Help Your Preschooler Adapt to the School Bus

As you prepare to send your child off to preschool, you may wonder whether or not she is ready to ride the bus. Here are some considerations and tips to help you make your decision.

The first day of preschool is a big day, but a great deal of anxiety is often unrelated to the new classroom.

Plenty of parents are more concerned with how to get their child to school. For parents living in large cities, there are a variety of transportation options, from public transportation to walking, that you can consider and research as you prepare to send your child to preschool.

However, if you live in a community that relies primarily on school buses for transporting kids and you are one of the many parents who is on the fence about whether to send your new preschooler on it this year, here are some things to consider:

The Benefits

Riding the bus is a rite of passage, and something kids may look forward to. It’s a chance to socialize and make friends with other children in the neighborhood. Kids learn independence in a predictable, safe way, which gives their parents (you!) more freedom as well.

Distance

How far is school from your house? Can you really commit to driving your child every day? Some parents can easily walk their child to school, while others have to drive twenty minutes or more. Having your child take the bus may be a necessity, or it may save you time and money, depending on your situation.

Safety

There are plenty of horror stories circulating among parents about kids on the bus, but honestly, most of them are just that — stories. School districts have highly regulated procedures for delivering your child safely to and from school every day, and those people at the wheel are generally dedicated, caring adults who take your child’s safety very seriously.

These days, schools manage the busing system with military-level precision, taking extra care to make the youngest kids feel comfortable. These children are seated up front where they can talk with the driver or bus attendant, have more supervision, and not overhear the older kids’ discussions.

Socialization

Your child’s social behavior can be another factor to consider. Children who are shy may have trouble riding the bus at first. And every parent worries about bullying on the bus, especially for timid kids. On the other hand, high energy kids may have trouble sitting still for long periods of time and following bus rules while riding. However, the bus can be a great way for your child to build positive social skills and independence in a safe setting.

If you are concerned about your child’s transition to riding the school bus and are thinking of ways to make the experience easier, here are some tips you can follow:

Tips from Parents

Review the rules.

Go over bus safety procedures with your child in advance so she knows what’s expected on her first bus ride. Ask the bus driver or attendant to explain the rules to you and your child. Make a game out of it and ask your child to sing or shout them to you before you leave in the morning for the first week or so of school. If it will help, you can even create a star system to reward your child for remembering and following the rules at the beginning of the year.

Create a drop-off and pick-up routine.

Bring your child to the bus every morning (or have a caregiver bring her) and meet her at the end of every day. Some children feel more at ease if they know exactly what time you'll be at the bus stop. Tell her that you'll arrive 10 minutes before she does so she knows she'll see you as the bus pulls up. Your child will feel more comfortable if she knows what to expect, and she’ll be excited to tell you about her day!

Find a “Bus Buddy."

Ask another child, an older sibling, or a family friend to help your child find her seat and feel confident. Have her Bus Buddy accompany her onto the bus, so she feels that security as she makes the transition from you into the larger world. It's also a good idea to set your child up with a couple of different buddies in case one of them is out of school on a particular day.

Meet the bus driver.

Some districts have a formal event for new riders, but if not, just introduce yourself, your child, and the bus staff so you can get to know one another. This will help your child feel more comfortable speaking up if there’s a problem or asking questions if she feels uncertain. Typically, bus companies have another staff person whose responsibility is to supervise the children during their rides. Be sure your child knows her, as well as the driver, since this is likely to be the person who will help her out if she needs it.

Provide entertainment.

Kids who have trouble sitting still during the ride may benefit from a book, small toy, or game to keep them busy. Make sure to check the school’s policies on which toys are allowed on the bus or at school, since certain types may be prohibited. Keep in mind that it’s easy for things to get lost on the bus or at school, so write your child’s name on the object, if possible. And definitely don’t send along anything that is irreplaceable for your child.

Read a book about riding the bus.

Books can give your child an introduction to what riding the bus will be like. Take a look at “Molly Rides the Bus” by Julie Brill-Hart, or “My School Bus: A Book About School Bus Safety” by Heather Feldman.

Give extra support at first.

For a particularly anxious child, try following the bus for the first day or two and greeting your child at the other end of the stop. Most likely, your child will be confident after the first couple days. In the meantime, she’ll feel better knowing you are there.

In the end, every kid is different, so trust your instincts and do what is most comfortable and convenient for you and your child. Still, keep in mind that even though riding the bus is an adjustment, it offers opportunities for your child to grow, even if she’s reluctant at first.

For more information on school bus regulations, take a look at the American School Bus Council’s website.

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