Get on the Bus

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It is a parent’s nightmare that their child may get lost in the school bus shuffle of the first day. We worry kids won’t recognize their bus number or the driver, or think to look for buddies. New riders might be too shy to ask for help, or might fall asleep and miss their stop. With some planning ahead and conversations with your child, he or she will learn school bus protocol in no time.

Once kids get the hang of things, the bus offers opportunities for growth and independence. It’s also the safest and greenest way to get to school. Children are 13 times safer on school buses than in other travel modes, according to the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Sciences. School buses are easily visible by their color and size, and their compartment height raises kids above car-impact height. They’re equipped with flashing lights, a stop sign arm, cross view mirrors, and a crossing arm in front that forces kids to cross where the driver can see them. Buses have high, padded seats that protect kids much like an egg carton protects eggs. School bus drivers are trained professionals that monitor your child from the bus stop to school and back.

Ready to take the bus?

According to American School Bus Council, 26 million children — more than half the nation’s school kids — ride the bus to school every day. So join the crowd! Here are a few tips for making the transition to riding the school bus smoother for everyone.

Review bus safety and behavior expectations with your child. Plan to review rules. Below is a partial list of what to talk about.

• Stay seated while the bus is moving.

• Talk quietly to avoid distracting the driver.

• Keep hands inside the windows.

• Report any problems to your bus driver.

• When exiting, walk several feet away from the bus so the driver can see you.

• Always cross in front of the bus.

• Never retrieve something dropped near the bus unless you alert the driver.

• Never retrieve something from under the bus.

• Be aware of the traffic environment as you exit the bus.

Meet parents of riders and get to know the bus stop. Meeting other parents helps you learn about other riders. Consider taking turns monitoring the bus stop and the bus route. Prior to the first day, show your child the bus stop.

“Try to drive in the same line of travel the bus will take if you know it,” says Brad Clarkson, a school bus driver for 7 years. “What landmarks can the child identify that would let her know her stop is next?”

Troubleshoot the first day. Clarkson recommends equipping young passengers with index cards including name, address and phone number in case kids can’t remember their stop or their address. Also write the bus number on the other side of the card, especially if your child has trouble recognizing numbers.

Blair suggests parents teach children to tell their driver they’re lost if they miss their stop, and, for the very young, not to get off unless their parent or designated adult is at the stop to meet them. Most districts won’t allow kindergartners off the bus unless kids’ caregivers are there. Children of any age should never get off at an alternative stop.

Befriend your child’s driver. School bus drivers are professionals who care about kids and have a responsibility to see every child delivered safely home Drivers are as concerned about bullying as teachers, but be sure to promptly report any bus confrontations that your child mentions to the driver or to your child’s teacher.

Sending a child off on the bus feels daunting to any parent of a new rider. Try to remember your child will learn the routine quickly and will be a bus-riding pro in a couple weeks.

The Big Green Bus

Riding the bus is eco-friendly. It takes cars off the road, reduces carbon monoxide, and, perhaps most importantly, reduces car congestion (and exhaust fumes) at the school during arrival and release times when kids are most vulnerable.

Joanna Nesbit, a writer in Washington, once got on the wrong bus when she was a kid, and everything turned out just fine. Learn more about her at