By Laurie Kolp
School traffic brings out the worse in even the best of people. Horns honk and eyebrows rise as everyone gets caught up in the mess. Are you ready?
I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum- – a childless teacher dealing with carpool craziness and a parent emerged in the middle of it. As a teacher, I never really understood what the fuss was all about; every day, the school parking lot packing in cars like an Astros game, my co-workers marching out to carpool duty with whistles and megaphones while I grappled with bus duty.
Well, now I get it. As a stay-at-home mother of three for the past twelve years, I have witnessed just about everything in carpool lines. Here are a few suggestions that might help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Redefine the First Day of School
Some moms and dads feel the need to deliver their children, especially the little ones, hand-in-hand to correct classrooms. They fill up the parking lots as the sun rises and park along both sides of the surrounding streets, sometimes in the middle of the road.
Have you considered letting someone drop you and your child off on the first day and circle back around when you text them? Teachers introduce themselves, and perhaps offer sign-up sheets for seasonal parties, but they don’t want parents standing around. Save that for Open House.
After the first week, things settle down a bit. Routines are established and room locations assured. Let your children exert some independence by dropping them off. Make sure they are ready to get out of the vehicle. Don’t sit there for five minutes while they tie their shoes and find their books to read. Say goodbye and go, allowing room for the next person in line. Better yet, avoid the traffic altogether and drop the child off along the sidewalk bikers and walkers use.
Beat the Rush
If you want to avoid the mad rush, get to school early. School breakfasts are served at minimal costs, if not free. Why not eat with your child, or get together a group of his/her friends to meet in the cafeteria?
Consider Alternative Transportation
Unfortunately, riding the bus is not always an option. If possible, carpool. Share the responsibility with neighbors and friends. Better yet, let your children walk or ride their bikes to school, if it’s not too far. You can go with them to ensure their safety and exercise at the same time. Perhaps a group of kids can ride or walk together as you become more comfortable with this idea.
Put Cell Phone in Backseat
Crossing guards and flashing yellow lights sometimes go unnoticed. Although cell phone use is prohibited in school zones, and $200 fines are issued if you’re caught, drivers push the limits and risk harming children. Not only are they talking on their phones, but they also are texting, checking social media statuses, and even keying in reports. Weaving in and out, following too closely, slowing down and speeding up–all because of phone usage and other distractions. Not only does this put the bikers and walkers in harm’s way, but it slows down the traffic flow. Turn off the cell phone.
Find Something to Help Pass the Time
If your schedule allows it, arrive early to pick up your child. For years, I had my preschooler with me. I brought along a portable DVD player that strapped around the headrest. I’d crawl into the back and we’d watch a video while snacking on Goldfish. Sometimes we’d read books, or escape to the playground if no classes were at recess. Now I bring my iPad and read or write while I wait. I even go for a walks in the neighborhood.
Alternatively, you can wait to leave the house until ten or fifteen minutes after the school bell rings. Traffic will be thinned out by then, and you won’t feel like you’re wasting time. Most kids enjoy visiting with friends as they wait.
Park Away From the School
As children reach middle school age, most parents loosen the grip on their babies. They realize being the first in line doesn’t signify deeper love. Many have branched off into parking lots across the street and wait for their children to come to them.
One school we attend is close to a park. Several of the older children walk there after school and meet their parents. A public library sits on the other side of the park. Kids walk over and start their homework until their parents come.
Let Older Children Help
Newly licensed teens are begging for chances to drive, and will do so at minimal cost because they’re begging for money. Why not invest in help from them?
Traffic will soon double as hectic schedules and school bells commence. Cars, trucks, vans, strollers and bicycles will appear from nowhere. Here’s hoping for a stress-free 2013-14 school year.
Do’s & Don’ts of School Traffic
• Apply makeup, read books, or eat pancakes soaked in maple syrup; oops, a bite fell on the console, thumb around for napkin and clean it up.
• Approach from a different direction and ease in front of an exasperated mom with a screaming baby in the back seat who has been waiting 30 minutes for school’s end.
• Zip from one madhouse to the next like a racecar driver; pedal to the metal, chest to steering wheel while passing and squeezing in front of cars going the speed limit.
• Drive cautiously and remain vigilant. Put aside distractions and do your part to ensure safety. It’s all about the kids, and we’re all in this together.
• Practice what you preach; be respectful and courteous.
• Find a plan that works for you and eliminates stressful situations.