Teaching Young Children About Public Transit

Updated on June 06, 2013
H.W. asks from Portland, OR
14 answers

Today my son's kindergarten had a great field trip, and I was so glad I signed up to be a parent escort.

We did take our local lightrail train to the site (an arboretum to do a nature walk/games) and I noticed that some of the kids really didn't seem familiar with simple public transit safety rules, like sitting on their bottoms or not treating the bars (ones designated for passengers to hold onto) like a jungle gym. My little group did fine; we had to stand on the return trip and we needed some reminders to hold onto the safety bars. Nothing bad happened, but seeing kids "sitting" on their knees backward or hanging from the poles and swinging out over passengers was a bit alarming.

I know a lot of families are busy or prefer to drive on their errands around town, but the experience got me wondering: how many parents take their kids on the bus/city train as an opportunity to teach them about how to *be* on public transit? In our family, we get a lot of practice; we are committed to just having one car and we take the bus on all sorts of adventures around town. I also grew up taking the bus everywhere (on Oahu when I was little; here in Portland as a teen), including to my after-school job and then later, to other jobs, social engagements, etc. I think we had a lot more liberty because my mom trusted us to know and navigate the bus system on our own, otherwise we would have been stuck at home a lot.

So, IF public transit in your area is doable, do you make a concerted effort to teach your child how to behave on public transit or how to use public transit on their own (if age appropriate)?

And just to clarify, when I say 'teaching' I mean exactly what Gramma Rocks was talking about: sitting one one's bottom, staying seated while the bus is moving, not shouting, not eating messy food on transit... basic rules.

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So What Happened?

You know, Bug, you have a good point-- some areas are not public-transit friendly. So I've refined my question a little bit with that in mind. Thanks for that!

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answers from New York on

Where I live, we do not have public transportation. Well we have a commuter train but that is it. I would cut them a little slack. They are kindergarteners on a field trip on public transportation. They were excited.

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answers from Dallas on

In my area...only very recently...do I see a couple of buses around. Even still, if you don't have a car, you don't get anywhere. Either someone gives you a ride in a car, or you own one. Being a single car family would be nearly impossible here, unless two parents worked the same schedule. A stay at home parent would be stuck inside, unless they got a ride.

My son and I DRIVE in a car, to go ride the train here. He is a train fanatic, so it's an adventure. We go to a very nice neighborhood type of area. You would never find me going to Dallas to ride the train alone with my son.

You have to remember, not every grew up like you. Some people might be from a more rural area. Some people might be from an area where this is no public transportation. Some people might be from an area where using public transportation means getting mugged, followed, assaulted, or just terrified that will eventually happen. If I moved somewhere public transportation was prevalent, I would just fall back on my car. I don't enjoy public transportation. It's stressful for me. I would avoid it. So, why would I go out of my way, just to make my son use it? In order to be taught, on has to use public transportation. Many people don't, so their kids won't know...until they are much older and these things are common sense.

**After reading your question again, I actually think kids DO know not to act like that anywhere!! I know my 4 year old does.

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answers from Honolulu on

When I was a kid, my Mom used to take us on public transit, to teach us things and just for fun.
There were many kinds in Hawaii growing up: bus, "Sampan" taxis which were locally unique to Hawaii, taxis, trolley cars, etc.

Me with my kids, we have taken them on bus transit. But even before that, they knew how to behave on it... and had gone on field trips on big buses before from Preschool. They just knew, on their own, how to behave on it. BUT... the Teacher... BEFORE their field trip, would teach the kids about it and HOW to behave on it, and SAFETY on it.
So they already knew. Even without us teaching them first.
It was just sort of instinctual, for them.

In Europe my daughter rode on their Metro system.

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answers from Dallas on

I taught my kids to behave period. They could be anywhere and at almost any age and they knew how to behave. From being expected to behave in church and out to eat, they learned all they needed to know.

Interesting point, my oldest rode the largest public transit system in the world in Moscow. Neat as a pin. Beautiful subway stations with incredible art and decorative ceilings! Not a drop of trash.

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answers from Austin on

Frankly, to me, that seems like basic rules that should be obeyed in public... not being noisy, not playing on the surroundings, and listening to the adults when they tell you something.

I do realize that little kids get excited... but still... for safety's sake, don't they listen to adults when they are told to sit down and not play?

Many kids take a bus to school at that age... I would think that a reminder by the adults in charge before they go ANYWHERE is that just like when they are in a car or in a school bus, they need to sit on their bottoms and not play around.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I truly don't see that parents who don't need to take public transit make a concerted effort to teach their children how to behave on it or use it, they see no need.

I use it, have for many years, my grandchildren love going places with me on it. But their parents never took them, Gramma did. I taught them how to sit, and hold on when standing or walking while moving, they didn't automatically know.

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answers from Washington DC on

we're out in the boonies, so we don't ever have opportunities to use public transit. but i think this is a great question. it IS a great life skill to have!
when my kids were still homeschooling, we'd take field trips to DC and i would have them figure out the routes we'd take on metro (mama does not drive in the big skeery city) and where we'd need to change and so forth.
not precisely the question you asked, but still good stuff for them to learn.
i have to think that your situation boils down to bedrock parenting to some degree, though, doesn't it? i mean, if parents teach their kids to behave in restaurants and stores and other people's houses, wouldn't that translate naturally to buses and metros?

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answers from San Francisco on

This is a great question because I think about it all the time. I too am a public transportation advocate. If it wouldn't take 2-1/2 hours to get to work on public transportation, I would be on the bus. But to spend 2-1/2 hours on a bus when I can drive in 35 minutes just isn't cutting the mustard!

Anyway, my daughter has 5 children, 3 of which are old enough to do public transportation on their own. I am raising one of those three. The older boys have been taking public transportation all of their lives. When mom when younger (she has never had a car or driver's license) and now on their own. They can get anywhere they want to go.

The GD I am raising has also had experience riding the bus with an adult. She just turned 11 and I do plan on taking a bus trip with her soon so that during the summer she can get out and go places while I'm at work. I also let her ride her bike a lot of places. Trying to instill some independence and responsibility. So far it's working great.

My hubby, however, would rather poke himself in the eye with a hot poker than to suggest to his kids (both adults) that they should take a bus. As far as I know, neither of his sons have EVER ridden a bus. They are both still pretty dependent on their father. (eye roll!!!)

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answers from San Francisco on

My kids have been schooled early and often about public transit. They love BART (the subway) - I guess most kids love trains. They hate Muni (the bus). We were taking Muni to the Natural History Museum (in Golden Gate Park, where parking is always ridiculous). As we were about halfway there, the bus stopped yet again to pick up more people, and my then-6 year old piped up, "Mommy, I HATE this car!" Everyone around us laughed. (I hate this car, too, kiddo! ;) Every now and then, they beg to go on the cable cars. That's a rare treat because it's expensive, and you have to wait in a forever long line of tourists to get on. But it IS fun.

But yeah, my kids bring their iPods, sit down and shut up while on public transit. Or, if no seats are available, they stand up and loop one arm around one of the safety rails.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

I live in Southern California and have never taken a bus. I took the Amtrak to San Diego 29 years ago. I'm in sales, have been forever, so I schlepp tons of samples and literature around. I bought my 19 year old daughter a car when she was 15. Public transportation is pretty awful in my area. For the past nine years my daughter has gone with her dad to Washington D.C. He works and she frolics alone. She has taken the train or whatever it is there alone since she was ten. My daughter has travelled with me extensively since she was a little munchkin and has done wonderful on planes, long before the iPad babysitter!

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answers from Grand Forks on

I drive, but I take my kids on the bus every once in a while. My kids take a bus ridership class in school where they learn school bus rules, such as sitting on their bum. My kids are not aloud to shout anywhere but outdoors, so they know not to shout. They are only allowed to eat at the table, so they know not to eat on the bus. My son will be 11 soon, and will need to start taking public transportation by the time he is 12, so we will do some practicing together so he can learn how to pay fares, and what routes to take etc.

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answers from Miami on

Where we used to live overseas when my kids were young, we took public transit all the time. I was so proud of how my kids handled it and how they acted. It was always embarrassing to see foreigners' kids misbehave, squeal and scream, run, and argue with their parents, or worse, have to listen to their moms say over and over "If you don't quit "x", I'll do "y"!" And of course, you knew it was just a lot of threatening without EVER backing the threat with action.

We could always tell when a foreign family rode the trains only once in a blue moon...

The best thing I can think of is to remind the kids to watch what other people do. Do they sit on their feet? No. Do they swing on the bars? No. That kind of thing.

I'm lucky that our transit was always clean. I think that if I had to deal with dirty buses and such, I would have wipies to hand the kids as soon as we got off. That would drive home the understanding to the kids that these aren't places to touch a lot of stuff...

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answers from Los Angeles on

I grew up in Los Angeles, Ca. and we took the bus A LOT and I HATED it...it was AWFUL! So crowded and smelly and nasty! Yuck!

So as of yet, no my kids have not been exposed to much public transportation. My BIL lives in Portland, OR and we take the light rail (or whatever they call it own there) when we visit so the kids have had some exposure but not a lot by any means.

This will soon change, as we are moving to NY this summer and we will be all over the subway checking out our new surroundings and looking at living on Long Island, so the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) will become our best friend! You better believe I will be all over teaching the rules and have them within eyesight all the time and be teaching them how to behave and to stay safe!

Growing up in CA, riding the nasty buses has caused me to really dislike mass transit and the thought of having to rely on them so heavily and have it just be 'the norm' is the biggest negative for me, when thinking about this next chapter of my life. :(

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

We took public transit all the time when my kids were little and our local schools do the same for field trips. YES, parents should teach their kids the basic rules about riding a bus or train. I also taught my kids what to do if they get separated from me. (One of us gets off the train w/o the other) The know the emergency button and button to talk to operator is only for emergencies, just like 911. If they get off and I don't, they wait for me to come back. I reassure them that I WILL come back and they are not to leave the platform. They know another mommy or daddy (with children) is a safe person to ask for help or to wait with them. If we are traveling on a plane or a crowded place, my kids have our cell phone numbers on them. When they were little, I told them if they got lost to give the phone number to another mommy who can help them call and find me. Also tell them to "always stay where you are, I am probably not far away and will find you". Harder to find a child who is moving. Kids should always be told proper public behavior and safety rules.

1 mom found this helpful
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