put on their shoes and tie up their shoelaces.

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.

Weeks before school starts, teach your children their full name, address and telephone number, babysitter's name, parents first and last names - and where they work.

Separation Anxiety?

Some parents suffer from separation anxiety.  Letting go can be very difficult for parents but you'll have more peace of mind when you know your children are in a safe, secure environment and that they are prepared for their new life as students.

Arrive at school just a few minutes before the bell rings.

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 you to stay - but don't.  If you stay, you will be sending a few negative messages:

  • you don't trust the teacher,
  • the school is a scary place, and
  • you don't think your child can handle a new situation on his/her own.

After School

Make sure you pick up your children from school on time.  Children will get nervous and terribly insecure if they notice that all the other kids have already left the school grounds with their parents and they are left behind.

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 holding up a sign that reads,


Additional Resources

For additional information, Diligencia Investigative Reporting recommends the following articles:

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