Every preschooler notices the "Big Yellow School Bus" that rumbles down the street on school days. It is filled with enticement. Not only is it packed with children from the neighborhood, it carries their older siblings and dearest friends. It is something they have never experienced first-hand, but with each passing day and year, it becomes a goal to attain. Everyone exits with bounces and squeals. It somehow seems magical to innocent eyes. Getting to ride this large yellow "Twinkie" is a rite of passage. By the time the first day of school arrives, some children seem drawn to school just for the privilege of riding the bus.
When the Magic Wears Off
Parents, on the other hand, know the realities of riding a school bus. It isn't all it appears. The "magic" can dissipate rapidly. The ride can be hot, long, noisy, irritating and at times, extremely disappointing. After all 30 to 40 children, following 6 to 7 hours of school are confined for and additional 5 to 60 minutes, breeding all kinds of potentially difficult situations; No one wants to sit still, everyone wants to socialize, children are tired and often irritable, there is one adult to supervise, and there is an age range of children merged together.
Despite potential irritations of riding a bus, it is a safe, economical and environmentally responsible approach to children attending school. "According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 24 million American children ride school buses daily," records Jenn Savedge in her article, Go Green When You Go to School. (http://www.mnn.com/family/family-activities/blogs/go-green-when-you-go-to-school).
The American Academy of Pediatrics states,"School bus transportation is the safest form of ground transportation." (http://www.pakidstravelsafe.org/issues/school-bus/item/14-general-bus-safety). An article on eHow.com regarding Public School Transportation Benefits records, "More than 42,000 people in the United States are killed by road accidents every year. On the other hand, an average of six school bus passengers are killed annually" (http://www.ehow.com/list_6329890_public-school-transportation-benefits.html). There is no doubt school buses provide very safe transportation for children. School buses are also far more economical to families. They reduce the cost of fuel and mileage for family vehicles. Riding buses are economical to family time schedules, as well. They allow parents a little extra time for work, chores, etc., versus dropping off and picking up children at school. Oddly, it is also true that yellow buses are "green.” One bus replaces approximately 30 cars transporting children to and from school; therefore reducing the impact of exhaust emissions and fuel consumption. "In fact, school buses drive more than 4 billion miles each year reducing the number of cars on the road by 17.2 million and, according to some estimates, eliminating the need for 2.3 billion gallons of fuel annually," Jenn Savedge's article states.
No doubt the benefits of riding the bus do exist for families and communities. But, families need to prepare and teach young children the proper way to approach the bus ride and unique confines of this transportation. Unlike personnel family cars, where children are well versed as to the rules and expectations, school buses are unfamiliar domains to young school children. Children have grown accustomed to the family car and in many cases, have learned to entertain themselves on car rides. Buses present a very different environment. Family rules regarding the car do not always translate to a bus filled with children. Parents must therefore teach children the rules of riding the bus. They must make sure children are versed and ready for the bus rides that await school participation. Practice, training drills, as well as, expectations and regulations will equip them to maneuver this big step towards personal independence.
The most important issues on buses are safety and respect. Teaching children about the unique qualities of the bus are important, including where to stand while waiting, how and when to board, the 10 foot safety zone around a bus (see below), how to cross the street in front of a bus, to take a seat promptly, do not switch seats, no loud talking or yelling, never stand up while the bus is moving, keep your hands to yourself, etc.
Teaching respect for the bus driver is paramount to a safe bus. Instruct a child emphasizing the driver is in charge of the bus, everyone must do what he/she says. The driver wants everyone to get to and from school safely. Educate children that it is the bus driver's responsibility to care for the children on the bus; therefore, children must listen to them. Especially, since they are driving the bus while watching 30 children. Explain to children how hard it is to drive and deal with uncooperative children at the same time. In personal vehicles parents deal with a small number of children and even that can be difficult. So, stress how challenging driving the bus can be. The better understanding children have of the driver's perspective the more apt they are to relate and cooperate. Introduce children to their bus driver and encourage them to address them each time they are getting on and off the bus. Familiarity goes a long way in establishing a relationship of trust and good will.
Make the Magic a Reality
Give children a realistic picture of what will occur on the bus ride. There will be children they don't know. Some of them would make good friends and others may not. Some of them may choose to not follow the bus rules. Remind children the only person they are to listen to on the bus is the driver. Other children are not their bosses no matter their age. Stress the importance of following the rules and discuss the consequences if they are not followed. Be specific about your expectations regarding behavior on the bus. Try to plan ahead and find a seatmate for children. Siblings are a great place to start. Many bus issues can be solved by finding a compatible seatmate. Empower children with the responsibilities that come with riding a bus. Let them know that parents recognize they are growing up and can do more things on their own. Remind them that riding the bus is a privilege and it gives them the opportunity to be independent. Encourage them regarding their parents' belief in their capabilities to make wise choices.
In the eyes of children, buses hold magical expeditions. After all, "The Magic School Bus", a children's program filled with out-of-this-world voyages for children who hopped on, always included great fun and amusing entertainment. Although, school buses may not always hold the excitement and possibilities preschoolers presume; they are certainly a means of transportation to an education that will allow them to pursue their dreams. For that reason, even the name "Big Cheese" becomes a term of endearment.
Safety tips when waiting for, riding on and exiting the school bus by the American Academy of Pediatrics
While Waiting for the School Bus:
• Arrive at the bus stop 5 minutes early.
• Shorten/remove drawstrings or straps that can catch on the bus rail from clothing and backpacks.
• Wear bright clothing and allow extra time to walk to the bus stop.
• Stay out of the street while waiting for the bus.
• Look for the flashing light system on the school bus.
• Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before moving toward the school bus to go on board.
• When boarding or exiting the bus, stay in a single file line and hold onto the handrail.
• Stay out of the "Danger Zone" (http://www.pakidstravelsafe.org/issues/school-bus/item/17-school-bus-etiquette)
Being Safe While on the Bus
• Follow the bus rules while riding the bus.
• While riding the bus, stay seated and facing forward.
• Keep legs and feet in front of you and never stick your arms or head out of the bus window.
• Remain seated at all times while the bus is moving.
• Keep the school bus aisles clear. Place backpacks under the seat.
• Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop before getting out of your seat to exit the school bus.
• Be courteous to the bus driver and other students.
• Do not distract the driver by shouting or yelling.
• Know where emergency exits are located and review evacuation procedures.
Exiting the School Bus
• Stay out of the Danger Zone.
• Stay out of the 10 foot area around the school bus.
• Walk 10 giant steps in front of the school bus so the driver can see you.
• Look LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT to see the traffic.
• Make eye contact with the bus driver and wait for his signal before crossing in front of the bus.
• DO NOT pick up anything that falls under the bus. Tell the driver if you drop anything.
• NEVER walk behind the school bus.