How to prepare to send your child on public transit alone


I don’t remember how old my son was the first time he went to school alone. What matters is this: He was ready and he was successful.

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I didn’t wear a trench coat or a hat, but maybe I should have. I skulked around corners and hid myself behind strangers.

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The first time my kid went to school alone, I stayed more than a block behind on the short walk to Snowdon métro. Checkpoint. I almost lost sight of him on the deep escalators where giant bulbs on iron chandeliers cast a diffuse, ugly light. By the time I reached the platform, he already there, standing well behind the yellow safety line. Checkpoint.

When the train arrived, I dashed onto a different car, where I could just see his blond head through the morning crowd. I held my breath as we arrived at the transfer station, let it out slowly when he got off the train. Checkpoint. Gaining confidence, but not too much, I followed one car behind on the next train and surveilled till we pulled into Peel station. There are so many exits there, each leading to a different part of big, scary downtown. Hidden by the swarm of commuters, I shadowed him to the correct exit. Checkpoint.

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And my kid hadn’t lost his backpack. Amazing. He strolled across the street — on the green light — and into the schoolyard as though he’d been doing it alone for a lifetime. Level up.

I don’t remember how old my son was. Somewhere around 11. Age matters less than this: He was ready and he was successful.

Here are some tips to prepare yourself and your kid to take public transit alone for the first time.

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Set the foundation.

If your kids have primarily been driven to and from school, start practicing weeks before they set out on their own. After a couple of round trips, let them take the lead so you can truly see if they’ve got it. Don’t correct them before they make an error — they have to learn how to find their way back if they get lost. Repetition is one of the best ways to learn, so keep doing it.

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Know the map.

Orienteering isn’t just for summer camp. You and your child should be comfortable locating home and school and figuring out where they are.

Have a buddy system.

Talk to parent friends to find out who else is learning to take public transit so the kids can travel together. Perhaps your child has a friend who’s already been travelling alone.

Have a backup plan.

Things will go wrong. The bus won’t come, it won’t stop at the right place, they’ll be distracted and miss their stop. Who can they talk to? If they don’t have a cellphone, they can approach a bus driver or the ticket-taker at any station. If that’s not an option, they can look for a mom with her kids — moms will always help a child who’s lost. Your child should have your contact information written down somewhere accessible in case they don’t have or have lost their phone. Even if they’ve memorized the number, they might forget in the moment.


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