The school bags are packed and waiting by the door. The sunburns are fading, and the air is getting crisper. No doubt about it, it's back-to-school time! Maybe you've purchased the uniforms or new school clothes, helped outline the study schedules, and packed lunch for the first day of school, but one question lingers: How are your kids getting to school?
For many kids, the bus -- the big cheese, the moving Twinkie -- is still the primary way to get to school. Attendees of public schools should have a safe and convenient bus stop nearby. School buses are a blessing for many parents; they know their kids have reliable transportation to and from school, and the schedule is set, so they know when their children will be getting home. But if your kid is one of the millions who participate in after-school activities, school buses may not be a viable option.
In some areas, public transportation might be a good way to get your child to and from school. Public transportation has the added benefit of being more flexible than school buses, but it also could be more dangerous. Your child would be riding with the general population, and the drivers are not obligated to look out for your kid.
Before you let your child take public transportation by him or herself, you might want to ride the route with him or her first. They may not admit it, but most kids are comforted by a trial run. Point out whom your child should go to in case of an emergency, and find out what the exact fare will be. Little details ironed out now will give peace of mind later.
A popular option among many parents is a school car pool, which for many parents can feel equally like a blessing and a curse. There are websites dedicated to helping parents find other local parents interested in setting up car pools. PTAs can be helpful in setting up car pools, as well, or you can talk to other parents whose kids do the same activities yours do.
Before you set up a car pool, make sure that you and the other parents are on the same page and that these are people you trust with your child. Safety is paramount, so make sure the other parents are safe drivers and timely. Most accidents happen because someone is rushing. Make sure you agree on a schedule, and have a backup plan at the ready for when something goes wrong.
If you live close to the school and there are safe routes available, walking or riding a bike is an option. Before you consider this option, make sure your child knows the way to and from school. If your child is riding a bike, make sure he or she understands and obeys all traffic laws. And wearing a bike helmet is nonnegotiable.
If your child is old enough and has gotten a driver's license, letting him or her drive to school could solve a lot of scheduling problems. However, gas, insurance and other expenses need to be factored in. But having another licensed driver with a vehicle can be a boon to the family, as well, especially if your older kids can help ferry your younger kids around and look out for them after school.
Before you give your car-wielding child the go-ahead, make sure students actually are allowed to drive to school. Many schools are cracking down on student drivers to prevent them from playing hooky. You may need to get special permission or have to pay for a parking pass.
With the many options available, you should be able to find the best one for you and your family. Just make sure it works with your schedule. And just because you start off the year with one mode of transportation doesn't mean you can't change your mind later. School is all about learning, for parents and students alike.