Back to school time, let’s be honest, can be a bit of a catastrophy. Tensions are running high, emotions are at fever pitch. Everyone’s wondering just how it’s all going to pan out, and you’re just crossing every finger that you’ll get it over the line.
This all comes on the back of us being totally out of our routines for the long summer months. We’ve just spent the guts of two months out of the usual frantic routine of school mornings. Those school mornings may cause us to sweat and curse like sailors trying to get everyone out the door, but there is still something of a well oiled (albeit erratic) machine working in the background.
Given we’ve been out of this routine, back to school sometimes comes with a bang, and a bit of a shock to the system. The (not so) well oiled machine is only slowly waking up, and is likely to have several problems having been laying idle for so long.
This can lead to some teething problems, so it’s a good time to stop and remember all the things that keep our kids safe getting to and from school so we can hit the ground running, instead of face first.
Top 10 Tips for Keeping Kids Safe on the School Run
One: Make sure your child walks on the inside of the path, with you on the outside (roadside)
Kids rarely walk in a straight line, and they get distracted by all sorts of things on the walk to school. Added to this, some of them are wearing school bags bigger than themselves, putting their balance off. By keeping them on the inside of the path, you are better able to make sure they don’t veer towards the road and traffic.
While we’re on schoolbags, it is recommended that a child’s school bag should weigh between 10% and 15% of the child’s weight – so it may be worth checking that it’s not too heavy when loaded up. Not only does a too heavy school bag effect their balance and make walking tricky, it can also lead to neck and back pain and problems.
Two: Cross the road with your children
Crossing the road during rush hour can be tricky. Drivers are distracted and in a rush, and a huge number are now looking at their phones.
This is all the trickier for young children. They say it takes 26 judgement skills to cross the road. Young children have not yet developed all of these judgement skills. For example, children aged eight and under cannot accurately judge the distance or speed of an oncoming car (or whether it is moving at all). They therefore may not realise a car is approaching quickly, and think they can make it across the road safely.
There are a few extra precautions you can take when crossing the road with kids, on top of the famous Safe Cross Code
- Hold your child’s hand or get them to hold on to a buggy, your belt, or anything that is attached to you
- Always look at the driver of the car to make sure they are aware that you are crossing. People are very often looking down at their phones, and will start to move before properly looking up, not realising there are pedestrians crossing in front of them. Total jerks I know, but it happens all the time.
- Never cross a road behind a car – especially if it is stopped on a pedestrian crossing. The driver may see children crossing in front, and try to reverse back to make room. Always cross in front of cars, in full view of the driver. Small children are particularly difficult to see behind cars given their size.
Three: Make sure your kids wear a helmet and hi-vis clothing when cycling to school
While sometimes it’s a total pain getting your children to wear helmets, it may well save their lives – so that makes it worth the fight. A helmet reduces the risk of serious brain injury by 88%.
In Europe, 34% of all bicycle related injuries presenting to A&E departments are head related. You can’t really argue with these stats – and they make it very worthwhile for enforcing the helmet rule. If your kids are being total pains about wearing one, and the scare tactics aren’t working, bribery goes a long way – especially playing the long game i.e. wearing it every day for a term leads to some plasticky bit of junk or other that they’re into at the time. Wearing one yourself will also go a long way to encourage them. (If you’re cycling that is. Otherwise you’ll just look like a weirdo).
Kids are small, so they’re harder to see, especially on dark winter mornings. Bright clothing or a hi-vis jacket will significantly improve a driver’s ability to see your child.
Teach your kids the rules of the road before they start cycling out around roads. This will help them to understand and anticipate what drivers are going to do.
Personally, I’m not a fan of my kids cycling on the roads on our short hop to school. The roads in Dublin are dangerous enough for adult cyclists let alone kids. I let them cycle slowly on the path, and endure the wrath of the odd irate pedestrian giving out, by smiling at them while mumbling obscenities back at them under my breath. They can’t hear me, but it makes me feel better.
Four: Watch out for cars coming out of driveways onto the path
This is a daily danger I come across with my kids. Some drivers, are so focused on the traffic on the road, that they come quickly out of the driveway to see what traffic is coming, with little or no regard for pedestrians on the path. The risk is even greater when the driver decides to reverse out of the driveway (now an offence in Ireland) but something that happens all the time. This is a massive risk to a child running, cycling or scooting down the path and could do serious damage, regardless of the speed of the car coming out of the driveway.
Teach your kids to slow down coming up on a driveway, and to pause and look in before passing. And if you’re the driver, drive out (rather than reverse), edge slowly, and be aware of speeding kids on paths.
Five: Drop your kids off on the same side of the road as the school, and make sure they get out of the car kerb side
Kids who are in a rush or eager to get into school might dart across the road into traffic without thinking, so as much as possible, pull in on the side of the school, and make sure they get out of the car on the side of the path.
Watch out for cyclists when you are pulling in, and when your child is getting out. Your child could get a nasty knock from a bike if they step out into the path of a cyclist. So make use of those wing and rear view mirrors all the time.
Cyclists and pedestrians are more vulnerable than drivers in cars – so no matter who has the right of way, or is perceived to be “in the wrong” give way to the cyclist or pedestrian – they will come off the worse, and you won’t feel any better saying you had right of way.
Six: Don’t overtake a bus that is dropping off near a school
Kids will often get off the bus, then walk in front of the bus to cross the road to their school. An overtaking car will not see a child before they come out from behind the bus. It’s an offence in the States to overtake a school bus, which makes a lot of sense.
Seven: Avoid reversing near schools, in school car parks, or around children
This isn’t always possible, but reversing cars around kids is really dangerous. Kids don’t anticipate that a car is going to reverse, regardless of reverse lights. They’re also small and hard to see. If you are parking, reverse into the space when your visibility is greater, rather than reversing out of the space, blindly.
Eight: Shout “get off your effing phone” at drivers as they drive past whilst texting
OK…don’t actually do this one. I have stopped doing this in my kids’ company, because one of them started crying in embarrassment one day. Yes crying. But I go for it when I’m on my own. If you’re driving around the streets of Dublin and see a deranged woman having a shouting match with a truck driver, it will most likely be me. Join in if it feels right. Or at least beep in support. Or alternatively keep the head down and drive on by.
Nine: Don’t have your child’s name visible on bags or clothing
It’s easy for a stranger to spot a child’s name when it is very visible, and use their name when approaching the child. A child is far more likely to trust a stranger if they feel they know them, and can be less wary of the stranger if they use the child’s name.
Make sure to have the stranger chat before they head off to school. I like to turn to my good friend You Tube to help me with such talks – he’s full of ideas. There are lots of videos depending on your child’s age and the message you want to give them. For example this one: Stranger Danger Song You Tube
Ten: Teach your child your phone number and their home address
If your child gets lost or into trouble, they can easily give your number to an adult to make contact. If you child carries a phone, make sure they know how to dial for emergency help. Load up their speed dial contacts with all the necessary numbers.
It’s Just a Few Small Things
These are only a few small things to help us get our heads back into gear – all stuff we were probably doing before the summer holidays, but like our common sense, we dropped them into the bottom of a gin glass over the summer months. (Worth it).
Best of luck with back to school. And remember, if you don’t manage to crank up the old machine, there’s always home schooling. (That oughta get you moving).