Picture this: the bus pulls up to its stop at exactly the time it was scheduled to do so. Twenty-three 6 and 7-year olds wait patiently in a quiet line, being careful to leave room for bus passengers to exit. When the last passenger has disembarked, the children ascend the bus steps in an orderly fashion, pleasantly greet the driver, scan their passes, and file quickly to the back of the bus. They find the first available seat, sit on their bottoms, and face forward for the entirety of the ride while making polite quiet conversation with their seat-mate. When an elderly woman boards the bus, they all quickly stand and offer their seat. Once their destination is reached, the children stand, quiet as a mouse, call “thank you!” to the bus driver, and quickly but safely exit the bus. The remaining passengers smile sweetly and comment to their neighbors how well-mannered those darling children were.
Sound familiar? I didn’t think so. Here’s a more realistic image of what it looks like to take young children on public transportation:
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Depending on where your outdoor classroom is located, you may need to ride a bus or train, or you may be fortunate enough to walk. Here are my top 8 tips for making the journey as enjoyable as the destination:
- Travel during off-peak times. Whenever possible, schedule your trips in the middle of the day, i.e. not during peak commute times. Your odds of getting a whole chunk of seats together (and possibly an entire bus) greatly improve if you are traveling between 10am-2pm, plus there are far fewer innocent commuters to annoy!
- Make transit passes wearable. I stole this idea from the former Kindergarten teacher at my school because it is brilliant: turn transit passes into necklaces (see above picture) so your students have to work a lot harder to lose their tickets. As an added bonus, the necklaces can double as nametags.
- Label your children. Because we all forget our names sometimes. JK. We always include the child’s first name, as well as our school name, address, and phone number in case they get separated from the group. Remember, safety first, people!
- Assign a task or challenge. This is a great hack for keeping kids busy and (relatively) quiet while in transit. Before they board the bus, assign them some sort of scavenger hunt-type challenge, such as: How many pigeons can you spot between here and our destination? Who can spot the most elm trees?
- Travel Buddies are your new best friend (literally). Before you leave, assign each kid a Travel Buddy. This will be their walking partner, their seat mate, and the person who makes sure they don’t get left behind on the bus.
- Create a Student Sandwich. When walking with your class, make sure the teachers are the “bread” and the students are the “meat” (or peanut butter/sun butter/tuna fish, etc.). There should always be one adult at the front of the group and one adult at the end, and students should not “leak out” of the sandwich (i.e. go in front of/behind the teacher “bread”).
- Only bring what you can carry. Make sure students know that they will be responsible for carrying all their own belongings, so they should not bring more than they want to carry. In other words, leave that Harry Potter brick of a book at home, and just bring the essentials: outerwear, food, water, and sun protection.
- Sprint to the finish. We’ve all been that teacher calling (read: pleading) to their students in the final 5 minutes of a long walk: “You can do it! We’re almost there! Just a little bit longer! Don’t stop now!” At my school the last block of our walk happens to be straight up a very steep hill. The solution? Run. Yes, you read that correctly: make them sprint the last leg. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but what kid can resist a little competition? Plus, they get the hardest part over with more quickly. Just don’t be surprised when your students collapse in a sweaty, exhausted dog pile in front of the school entrance. Pat yourself on the back and revel in the knowledge that you have successfully completed another off-campus journey and returned with the same number of children with which you started (I hope).
Got more transportation tips? Don’t keep them to yourself!