Kids love buses. I don’t know why. I guess they’re large and majestic, like the woolly mammoths of yesteryear? And their squeaky, sighing brakes sound like the comments of tired, old giants.
Taking babies or kids somewhere by bus can seem daunting or risky. But so is driving in a sleep-deprived state or handling stop-and-go traffic and crying infants at the same time.
In my experience, it’s often very worthwhile to arrange plans around bus rides. They are educational, bonding experiences that no kid should miss out on.
We lived carless for a year in Budapest, where buses were filled with kids going to and from school, babies in carriers and strollers, and people of all ages, really. We would ride streetcars, new metro lines, and public transit boats for fun, and we weren’t alone. The special Christmas trolley, decked out in lights, was packed!
And did I mention that German trains have special kids’ seats?
Visiting Dresden, I marveled at how well the streetcars had been aligned with sidewalks, making it easy and common for parents to push a large stroller seamlessly on board — they were really strolling, not struggling! It was way easier than lugging a baby bucket out of a car by hand or trying to hoist the stroller into the trunk of an SUV.
Here are a few reasons why you, your kids, and our planet would benefit from more kids and their adults taking buses or other public transit:
Bus time is quality time.
Singing along to CDs in the car is all well and good, but there’s so much more you can do on a bus. From talking to neighbors together to reading signs and pointing to landmarks, it’s much easier to share a point of view on the bus.
Detail-oriented little ones may learn a shocking number of bus routes by heart. Educationally speaking, there are tons of opportunities. Read transit maps and schedules, calculate how many minutes until the next bus, read signs and learn the names of destinations in the city.
Some babies hate car rides.
Ours absolutely hated carseats until he was old enough to sit forward-facing, at an upright angle, and look outside. We’re not sure whether it was the angle aggravating his floppy larynx? Or maybe he was just bored, but those were the facts.
We would put him in our Ergo carrier or on Dad’s shoulders and board the bus, because it was better than listening to the screaming while trying to drive safely.
Taking buses means walking.
I once knew a college freshman who was struggling to walk to and from campus. She just found it exhausting and slow. Well, it turned out she had barely ever walked anywhere in her life. Her suburban parents had driven her almost every time they left the house, and she was transported from her block to her schools’ front door by school bus.
City buses often require a bit more hiking, and I think it’s a good thing. Walking is great exercise and excellent mental health therapy as well, so important in our challenging, changing world.
When we started taking the bus home from pre-school, my 3-year-old progressed from having to be cajoled or carried off and on for the 3-block walk from the bus stop to walking it quickly without comment. Practice makes perfect! And you’ll get your 10,000 steps in much more easily each day, instead of feeling grumpy in traffic.
Bus riders are diverse riders.
Leaving the social bubble of your car is good. If we whisk and shuttle our kids from one kid-friendly place to another, they may not see much of the larger world. When will they first encounter the old, the poor, and the blind?
We see many interesting people on buses, from those in wheelchairs to those who need us to give up our seats because they have trouble standing or balancing. Students I have taught from foreign countries are often surprised at how accepting and helping Americans are to their neighbors with disabilities. Most have never seen buses with wheelchair ramps, and they are impressed that no one on the bus complains about the extra time it takes to board one.
Perhaps familiarizing kids with these differences in the human condition will make them more empathetic from the start. Again, we will need empathy and resilience to live comfortably in a future (and present!) marked with climate migration.
They’d better get used to it
Engrain green habits early. Many kids in the U.S. assume cars are the only way to get around, even when they live in cities that have public transit. Part of making the right choices is understanding what all the choices are.
One day when I came to pick up my son from pre-school, another little girl asked why I showed up on foot and not in a car. I told her that driving cars was bad for the Earth. Apparently it was new information to her.