Back to School Health and Safety Tips

As parents are getting their children ready to go back to school, state health officials are encouraging parents to add health and safety lessons to their list of things to do.  

“Going back to school is an exciting and fun time,” Dr. Sheri Johnson, State Health Officer said.  “Preparing for the school year can help students make the most of their educational experience.  Parents need to make sure that they are not only buying school supplies but also checking to make sure their kids are up-to-date with their immunizations and physical health check-ups.”

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to keep track of each immunization visit, and to ask their health care provider about how to access their child’s immunization records through the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. Vaccinations are recommended not only for children entering grades K-12, but also for college students, particularly those freshmen living in dorms. These students should consider vaccination to protect against meningitis and hepatitis B.

“Childhood immunization is one of the easiest and most important things we can do to make sure our children grow up healthy and free from the effects of serious, vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Johnson.  “Immunizations are very safe thanks to medical research and ongoing review by doctors and researchers.”

Before school begins, it is also a good idea to consider having your child see your health care provider for a physical health check up. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your school-age child have a complete history and physical exam, including weight and height, blood pressure, hearing and vision screening, and prevention counseling at least every two years. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) also has a requirement for a sports physical for children who want to participate in school sports.

In addition to taking your child to the doctor to make sure they are healthy, you should also promote a health lifestyle.  Eating healthy, being active and getting enough sleep go hand-in-hand with good learning.  Children who eat healthy foods, have regular meals – including breakfast – and are active for at least 60 minutes each day are more likely to be successful.  Parents and older children should pack lunches that are easy to prepare, healthy and fun to eat.

“Getting to school safely is also important,” Johnson said.  “If your area does not have crossing guards available, consider establishing a Safe Routes to School Program in your neighborhood.”

If your child will be biking to school, teach them that they always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride. Also teach your child about basic bike safety rules, such as:
● Riding on the correct side of the road, in the same direction as traffic.
● Using appropriate hand signals.
● Paying attention to traffic lights and stop signs.
● Wearing bright colored clothing so drivers see them.

If your child is taking a bus to school, teach your child safety measures.  They should never walk behind the bus, and if they must cross the street, they should walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps or 10 feet ahead of the bus before crossing. Be sure that the bus driver can see them, and they can see the bus driver.

While purchasing school supplies for your child, remember to consider the limits of backpacks, which are often heavy to use.  To prevent back pain, choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of the child’s total body weight.  Have your child always use both straps because slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine.

For information on any of the health topics mentioned here, visit these web sites:

● The Wisconsin Immunization Program
● Healthy eating and being active
● General information about children’s health and safety
● Walk to school safety tips
● Safe Routes to School
● Riding a bus to school safety tips
● Bicycling safety tips
● School health programs and related student services