Starting Kindergarten can be a stressful time for parents and kids alike.
One common worry for parents is whether their five-year-old child is old enough to ride the school bus alone.
Riding the bus to school can have a whole host of benefits for Kindergarteners, boosting their independence, confidence, and social skills — plus it’s easier on parents’ schedules!
Even better, studies have shown that riding the school bus often results in better attendance at school.
However, knowing the benefits of the school bus does little to settle parents’ anxieties over the possible dangers of riding the bus.
We interviewed several school bus experts including Kindergarten teachers, educators, and parents to get their thoughts on whether Kindergarteners can or should ride the school bus.
And it comes down to this:
Most Kindergarten-age kids are old enough to ride the school bus. A majority of elementary schools have extremely thorough policies and training in place to ensure the safety of all children riding the bus.
However, parents need to decide for themselves if their 5-6 year old can handle this new and more mature environment, and will need to prep the entire family for what happens before, during, and after each bus ride.
Let’s take a closer look at 4 key things all parents need to consider before putting their Kindergartener on the school bus for the first time.
1. Ask how schools manage the school bus service
“Schools do a very good job of managing the little ones getting on and off the buses”, says former Kindergarten teacher Susan Eppley.
“Some school systems even go so far as to get a buddy, an older child on the bus, to sit with kindergartners for the first few weeks of school.”
While school teachers won’t actually be present on the bus, school staff play an important role in making sure Kindergarteners get to and from school safely.
The exact process will be different for each school, so if you’re nervous about sending your child on the bus, find out as much as you can about the bus service and your school’s safety procedures.
Some safety and comfort procedures you might want to look for or ask about:
- Will teachers escort kids between the bus and the classroom before and after school?
- Can Kindergarteners buddy up with older kids who can help them to find their way?
- Do children need bus identification tags on their backpacks to make sure that they can’t get on the wrong bus after school?
Most schools will have these policies or similar ones to put your mind at ease.
2. Ask how school bus drivers help kids on the bus
In the United States, school bus drivers are employed by schools.
These bus drivers only drive school buses, which makes their job and skill set quite different from that of regular bus drivers who are employed by transport companies.
“School bus drivers are trained and ready to help little children on the bus,” says Eppley.
Elizabeth Rogers is a mom of three who was ‘terrified’ of letting her kids ride the bus to Kindergarten at first.
“My biggest fear was that she would get off on the wrong stop… However, there are rules to ensure this does not ever happen.”
Rogers explains the role of the bus driver in helping kids on the bus:
“A teacher, older sibling, or trusted older student should escort the kindergartner from their classroom to the correct bus and speak directly with the driver about which stop the child should be able to leave the bus on.
“This information will have already been provided by the parent on the first day of school and a form given to the bus driver on the morning of that first bus ride.
“The child will then need to be seated within eyesight of the bus driver and only be allowed to get off once a parent is located by the driver and child.
Alternatively, an older sibling riding the same bus can get off the bus with your Kindergartener and walk them home instead of an adult, but this will need to be cleared with the bus driver ahead of time.
More than just driving the bus, the bus driver has a responsibility to ensure that kids only get off the bus at the right stop, and when someone is waiting to collect them.
“It is important to know that a Kindergartner is never truly alone while riding a bus. They have the driver and plenty of fellow classmates with them as well,” says Rogers.
However, once the bus is in motion, the driver will be keeping his or her eyes firmly on the road.
“The bus driver obviously can’t watch out for behavioral concerns,” says teacher Whitney.
“For that reason, the only kindergarteners riding the bus should be ones who have already had discussions with their parents about body safety and bullying. Parents need to be confident that their child will notify them immediately if an older student is making them feel afraid or uncomfortable.”
Ask your child’s school about how the bus drivers are trained and what their duties or responsibilities are.
Chances are, it will help ease some of your anxiety about your kindergartener’s first time riding the bus.
(Learn more about how to drive safely and when to stop for a school bus here.)
3. Learn how parents can prepare kids for riding the school bus
If you’ve already decided your kindergartener will ride the bus, but you’re still nervous about it, there are a few ways you can feel more prepared.
Mom and educator, Sarah Miller, offers some practical tips about how parents can prepare young kids for the experience of riding the school bus.
Explain to your child what will happen when they get the bus
“Before kids ride the school bus for the first time, parents should make sure that their child knows exactly what to expect.
“Parents can choose some books to read with their child that explain what will happen while their child is on the bus. Make sure your child has a safe space to ask any questions they have or to bring up concerns,” says Miller.
Familiarize your child (and yourself) with the bus stop and the route
“Parents can also show their kids where the bus stop is, and remind them that they will be waiting there to pick up their child when the bus returns,” she suggests.
It can also be reassuring for parents to know the bus route, explains school principal and author Meredith Essalat:
“If a parent or guardian is hesitant about whether or not the bus is a viable option, they can always ask to ride with their child on the first day, or follow behind in their own vehicle to understand the route.”
Go through the safety rules
Mom of two Sarah Miller has some more safety tips:
“Parents should review safety rules, like staying seated while the bus is moving, to make sure that kids know what to expect.
“Before kindergarteners ride the school bus, it is important that they are able to follow simple safety rules like these, even with minimal supervision.”
Remind your child that they can confide in you
Miller adds that, since kids are somewhat unsupervised on the bus at times, make sure your child is comfortable telling you about anything that might happen during their ride.
“Parents should consider whether or not they feel that their kids are ready to have relatively unsupervised conversations with others while on the bus.
“Make sure that your child is comfortable sharing things that they hear that may be upsetting to them, and that they have a safe place to discuss them with you,” she explains.
Ask an older child to help
If your kindergartener has an older sibling that goes to the same school, that’s ideal.
If not, ask around the neighborhood to see if there might be an older kid who can help keep on eye on your child.
“Kids will feel more confident on their first day on the bus knowing that they have someone to sit with and talk to during the ride,” says Miller.
But what if you don’t know any other kids at the school?
Principal Essalat encourages parents to reach out to the school to put them in touch with other families who ride the same bus.
“Introducing children to one another ahead of time [can] ease any social anxiety that might preclude said child (or parent) from feeling fully comfortable,” she says.
4. Lear how to determine if your child is ready to ride the school bus
Of course, even with proper systems in place and the help of teachers, bus drivers, and older kids, not every Kindergartener will be mature enough to ride the school bus.
“It is important for parents to consider whether a child is ready to ride the school bus, no matter what age the child is,” says Sarah Miller.
Teacher Whitney notes one important consideration that parents should make when deciding whether or not their child should ride the bus at age five or six:
Whether they can still get enough sleep!
Kids usually need to be up and out the door early to catch the bus on time. Whitney says to make sure your child can get a solid 10-13 hours per sleep.
If riding the school bus doesn’t go well at first, it’s important not to give up too soon.
“The first few days will be the most difficult” explains Elizabeth Rogers, “but once everyone is comfortable with the routine, it will become a very pleasant and possibly even rewarding experience for your little one.”
Remember that there may be drawbacks to driving and accompanying your child to school, just as there are with getting the bus.
Principal Essalat explains:
“Oftentimes, Kindergarten students become timid when entering their school when a parent or guardian is in-tow. Tantrums and tears can definitely be a distraction to the learning environment.
“Taking the bus creates a buffer between home and school, giving students time to separate from their parent prior to arriving on campus, ready to learn.”
Teacher Whitney elaborates: “A kindergartener can absolutely ride the bus alone, and it can be a wonderful confidence booster for a kid. It can also help ease the separation anxiety that often occurs at a classroom door.
Kindergarteners absolutely can ride the bus to school.
Taking the school bus can have many benefits for kids; giving them opportunities to develop relationships with their peers, boosting their self-confidence, and developing their independence.
Of course, there are benefits for parents too; buying them a little more of that precious time before the kids return home from school, saving money on fuel costs, and eliminating those rush-hour parking stresses.
That said, riding the bus to Kindergarten isn’t for every child.
Parents should have honest and in-depth conversations with their kids to prepare them, not just for the practicalities of the ride, but also mentally preparing them to ensure that they are confident in interacting with other kids in an unsupervised environment.
Before you go, check out more Kindergarten guides like:
- Kindergarten talent show ideas
- Kindergarten, diapers & potty training explained
- Where does Quiet Coyote come from?
Hope this helps!