Getting kids to school can be a trial and transport to school can be quite a tricky decision to make. There are options! Read more in our Transport to School article.
If your house is anything like mine in the morning, it’s a mad dash to get everybody out the door and ‘delivered’ on time. We live some distance from my children’s school, (for which we are out-of-zone), so I routinely drive them each day without giving it too much thought.
The school run isn’t on my way to work, (I work mostly from home), and so it’s a special trip into town and back twice each day. It’s also expensive, time consuming, and often stressful, but the weird thing is I have never considered other options.
Why? Because I didn’t realise there were any… maybe neither did you?
The New Year is a good chance to re-evaluate your transport options, rather than doing what you’ve always done, just because you can. Whether you live just around the corner or kilometres away, there is more than one way to get your child to school safely. This article provides you with a whole heap of options, and gives you plenty of tips for making the trip to and from school as affordable, safe, and stress free as possible.
Transport to school – Options for your kids
When I was a child almost everyone walked to school, no matter how far away you lived. Granted, society has changed and both safety and time have become major issues, but if you live close to school, there’s no reason why your child can’t ‘push play’. Undoubtedly it will save you time and money, the kids will get some exercise, and the bonus….once they are out the door, you can get yourself organised in peace.
If you think walking to school might be an option, start by walking with your child and see if the option is realistic. If you haven’t got time to walk your child to school AND get to work on time, try out the school walk during the weekend. If you suspect your child will be against a new walking regime, don’t let them know it’s a ‘test’ run, simply let them know that is what’s happening today.
If your child can cope with the distance in a realistic time-frame and without breaking into a sweat, then consider the walking regime a do-able option. There’s definitely safety in numbers, so insist your children walk together the whole way, and stress the importance of nobody running ahead or getting left behind. If you have other children in your street, suggest that they all walk together.
Decide on an appropriate route, keeping in mind roads to cross and any areas you want your children to stay away from. Walk the route with your children, and let them know that this is the only path they can take. Point out the safest place to cross any roads, and highlight any other safety issues along the way. Explain that making their own way home via short-cuts or friends places is not an option, as you need to know where they are (or should be) in order to keep them safe.
Run through what they need to do if they are approached by a stranger, or feel threatened while walking to and from school. Some useful ideas you may want to use are:
- Have an obscure code-word unique to your family, and tell your children that if you ever send someone to collect them from school or along the way, that you will tell them the code word to pass on. If someone says “Mum (or Dad) said it was okay”, your child will know to ask for the code word for confirmation. No code word, no go.
- If you know people who live along the way, call in and introduce your child to them (assuming they don’t know them already). Explain that your child will be walking to school, and ask if their home can be used as an emergency safe house if your child ever feels threatened en route.
- If possible, and if you feel it is appropriate, give your child a pre-pay phone which they can keep in their bag for emergencies only. Have your phone number, as well as other emergency contacts pre-programmed, and make sure your child knows how to use it. You may also establish a routine whereby they text you when they have arrived safely at school.
- Time how long it takes for your child to walk home from school, allowing for a few distractions along the way. This should give you a reasonable ‘arrival’ time, so you know if and when you should start worrying.
- Be consistent in phoning your child’s school if they are going to be absent. If you’re on the ball when they are away, any unexplained absence will immediately sound the alarm. While most schools phone to check absences during the day, if you consistently forget or are late phoning in, they may just assume your child is sick and make you the last call on the list.
- If your child is approached by a stranger who tries to persuade or physically force them into a car, tell your child to kick, scream and yell ‘NO STRANGER’ as loud as they can. How many times have you seen a child throwing a tantrum with an adult and just assumed it was their parent? Yelling ‘Stranger’ alerts anyone nearby to exactly what’s going on.
If you live further away from school, there’s no reason why your child can’t walk part of the way. This can help ease congestion around the school gate by parking a few blocks from school at the end of the day, and have your child walk to you. And it’s good training for having your child walk further when they’re older. Go through the same safety issues for this ‘part-walk’, as you would for a child walking the whole way.
A walking bus is a bit like car pooling, only it’s done on feet. A parent (or other adult volunteer), sets a walking route and picks up children along the way. A walking bus offers the same benefits as your child walking to school on their own, but you have the added security of knowing they will be supervised along the way.
There are lots of ways to organise and promote a walking bus for your school, and the NZ Transport Agency has lots of good ‘how to’ ideas on their website. As well as general guidelines and tips for getting started, this website provides pre-designed surveys, rosters, consent forms, and newsletter text that you can download and print out.
The easiest way to start a walking bus in your area is to get together with parents in your street or block. One adult may volunteer to be the ‘driver’, or you could create a roster for different days, to, and from school. Once one walking bus is up and running in your school, it’s easy for other parents to start walking buses in the streets surrounding their homes. Before you know it, there’s half as many cars jamming up the school gate, and twice as many children ‘pushing play’.
Local councils are eager to support walking buses in their community as it eases traffic congestion and promotes a healthy, more active lifestyle. Many councils offer funding to help get a walking bus up and running, and at the very least offer guidance and advice through their road safety coordinator. Some local councils even offer funding for wet weather gear, so that walking buses can run come rain, hail or snow.
For more information on how you can start a walking bus at your own school, check out the NZTA’s Education site, or talk to the road safety coordinator at your local council.
Like walking to school, biking is usually only an option if you live nearby. The same safety issues need to be considered, and preparations such as biking with your child to begin with, should also take place. You also need to make sure your child is confident on their bike, and has a clear understanding of the road rules. Where possible, your child should take a route away from main roads, and use cycle lanes where they are offered.
Before the start of each school term, give your child’s bike a thorough check-up. Most cycle stores will provide a basic warrant of fitness for a minimal fee, and they can catch any potential hiccups before they get to the dangerous stage. A specialist cycle store can also make sure your child’s helmet fits correctly and complies with NZ safety standards. While you’re there, make sure you pick up a good bike lock – unlocked bicycles are easy targets.
If there are several children who bike to your child’s school, you may like to organise a bike safety morning specifically for them. The road safety coordinator in your area will be able to provide some resources, as will your local sports foundation. If all else fails, contact a specialist cycle store and take the ‘it will be good PR’ angle.
learn more about biking safely to school.
No matter what set of statistics you look at, the majority of children in New Zealand get driven to school. While this often seems like the easiest option, it is expensive and causes considerable congestion in and around the school gates. In recent years, there have been numerous accidents around schools, which for the most part, have been linked to the sheer volume of traffic.
If driving to school seems like the most realistic option for your family, consider finding a drop-off and collection point a street or so away from the school gates. Your child can either walk to you, or you can make the walk to meet them at the classroom. Either way it cuts down on traffic, and one (or both) of you get a little exercise.
If an off-site collection point is unrealistic for your school’s location, talk to your principal about the possibility of providing a pick-up / drop-off bay. These bays are similar to a taxi rank and require a teacher or volunteer to make them work, but they can be incredibly successful for small schools with limited parking. In a general sense, the children all assemble at the pick-up bay and parents (or caregivers) line up in their cars. As a car draws forward, the child jumps in, and the next “taxi” on the rank comes up.
If location, time, or safety means personal cars are your best transport option, then ask around and find out who else is driving from your area. Chances are you’ll be surprised by how many cars leave your street at the same time, going to the same place, every day.
If you don’t know the families in your street, put an ad in your school newsletter looking for parents to car pool from your area. You may find that some parents find mornings a breeze and afternoons a nightmare, or Mondays great and Wednesdays a hassle. Not only will car pooling save you fuel costs, but chances are it will make life easier and less stressful for everyone as well.
Free School Bus
If you live a considerable distance from your nearest school, you may be eligible for transport assistance. Usually this takes the form of a free school bus, but sometimes in special circumstances, you may be eligible for an allowance towards the cost of driving your own car. If your child is under 10 years old, you are entitled to assistance if you live more than 3.2km from the nearest school. For children over 10, the eligible distance is 4.8km.
In most cases, the Ministry of Education contracts a local bus company to provide the free service, but occasionally a board of trustees opts to receive transport funding and makes their own arrangements. In either case, your child’s school will provide you with the necessary information and bus passes when presented with proof of address.
The school bus service is not required to provide a door-to-door service, but they do make several stops along the route. In most cases, the bus stop is within easy walking distance to any given address.
At first glance, the idea of public transport for primary aged children seems a little too scary, but this isn’t always the case. Depending on where you live, the location of your school, and the nearest bus / train / tram stops, public transport is a feasible option.
If you are considering public transport, you need to really do your homework. Like walking and biking, take the public transport with your child to start with. If one route doesn’t work for some reason, check out other times or transport types to find one that does.
A friend of mine discovered that her 2 children (aged 11 and 9) could pick up a public bus right outside the school gates and be delivered 20 metres from her door for less than $2 a day. In doing her homework she discovered that if they caught the bus at 3.05pm, they got all the way home being (pretty much) the only passengers. If however they caught the 3.15pm bus, they were bombarded with high school students at the 3rd stop. All it took was a word to their teachers to make sure they got out right on 3pm, and a word to the bus driver to keep a special eye on them, and they were set.
If you do find a public transport system that works for your child, enquire about a concession card. Not only does this help save you money, it means your child doesn’t have to carry cash to school.
Depending on where you live and your personal circumstances, you may find all sorts of other transport options available. If your child has moderate to high special needs you may be eligible for transport assistance, likewise if you live some distance away and outside of the main bus route. If you think you may have a special set of circumstances, talk to your child’s school about the transport options available.
For more expert advice check out our Back to school article.