Flea is 12 now and I’m fully aware it’s time to start helping her become more independent. But wow, it isn’t easy.
I feel slightly guilty when I tell people that Flea has never taken a bus by herself. But her primary school was 8 miles away, so a bus wasn’t ever an option. When she moved to a secondary school that’s only 1.5 miles from our house, the intention was that she’d cycle to school.
And then hockey happened.
Flea’s school doesn’t have lockers – so on any given day she’ll have a full school bag, games bag and keeper bag. If you’ve never seen a hockey keeper’s bag, it’s about the size of a Ford Fiesta and has a price tag that’ll make your eyes water. It’s not the sort of thing you want to lug to and from school on a bike. So I have been driving her to school and picked her up.
But Flea’s in her second year of senior school now. Added to which I’ve moved office locations, and so the school run adds 30 minutes (in the wrong direction) to my morning commute. Picking Flea up means leaving the office at 3pm.
Oh, and when I mentioned catching a bus somewhere recently, my daughter looked at me, wide-eyed and said, “A Public Bus?” like an actual, real-life princess.
So yes. It’s very much TIME to get the bus.
I’m not going to lie. We’re both a bit nervous about the change. Flea was also super-excited, of course. But for any parent, I think there’s something terrifying about the first time your child walks to a bus stop, and you have to trust that they’re going to get to school entirely without your involvement. To be honest with you – it’s been a big learning curve.
Here are 5 things we’ve learned about helping your child be confident when they catch the bus to school for the first time. Many of these tips we learned by NOT doing these things, incidentally.
Plot the Route
I assumed that when I told Flea the bus stop was at the corner by the church, she’d know what I meant. Actually, she walked past that bus stop, all the way along the High Street, to the main square. With hindsight, I should have pointed out the bus stop ahead of time and specifically said, “THERE is where you get on the bus”.
Know the Fare
I’m not sure about your town, but local buses here often refuse to give change. My niece was once left stranded at a party because the bus driver on her journey out refused to give change for a £5 note, and so left her without bus fare home. Grr.
With this in mind, we looked up online what the fare was from our house to school, and I ensured Flea had the right change.
Side note here; I cannot believe how expensive bus fares are. We could easily spend around £28 a week on bus fares. I looked online and you can buy a 7-day pass for £15, which will save us a lot of money over a term.
Explain the Bus Number
There are three buses stopping at Flea’s bus stop, and only ONE goes to her school. I explained carefully which bus to catch, took a screen shot of the timetable and route, and I stored both on her phone.
However, it appears my daughter does not trust my abilities (weird, that) and she still checked with the driver before getting on board.
The trouble was that Flea asked the driver if the bus went to her school. Since Flea’s school has changed its name quite recently, the driver told her that no, this bus didn’t go there – so Flea didn’t get on the bus.
The next bus didn’t arrive for 20 minutes, by which time Flea was late for school. Lesson learned? Teach your child how to ask if it’s the right bus. So Flea now knows to ask if a particular bus goes along the ROAD that her school is on.
Explain about Crossing the Road
It’s so easy to assume knowledge when you’re an adult. But for kids catching the bus for the first time, there are things that don’t occur to them.
On Monday night, Flea took the bus home for the first time. I called her and she was at the bus stop, waiting for her bus home. I explained I’d be home a couple of minutes after her, and she should just wait in the garden. But when I pulled up outside our house, no Flea…
I checked on my phone to see her location, and could see she was not on the bus route. So I called Flea who said she was 100% sure she was on the right bus but it was going a weird route. “Okay then,” I said.
Then I looked at my phone again and realised Flea was getting further and further away from home. At which point it dawned on me that Flea had got on the bus at the stop where she got off – and was now driving towards the next town. Because I’d never explained to her that the bus stop to catch a bus back to our house would be on the opposite side of the street. It seems obvious to us but to a child who’s never taken a bus? Apparently not.
I called Flea back and told her to get off at the next stop and I’d be along to pick her up soon. But it was cold and dark, and she was a bit upset. Lesson learned for next time!
Plan for Problems
This leads me onto my final tip. Flea was panicked when she realised she was on the bus and didn’t know where she was. With hindsight I should have done more to prepare her, by explaining what landmarks to look out for. But also – what to do if something goes wrong. After all, it’s easy to get on the wrong bus, or have a bus break down, or not show up. And it’s important Flea feels confident she can deal with the unexpected. We’ve now talked through contingency plans, like:
- What to do if you lose your bus pass (ask at school) or miss your bus (text us, wait for the next bus)
- What to do if your bus is running late (text us so we don’t worry)
- How to use Google Maps and share your location if you get lost
- Who to call, and how to order a cab home in an emergency
Ultimately, though, it’s about helping Flea to feel confident that SHE can solve problems, but if she gets stuck, there’s always someone to call who will come and help – no matter what
Do you have any tips for helping kids feel confident catching the bus for the first time?
Photo by Jake Ingle/Unsplash