Using public transport can be really exciting for young children, especially for those who spend lots of time in cars, being ferried from place to place. There is always so much to see looking out of the windows on a bus or train and in encountering the different people who will be using public transport at the same time as your children. The sense of speed in a train can be exhilarating. It provides a different experience to the child’s senses to walking.
There are all sorts of reading opportunities that using public transport offers, such as boards, timetables, and screens, which need consulting for both numbers and words. Depending on the type of bus stop near you, there could even be displays on them identifying wait times and destinations, all rich talking opportunities between you and the children.
The length of the journey will depend on the stage of development the child is at, the distance of the planned destination and the time available. It would be really exciting for a child who is fascinated by trains to even go for just one stop and then go onto the other platform and come back.
Using public transport came up as a challenge for some settings, at the introductory sessions. It may therefore be sensible to think about the size of the group you want to take. Small groups are more easily accommodated on public transport. It adds to stress levels if too large a group is trying to get on at the same time. If you really want to take a larger group, think about spreading out over the platform, so you are not all trying to access the same door. Stagger the buses you want to use so that the bus driver and other users don’t feel put upon and have a meeting point at your destination.
It is sensible to avoid times which are busy like first thing after the rush hour. Your children are more likely to get window seats and will therefore have more to talk about and the driver will be less stressed and may even be in a position to talk with your children more. Finding out about what driving the bus entails will fascinate some children. Staff on trains may also be more likely to give your children time if you travel off-peak, not to mention how much more affordable it is!
Using public transport can help children to learn about the value and need for money, especially if they pay for the tickets. Young children rarely see money being used with so much shopping being done online or by card.
If you are planning to use trains regularly to go further afield, it may be sensible to build a relationship with the community rail link and the know their cancellation and delay policy. Archfield House in Bristol have done this and have been able to use taxis to get them back from the beach which were paid for by the train company. This has only had to happen once in seven years, but can alleviate a source of potential stress.
Another challenge that settings raised was the expense. It may be worth identifying who uses public transport to come to work and could their travel cards be used on the journey you want to make with the children. Another possibility is to think about all the fares you will need over the year and add them to your running costs and therefore will be included in the fees you set. This makes them much more manageable and avoids the need for asking for donations, but will only work if you have fee paying families. Your children’s EYPP funding can also be used to meet the costs of using public transport if the child is going.
It is also worth looking into the cheapest way to travel. Sometimes “breaking” the journey can make a difference – or there may be discounts depending on the route you take. It can also sometimes be cheaper to buy two singles rather than a return. Travel cards may also work out to be more cost effective if you are planning several journeys in a short space of time.