Tag Archives: school

She Wants to Ride the School Bus, but It’s Not Working

This cartoon popped up in my Twitter feed via @BrentTodarian. I haven't found the artist yet.
This cartoon Yehuda Moon cartoon (produced by Rick Smith & Brian Griggs) sums it up – but for parents making this decision every morning, it’s not quite so simple.

“It’s not the first two streets that are the problem; she can cross those. It’s that last street, because it doesn’t have a stop sign. And people drive SO fast through town.”

We stood in one small circle of conversation among many others, the room buzzing with questions about the first week of school. Flocks of small children swooped around our legs, swiping cups of lemonade before flying off to bring mayhem to some formerly-quiet corner of the church.

“It’s frustrating, because I really, really wanted her to ride the bus to school. It’s good for her to learn to take the bus and to have that independence, and to know that if she’s not out there on time she’ll miss it.”

I play with the edges of the paper coffee cup, folding the handle up and down as I listen. The coffee is thick and almost greasy somehow, leaving its mark on the sides of the cup.

“But I have other kids, too – honestly, if I have to wake them up anyway to walk her to the bus stop, it’s just easier to stick them in their car seats.”

Yes, the agony of organizing multiple children for school runs. Pulling the sleeping child out from under their blankets, draping that floppy, unwilling weight over your shoulder as you run out the door, returning to the house to pull a second droopy kid from bed. Tears falling from those bleary eyes, always, mama frazzled and late.

We talked through a couple of possibilities. There aren’t any other kids on her block going to the same bus stop, so a walking school bus (uh… to the school bus?) is out. The problem is that one street that’s hard to cross.

Almost all of the east-west streets around here stop at every intersection, but the north-south streets normally go eight blocks or so between stop signs. Of course, this means that traffic on these streets is much faster and that they’re more difficult and dangerous to cross. They’re designed so that people passing through by car can make good time – but they don’t add value to our neighborhoods.

I can think of three women just off the top of my head this morning who are driving their kids to school because there is a street too busy for their child to cross. I accompany my capable children every day for this same reason. The profound irony of this, of course, is that 20% or more of morning traffic is made up of parents doing just that. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

When we begin to talk about a Montessori City, we’re talking about a place where kids can practice age-appropriate behaviors without being unnaturally constrained by their environment. This is entirely do-able, but it’s going to require us to make some changes – and the sooner we allow our kids to live full lives right in their own neighborhoods, the better off our whole community will be down the road.

“It takes me seven minutes to walk her to the bus stop, longer if her little brother insists on walking. It takes me ten minutes to drive her to school. I think I’ll let her take the bus home, but I’m going to start driving her to school. This just isn’t working.

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Three Ways to Love on ALL the Kids Starting School

DSCF6396 They walk off this morning, bright backpacks on their backs and sweet-smelling lunchboxes in their hands (heaven knows those things won’t smell so good at Christmastime). Bouncing down the sidewalk with first-day enthusiasm, excited about new friends and new work. I trail behind, snapping pictures and wondering how it is that these kids who climbed into our bed every single night for years on end are suddenly so confident. So BIG.

We walk with them today, and probably will every day this year. It’s a walk they could easily manage, but you know – traffic.

And so, here’s what I hope the people who drive through my neighborhood this year do as they go on their way to drop off their own little babies-turned-big. (Last year I was one of those driving through, so I get the challenges.)

  • Hide their phone from themselves.
    We saw it already this morning, the good guy we know talking on his cell phone as he breezed through the crosswalk. We can do this. We can put our phones down, turn them off, set them to airplane mode, when we’re going somewhere. It feels like we’re cutting off an appendage, but you know how Jesus said that if a part of your body was getting you in trouble you’d be better off without it? This counts.
  • Slow down.
    I won’t belabor this because we’ve talked about it before and will again, but the human body is not designed for collisions with steel and fiberglass. An adult body considers anything above 20 mph a high speed. With kids, it’s even worse. For every single mile per hour faster we drive – yes, really, in increments that small – there’s a dramatic and measurable increase in the likelihood that a person hit by our car will die. We don’t want that. You don’t want that. We don’t want that for our communities, and we don’t want a kid who makes a mistake to pay for that mistake with his or her life. That’s not the kind of people we are. So let’s slow down.
  • Chill out.
    Some of the worst behavior I’ve ever seen in adult humans has been while waiting in the car line in the past couple years. Honking, yelling, cutting people off, swerving around the whole car line at ridiculous speeds while there are kids walking around – insane. One of the most frustrating pieces of driving is getting stuck in traffic we don’t expect, and we want to make up the time. But it’s not worth it. Let’s keep our cool.

    We can do this, and it’s worth it. Why? Because we believe in the beauty, the potential and the right-now awesomesauce of every kid starting their new school adventure this fall. We believe in the futures of the children pulling up in minivans and in the futures of the children who are skidding up on Huffys. We watch out for our kids – ALL of our kids – because as a community, that’s who we are.

  • We’re Not Even Trying

    The housing inspector was going to be at our house at 9:00 a.m. sharp today, and my husband was gone for an early meeting. That meant that I had to make sure all three girls were ready for their day and out the door at 7:40 a.m. Sticking to the timetable was crucial.

    In the swirl of

    WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES???
    and
    HOW IS YOUR HAIR NOT COMBED YET??

    I decided that it would make best sense to drive the three blocks to school today so I could do my other two drop-offs directly from there. For five minutes I sat in the driveway, pulling forward and back as walkers passed down the sidewalk, waiting for traffic to clear. Once we were finally on our way, we passed a dad walking his pink-fleeced little girl to school. For five more minutes I worked my minivan through the traffic snarl outside the school to get to the elementary school drop-off line. As I clicked open the door, the dad and his little girl walked up to the kindergarten classroom.

    For crying out loud, WE’RE NOT EVEN TRYING HERE. Walking this journey is obviously more efficient than driving, but some days it’s scary as hell. All those cars I was tangled in are in a HURRY, and trying to walk through an intersection with no crosswalk and no crossing guard and no anything at all but raw courage and a teeny flame of anger that we are so freaking uncivilized takes a lot of energy and a certain amount of disregard for one’s own mortality. And half the reason everyone’s in a car to begin with is that most of us don’t really want to contemplate death first thing on a Thursday morning, before we’ve even finished our morning coffee.

    I’m tired of pretending that this is working for us.

    I watched the video below first thing this morning. It’s an almost surreal foil to my maddening morning drop-off experience and I just can’t shake the contrast; it’s been on constant replay in my head all morning.

    It brings you to the bike route that passes beneath the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where you can take in Gothic architecture and modern art and street performers playing Bach on your way to school. Take a look at all the different types of people – especially families – on all the different bikes passing through. And imagine – imagine! – if there were anywhere in America where you could have this kind of experience during your morning commute.

    (If you don’t have a lot of time, consider clicking to the middle of the video – it’ll give you a good sense of what it’s about. You can read the original post by Mark Wagenbuur of Bicycle Dutch here.)

    The Netherlands hasn’t always been a beautiful place to get around by bike. In the 1970s, they were every bit as auto-centric as we are now. They decided that it wasn’t in their national interests to continue down that path and made a change.

    We can, too.

    But we have to try.

    So today I’m feeling all frustrated and ragey and like it is all futile, all of it, whatever it is. And so what I’m looking for from you is just this – your wisdom. What do YOU do when you feel like the mountain that stands before you is just too big?

    What Happened on the Way to School: What YOU Thought

    Friends, I can’t thank you enough for your feedback on that post about how I was nearly hit near CJ’s school. I love that we can have this conversation as a community, and hope that those of you who prefer not to comment publicly will feel free to email me at tulip(dot)lane(at)outlook(dot)com.

    Now, what you said. I pulled these both from the comments section and my personal Facebook page.

    First of all, it’s clear that this type of experience is NOT unique to me. One of my thoughts in the middle of this experience was about why all this weird stuff always happened to ME. What am I doing wrong? Why doesn’t this happen to anybody else? Well. Let’s see what you said:

    In the most intensive year of my life as a pedestrian (Chicago, 2011-2012) I was actually hit by a car once while running (minor thing, thank goodness) and had a car clip the front of [my son’s] stroller once. Yes. When you walk more, there’s more chance to experience this kind of crazy.

    I’ll have to tell you about the time I was walking my kids to school and hit the trunk of a car with my hand while in the crosswalk because they didn’t give us the right-of-way…

    I too have done something like that! Also, one of my friends said her normally calm husband finally walked out to the front of their house one day and yelled at the drivers going too fast to “SLOW DOWN” because there were kids around! Sometimes we just HAVE to speak up!

    My takeaway is that when we get out of our cars, we frequently experience the public realm as a a hostile place. We don’t typically seek out confrontation, but when we travel by foot or on bike it seems to become unavoidable. That’s clearly a problem.

    I think the fact that the driver had been confronted and punched in the face before is a huge red flag! She obviously drives in an aggressive manner and either isn’t aware or doesn’t care to change. I think you were right to confront her.

    I think you did the right thing because when no one calls someone out for improper behavior, it is as if we are encouraging said behavior to continue…

    I believe that pedestrians and bicyclists, by extension feel vulnerable and exposed. I applaud you for trying to strike up a dialogue. We need to do that more often and not feel like we were in the wrong even when it’s not our fault. We are quick to blame cyclists and walkers for pushing the boundaries when we do it often in our cars and don’t seem to notice that. (Emphasis mine.)

    I thought it was interesting that everyone who commented thought that confronting her was an appropriate response, because I really questioned myself on this point. After I read that last comment above, I figured out why: In my gut, I felt like I was on the wrong because I had been crossing the street. This floors me. I, of all people, have so thoroughly internalized the message our surroundings give that I feel like I’m breaking a rule by crossing the freaking road? What the heck?

    The question that remains is the most important one, though – was this conversation effective? And this is where I think Shelly absolutely nailed it:

    …learning the genuine art of non-violent communication with these aggressive people is helpful, and can also teach others how to handle their unruliness and regain some humanity.

    I don’t think our conversation was completely successful. It led to surface reconciliation, but I’m not convinced that she thought she had done anything wrong or processed that her actions had put me in danger. In fact, I think she may have still felt wronged by me because I acted like I didn’t think she was going to stop. (Gah. That still frustrates me, a week later.) The communication aspect is another post entirely, but I do think it’s key to the conversation. There’s a solid summary of the technique here.

    I’m going to end with something Michael said – a reminder and challenge to both myself and all of you.

    The more we walk and ride our bikes, the more considerate we will be around other pedestrians and cyclist. Keep up the dialogue.

    Climbing Walls, Climbing Hills! Friday Funday: June 13, 2013

    This turned out to be a downtown-themed week around here: first a pretty downtown pic of a gleaming red bike after a rainstorm, and then a conversation on what we’d like to see in a downtown. Visit us in the comments; your thoughts are more than welcome, whatever downtown you call home.

    Climbing as transportation. Who knew it was a thing? Not climbing the walls, although that’s what we’re experiencing around here, thank you very much summer vacation! The real climb is biking up hills in San Francisco, climbing ladders to get to school in China, and both climbing and cleaning Cincinnati’s old stairways. Enjoy.

    One.

    San Francisco, Home of the Hills, is looking to get more people on their bikes.

    On a popular San Francisco route known as “the Wiggle.” With a name like that, it has to be… well, interesting, right? Click for original source.

    Here’s why:

    Increasingly, this compact, space-conscious metropolis is seeing the importance of nurturing such change if the economy is to be encouraged to grow. “This isn’t only about saving the environment – it’s about spurring the economy. Just because San Francisco is stuck with limited land space, doesn’t mean we have to stagnate,” says San-Francisco transportation consultant, and regular bicycle commuter, Joe Speaks. “It’s wonderful that San Francisco continues to add new businesses, new jobs, and new housing. But nobody wants more traffic. That means we need more walking, biking, and transit. Making room for bikes and pedestrians is about making room for people, rather than cars.”

    Click here to read the whole article.

    Two.

    Rough commute? Chinese kids climb cliffs to get to school.

    Just... WOW.
    Just… WOW.

    Just in case I’m tempted to complain about our school run…

    In this crazy clip from China, little kids climb steep ladders to get to school! I wonder how nervous the parents are each day, or if they are given how normal this undoubtedly is for them. This is so wild I hardly know what to say about it.

    Three: Inspiration for the Week!

    Cincinnati group turns around “forgotten pedestrian spaces.”

    A Cincinnati staircase.

    I do love rusty old forgotten things. This article in Atlantic Cities says:

    There are more than 400 pedestrian staircases threading through the steep hills of Cincinnati. Today they resemble a kind of skeleton of that city’s once-robust pedestrian infrastructure, originally designed to get workers to and from their factory jobs and afford residents of hillside neighborhoods easy access to the old streetcar system. But the staircases of Cincinnati have long been in decline…

    And this is where the group called Spring in Our Steps has come in, by organizing neighbors to clean up and repair the spaces that are special to them.

    On their recent clean-up event:

    Our mission for Stepping Up in April was this: To show how much a few dedicated individuals can accomplish in one to two hours. Each of our days consist of some excuse as to why we should not donate our services to a community. We’re too tired, too busy, or too far away. As soon as we make that leap toward an act of altruism, the rest is history.

    Feeling inspired? What would you do in your town if you had ten people and one hour? Leave a comment and share the inspiration… and have a great weekend.

    Ten Reasons for Your Child to Walk to School

    This article is the third in a series on how kids get to school in America. Part one can be found here, and part two can be found here. This will be the last post on this topic for a few weeks.

    We’ve been talking about walking to school for a while. But… this seems like a lot of work. Maybe the way we’re doing things right now are working pretty well for us. Why should we consider doing anything differently? In short…

    Why does it matter if my kids walk to school?

    1. We’ve talked about this bit before: Kids who walk to school can concentrate better.

    2. It gets us out of our ruts. When kids walk to school, they tend to choose walking for other trips, too. We call this a virtuous cycle and it’s, you know… virtuous.

    3. They get the chance to eat worms. I’m sure it’s good for their immune systems; exposure therapy and all that. But really, the opportunity to interact with their environment is a low-key adventure that we can’t take or granted anymore. Crunchy snow, splashy puddles, frosty spiderwebs, and yes, worms after a rain – all things we don’t experience through a car window.

    4. Kids who walk to school are healthier. The experts recommend at least an hour a day of physical activity for kids; a good twenty-minute walk to and from school goes a long way toward meeting that recommendation.

    5. There seem to be developmental benefits to allowing kids to walk to school. We’ve heard a lot about helicopter parenting, but research is beginning to show that it’s really important for kids to be able to practice making good, independent decisions from a young age.

    6. It’s fun. CJ is in kindergarten right now, and doing things that I swear I learned in third grade. Naptime is long gone, and frankly, sometimes she feels the pressure. Going for a walk is a natural way to decompress, something that kids need, too. And if there happen to be some mud puddles to stomp in, all the better. (For her, not my floors.)

    7. It decreases the amount of traffic on our roads. This makes walking safer for everyone in the neighborhood, reduces the need for road repairs or new construction (wear and tear is EXPENSIVE), and improves neighborhood air quality.

    8. It frees up parents’ time (eventually). We’ve talked before about how much time we’re spending ferrying our kids around town. It turns out that this has been studied: “women in particular make about two-thirds of the trips, picking up and dropping off other people.” To a certain extent this is a normal component of modern parenthood, but teaching our children to get themselves around in an independent and age-appropriate way allows us to spend our time on whatever other callings we may have. You know, like laundry. So you can get to bed before midnight.

    9. You save on gas money. Go buy yourself a cup of coffee, instead.

    10. It strengthens your community. You say hi to the neighbor walking their dog on the way to school every day. Before long, that person who used to be a stranger is someone you know and trust. Talk about priceless.

    Even if having your kids walk to school isn’t something that works for you right now (it doesn’t for us!), you can still lay the groundwork for their future lives as pedestrians TODAY. The National Center for Safe Routes to School has a decent age-graded PDF on how to help your kids develop strong pedestrian skills. There are things we do so automatically that it doesn’t occur to us to teach them. Okay, honestly – I found it a little bit over-protective. But it does give a good sense of where kids are developmentally at different times.

    And remember, everything we talk about here is intended to be in the context of overall community livability, meaning that young, old, single, and disabled members of our community should all be able to participate fully in the life of the neighborhood. Helping our kids walk to school is part of making our neighborhoods strong for everyone.

    Perhaps you’d consider a walk today?

    If you like what we’re doing here, consider liking our Facebook page. It’s where we post things we hear about that are going on in our community, interesting articles, and more. We’d love it if you’d join us!

    Car Time to School Keeps Kids from Concentrating

    In 1978, two years before ADHD became a clinical diagnosis, Dr. W. Mark Shipman sent a group of “hyperactive” kids out running.  It wasn’t just for fun; he was testing a hypothesis he had regarding the effects of exercise on the brain. His discovery?  That hyperactive kids who ran regularly – up to forty-five minutes four times a week – needed less medication than the control group to mange their hyperactivity.

    You may not be surprised – what parent hasn’t booted their wall-climbing progeny out of the house to have them run off some of that crazy-making steam? And yet…

    The stuff of life.
    The stuff of life.

    Every day, twice a day, we get in the car and drive CJ to school. Fifteen minutes each way, for a total of an hour on the road each and every weekday for that activity alone. (Except for when we have snow days. Oh, the incessant snow days!)

    It was a conscious choice we made. We hope to move closer to her school, but until then… we drive. A lot.

    We’re certainly not alone. Every year, traffic congestion jumps in September as we parents resume driving our kids to school. By some estimates, parents driving their children to school make up a full 25% of traffic during drop-off and pick-up times!

    All this driving takes a toll on kids (and not just kids – more on that another time), and as a country I don’t know that we’re counting the cost very well. We talked a few weeks ago about how kids who get around primarily by car have poorer cognitive mapping skills and remember fewer details from their environment than kids who get around on foot.

    Now there’s a study out from Denmark which shows that kids who walk or bike to school have a significantly improved ability to concentrate compared to their more sedentary peers (in this case meaning kids who got to school by car or bus). Exercise improved kids’ concentration for up to four hours after they got to school and increased their ability to concentrate the same amount as an entire half-year of age. While the project “set out to examine the link between diet, exercise and the power of concentration” the researchers were actually expecting to further define the importance of regular eating habits for kids’ ability to concentrate. It was a surprise to them to discover that the effect of getting to school in an active way far outweighed the effect of eating breakfast.

    So, good to know. Now, why did I say that new schools keep kids from concentrating?

    This is a typical example of new school construction in an elementary school which opened this past fall.
    Typical new school construction. The school just opened this past fall.

    Simple. Think about a school that has been built recently near you. Chances are good that it looks something like the photo above, which is a newly-constructed school near me. It’s located on a large piece of land, fronted by a parking lot, and kind of out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t feature this school to pick on them; I assume it was commissioned by caring parents and strong administrators who want the best for the children who will be learning there. It’s a beautiful building. But it’s very typical of new school construction in that the kids who go there are going to arrive on our bottoms, unable to take advantage of the cognitive benefits of arriving on their feet.

    Hm. It’s something of a pickle we’ve gotten ourselves into, isn’t it?

    This is the first installment of what I expect to be a three-part series that I plan to have appear over the next couple Thursdays (barring excessive snow days and other unpredictable events).

    Several days after I published this, The Atlantic Cities ran a story worth reading called “The End of the Neighborhood School”. It’s worth a read.