Parenting is a series of firsts (and lasts). From that first diaper change to the first ride in the car all the way to their first time behind the wheel and beyond, the journey is packed with unfamiliar experiences. Taking your kiddo to kindergarten is no exception. While we can’t guide you through the process of joining the PTA or ingratiating yourself to other families, we can offer some tips on how to navigate the drop off line for the first time.
We’ve chatted about the challenges of the school drop off line before. While that article speaks to many common issues, we’re seeing more specific questions from parents of kindergartners so we’d like to chat about that, too. Our main goal is to help all caregivers feel confident about making the safest choice for their families and for their child.
Where to Park
There are many, many good reasons to park and walk your child into their classroom. We will never be in that group of advocates who encourage families to move outside of their comfort zones, we remain steadfast in our focus on safety. Regardless of your family’s reason, here are some suggestions to make that process easier for everyone involved — including the other drivers in the line!
If you decide to park, please do so in a designated parking space. I realize this seems obvious but….my kiddo is at a K-8 school and every day, twice a day, the part of the line near the younger grades is littered with parked vehicles that hold up the line. Parking is at a premium so getting there early enough to secure an actual parking space is the best option. If you must park in the drop off line, we suggest turning your flashers on so other drivers know to not wait for you.
Setting up your Vehicle
Before you start worrying about the dropoff line, take some time to arrange your vehicle so that your kiddo or kiddos can get in and out without obstructions. This might mean moving their car seat or booster seat to the other side of the vehicle so they can load and unload on the curb. This might also mean that your kindergartener may have to climb over a sibling or another young passenger — make sure that they won’t uninstall a car seat or step on their older sibling as they make their way to school. You may want to clean off the floor of your vehicle so that kid debris doesn’t fall out when they open the door!
Harness or Booster Seat
Figuring out when a child might be ready for a booster seat is one of the most common questions we see. CSFTL recommends that a child be at least 5 years old before moving to a booster seat. If your kindergartener has hit that milestone, meets the height, weight and age minimum requirements and is mature enough to sit properly all of the time, a high back booster can make the dropoff line easier for everyone.
But we realize that can be a tall order for some kiddos, those kiddos may still need to ride in a harnessed car seat for some time. If that’s the case, a handy tool like the UnBuckle Me allows the child to unbuckle their own crotch buckle. It does not attach to the car seat or interfere with the harness so we don’t see any potential safety issues with it. Many families we know keep the Unbuckle Me in the front seat cupholder, the caregiver passes it back at drop off, though any convenient location works just as well.
Along with the UnBuckle Me, teaching your kindergartener to fasten/unfasten their own chest clip is another useful skill for drop off. Confirm that your child is mature enough to ONLY do this at the proper time before relying on your kiddo to complete this task.
Unbuckle with Help from the Front Seat
Another option is for the driver to put the vehicle in park/engage the emergency brake if they’re like me and drive a stickshift, then reach back and release the child’s crotch buckle up on arrival. If the child can then release their chest clip, they’ll be on their way.
Leave the Harness in Place
When babies are tiny, they can grow overnight so we encourage caregivers to adjust the harness to fit the child on every ride. Kindergartners tend to grow quite a bit more slowly and they can often explain if they’re not comfortable so caregivers can work with them to extend the harness for an updated fit.
Variations in Car Seats
Some harnesses are easier to release than others. If your child’s car seat collection includes an option with a harness that the child can easily undo, that might be the best option for the ride to school.
Wearing puffy coats while harnessed in a car seat or booster seat remains a safety risk, even for bigger kids. That’s because the coat can compress in a crash, reducing the harness or seat belt’s ability to do their job. We suggest a nice fleece or other thin jacket instead. We also understand that not everyone lives in a warm climate but we encourage families to find a safe solution, like a fleece jacket, blankets on top of the kiddo and harness, or warming the car before people get inside.
If your child takes a backpack to school, at no point should they wear it while they’re riding in the vehicle. Place it on the vehicle floor, at the child’s feet, so they can access it when they arrive at school. We also realize that those backpacks on the floor could become projectiles in the event of a crash. Best practice would be to store the backpacks securely in the trunk or cargo area.
Talk to the School
If you still find yourself struggling for the right solution to your situation, we have found that in many cases, talking directly to the school about your particular needs can be the best option.
Advice you didn’t ask for
While I can’t advise you about navigating the PTA or social structures of your fellow parents at school, I can advise that entering into a conversation with school staff gently and presenting your concerns calmly can go a lot further than coming into a meeting with anger or demands. While I’m handing out unsolicited advice, I’d also suggest that the giant meetings for families are NOT the time to present your individual concerns.
We hope these tips help you and your family narrow down the safest options that will work best for you and your kindergartener.