The first day of school, heck even the first week of school, can be all kinds of confusing. In third grade, I ended up on the wrong bus.
Apparently, I’m not alone.
Getting on the wrong bus to go home is way more common than parents think. It happens to one in three students — typically new students — every year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The American Red Cross offers safety tips to make sure kids get home after their first day of school. “Whether riding, biking or walking to school, we want everyone to arrive and then return home safely,” said Kurt Kroemer, executive director of the American Red Cross of Greater Phoenix.
1. Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop
Sometimes kids are in a rush, maybe they sat on spaghetti at lunch and want to get home as soon as possible. Whatever the reason, rushing is the No. 1 reason kids get on the wrong bus, the education department’s survey has found.
Children sometimes miss important communication from bus drivers when they jump on buses before they have stopped, because some drivers switch routes. Another reason kids get on the wrong bus? Bus changes happen late in the day, and teachers and school administrators might be unable to get the vital information out in time.
2. Don’t switch routes to visit friends
Deciding to go to their friends’ house is the second leading reason children get on the wrong bus. Now, that’s a reason I can fully understand, I often took an alternative bus to go home with friends.
The Red Cross said not only is that against most schools’ policies, but it is dangerous because the bus driver won’t have a manifest of a student that is not supposed to be on the bus.
“Tell children they should board only their bus,” Kroemer said, “never an alternative one.”
3. Make sure the bus driver sees you
“Simply put, if you cannot see the bus driver, they cannot see you,” Kroemer said, which may cause the driver to drive off without a child.
He recommends parents, teachers and children stand off the road, and in sight of the bus driver at all times, so they know whether a child intends to board.
The most dangerous place around a bus is behind it, Kroemer said.
4. Obey traffic signals and use the crosswalk
Who else can remember zigzagging though their neighborhood to get to the next bus stop because you missed the bus? Well, apparently that’s another reason kids get on the wrong bus, according to the survey.
5. Stay at designated school bus zones
It might sound silly, but children who leave the designated school bus zones do miss their buses.
When they come back, they get on whatever buses are left going in the general direction they live.
6. Make sure caregivers have car/booster seats
Some kids don’t make it home the first day of school because caregivers might lack the proper car seats or booster seats, so schools won’t allow them to take the children home.
Have a conversation with caregivers and schools about pickup plans so there is no confusion or frustration.
7. Avoid teen driving accidents
There are a lot of new teen drivers on the road when school starts back up, and that means a lot of accidents to and from school the first day, especially.
Have your teen driver take test runs to school the week before school starts at normal school starting times to get the feel of “morning traffic.” Remind teens to buckle up and avoid distractions like using cellphones and fidgeting with radios.
8. Take steps to prevent lost or stolen bikes
It happens every year: Bikes get lost or stolen the first day of school. A lot of it has to do with children getting new wheels for the first day of school and not recognizing their new bikes just yet. Some are truly stolen, according to the survey.
Have your kid’s bike etched, by hand if needed, with a made-up serial number. That number should be written down and kept in a safe place. Remind kids to always lock up their bike at school and to wear a helmet.
9. Walking home? Use the crosswalks
Children who illegally cross a street on their way to or from school could be hit by a car.
Every school now uses crossing guards at all major intersections (it’s the law). Schools can be fined for not stationing crossing guards at the right spots.
If you child attends a charter school, look at its bylaws to see where their guards are stationed.
10. Don’t let young children become easy prey
The survey suggests “young” children as young as third grade should be walked to school. It also suggests fourth-graders and older should walk in groups; and no child, even in high school, is ever old enough to walk alone.
All children of all ages should know every route possible to and from school, in case of emergencies.
Other things they need to know
The Red Cross urges parents to teach children as young as preschool age:
- How to call 9-1-1.
- Their address.
- Their parents’ phone numbers.
- Their emergency contacts are.
“They should also teach children not to talk to strangers or accept rides from someone they don’t know,” Kroemer said.
For more tips and advice, can visit redcross.org