Back to school toolkit for kids of all ages

back to schoolIt’s getting to be that time of year… back-to-school season! Over the years, we’ve posted lots of advice for parents and students of all ages. In this post, we’ll offer some of our best back-to-school posts, with a few new resources thrown in.

College planning

Kids heading off to college? Double check insurance coverage first – we talk about homeowners/renters, auto, ID theft, tuition insurance and stand-alone policies for electronics.

College survival guide: Safety tips, what to pack, dorm hacks – a handy list of checklists from safety & security to eating healthy in a dorm.

ID theft is on the upswing and college students are at high risk – common types of fraud, resources to avoid ID theft or deal with it if it happens, and information on identity theft insurance.

Rental Insurance for the College Graduate – we suggest this as a gift for recent graduates, but it is as valid for students who will be renting. The post talks about myths, checklists and what you need to know.

Kids at home – back to school

Tips from 60,000 pediatricians about back to school safety – this post focuses on safety issues around traveling back and forth to school. You can also click for an updated checklist of Back to School Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Schoolbus safety tips

Backpack safety – there are a surprisingly high number injuries from overloaded back packs. Learn how to be sure your kids are not at risk.

Tips & tools for avoiding or dealing with the flu

Edutopia: Back to school resources for parents

PBS Parents: Back-to-School Tips for Parents

KidsHealth: Back to School – lots of advice for parents, or click through to get advice for kids, too. 101 Back-to-School Tips for Kids and Parents

Beat the Extreme Heat Tools!

With oppressive heat and humidity in the forecast for the Northeast today and through this weekend, we’ll all be looking for ways to beat the heat. If you’ll be working or playing outside, it’s really important to slow down, take precautions and know the signs of heat illness. Plus, you might also want to keep a close eye on kids and check in on any elderly relatives or neighbors who live alone. If they don’t have AC, they might get relief at a nearby senior center.

This handy chart helps you to know the signs of heat exertion and heat stroke.

zHeat_IllnessThe Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has some good Extreme Heat Safety Tips, with suggestions for what to do to prepare for and deal with extreme heat. Also, see the infographic below.

It might be a great weekend for movies, museums, libraries, malls and other air conditioned public or entertainment places. It’s a good time to get ahead of your back-to-school shopping. If you plan to visit an outdoor pool or swimming hole to beat the heat, be prepared to take cover – there’s also chance of strong late afternoon or early evening thunderstorms.Heavy rain can also cause flash flooding in some low areas.

Should you have any power outages – a real possibility between the high demand on power grids and electrical storms  –  check with local authorities for cooling centers or heat shelters.

Here are state emergency resources to keep handy:



Bees, spiders and other creepy crawlies can be dangerous driving distractions

frightened driver









Mary Chapin Carpenter sings that “Sometimes you’re the windshield / Sometimes you’re the bug.” While millions of bugs fall victim to car windshields every summer, insects have a way of getting their revenge. A single wayward bug loose in a car can cause a serious transportation accident. It’s impossible to know just how often this occurs. On the top 10 list of driving distractions, a “moving object in the vehicle” (which is defined as a pet or an insect) logs in as #9, accounting for 1% of all accidents. One percent doesn’t sound like very much, but when you consider there are more than 5 million car crashes in the U.S. each year, one percent totals 50,000 accidents. That’s a heck of a lot of accidents due to cats, dogs, bees and spiders.

We can and certainly should take steps to secure our pets in our vehicles – but it’s a little harder to keep winged or crawling creatures out. And if a stinging insect begins flying around the car or a scary looking spider is running around the dashboard, it can take nerves of steel to avoid distraction. Some people have an almost reflexive avoidance reaction that could put themselves or other drivers in jeopardy.

When driving, it’s essential that you steel yourself to focus on the road and the wheel, no matter what the distraction that might be going on in the car. Job number one is to keep control of the vehicle and bring it to a safe stop in a place that you can give attention to the crisis. Easier said than done if you are an arachnophobic or bee-phobic, we know!

Sometimes nature can deliver bigger surprises than just a wasp or a spider. Check out
this woman who had a snake crawling around in her car last month.

Or this thee short clips show other distractions – could you keep your cools with these creatures in the car?

Sometimes insects can be a hazard even when they are not inside the car. Check out this recent infestation of mayflies that made driving just about impossible in Havna, Ilinois.

Here are some tips to prevent getting creatures in your car, and some tips for what to do should they surprise you while you are driving:

Critter prevention

  • Keep car windows closed at night.
  • Don’t store food that might be attractive to rodents in your car or near your car.
  • If you fear that a cat, rodent, or snake might be attracted to the warmth of your engine, bang on the hood a few times before you enter and start the car.
  • Make sure any pets are secured in escape proof enclosures or secured in a seat.
  • Keep car windows closed while driving.

Dealing with a creature crisis while driving

  • If there is an insect or critter in your car, it is essential to keep your eyes on the road not on the critter. Grit your teeth, scream if you have to, but keep your hands firmly on the wheel
  • If it is a flying insect, open the windows to give it an exit path
  • Carefully pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Use care exiting the car if you are on a highway or traffic route.
  • If it is a bee or an insect, you should be able to focus on extricating it while parked.
  • If the pest is something more exotic like snake or a rodent, you may need to call a local wildlife specialist to safely remove it.

What you need to know about the Zika virus

The Zika virus has been much in the news as public health concern, but unless you were traveling internationally, there is a good chance you didn’t pay too much attention. But now that some “homegrown” cases were identified in Miami recently, many folks are wondering if they should be concerned.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tracks the number of Zika cases in the U.S. As of August 3, they report 6 cases that were locally transmitted and another 1800+ travel associated cases in the U.S. Some reports put the Miami cases as high as 14, but all cases appear to be confined to a very narrow geographic area. The cases prompted the CDC to issue an advisory for pregnant women about travel to Florida:

Because the virus can have devastating consequences for a fetus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged pregnant women to avoid traveling to the area, and for pregnant women who live and work there to make every effort to avoid mosquito bites and to get tested for possible exposure during each prenatal visit. It also advised women to use protection during sex, because the virus can be transmitted sexually.

Furthermore, the CDC is advising that all pregnant women should be asked about travel to Zika-infested areas during routine prenatal visits. Any pregnant women who have traveled to Zika areas — including this area of Florida on or after June 15 — are advised to talk with their healthcare providers and get tested for Zika.

This CDC page offers information about everything you need to know about the Zika virus – including the helpful infographic below. . Here are a few other useful links.




Bike helmets save lives: Learn how to get the right fit

Bicycle helmetConsumer Reports has a special August feature on the importance of bike helmets noting that, “More head injuries occur in biking than in any other sport—and bike helmets can save your life.” They cite data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: 60% of people who died in a bike accident in 2014 were not wearing a helmet. See our prior post on biking fatalities. The Consumer Reports article talk about some of the newer bicycle helmets and the protection they offer, along with ratings of 35 helmets.


But it’s not just enough to get a helmet, to ensure maximum protection, it’s important to get the right bike helmet fit. Consumer Reports offers the following tips for finding the right bike helmet fit:

»The helmet must be level on your head.
»The front edge should be no more than an inch or so above your eyebrows.
»The strap should fit closely under your chin.
»Straps should meet just below your jaw and in front of your ears, forming a V under your earlobes.

A fabulous resource for everything bicycle-helmet related is, a non-profit consumer-funded helmet advocacy program of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. It includes the latest research, innovations in helmet safety – pretty much anything you could ever want to know about helmets. They offer a great page on how to fit a bicycle helmet.  Below, we feature a short clip on how to fit and secure bike helmets for kids.

No state laws require adults to wear bicycle helmets, but many states have requirements for children – see your state bicycle helmet law. Even if there is no state law, you might also want to check local ordinances.