Once upon a time, my kids were babies and toddlers and their extra-curricular activities revolved around playdates and parks. They had no social lives to speak of, and we were able to walk or bike leisurely to most of their activities.
Then they became school-aged, and before I knew quite what had happened, I found myself in the car, driving them to and from school, activities, sports, and lessons with alarming frequency. Even if you strive, as I do, not to over-schedule your kids, you probably find yourself playing the role of taxi driver all too often as well.
I started thinking of carpool hacks and tips to help other parents. The solution? I became a carpool for kids expert… by necessity. With three kids in two different schools, all playing sports and taking various lessons, I had no choice but to collaborate with other parents.
And I’m so glad I did: carpooling with kids saves us gas money and time, and reduces our environmental impact. Setting up (and troubleshooting) a carpool (or two or three) can be complicated, but it pays off when you’re able to stay home as often as four days out of five. Here are my best carpool hacks, learned by trial and error.
Best carpool hacks and carpool tips
1. Choose carpool participants wisely.
It’s not the mob, but it’s still more difficult to get out of a car pool arrangement than you’d think, so choose carefully when reaching out to potential carpool partners. Obviously, you should trust the parents involved and know that they will enforce seat belt buckling and drive safely.
But nearly as important is their reliability: is a potential carpool participant that mom who’s always late to everything? Or is it the parent who never seems to remember commitments? You don’t need that in your life. In addition, you need to consider the child’s or children’s behavior as well. It is stressful driving, and sometimes it is better to be alone (with your kids) than to wish you were alone (with your kids).
Once you’ve made some selections and formed a group, make sure your kids are familiar with the parents involved before the carpool beings. My kids need to know who is in what I call their ‘circle of trust’: adults they know we’ve approved of as parents to drive them (in car pools).
Side note: When it is an emergency and your child didn’t know about the change of pickup person, they should be given your family code and be advised to willingly give it to your child. In addition, your child should always feel safe to ask the code, even to a very familiar person. (After using the family code, you need to change the family code.)
2. Do the necessary paperwork.
At many schools, forms are required for every adult approved to pick up your child. Once you’ve decided on a kids carpool group, share contact information at one time (a group email is a great place for this), so you can easily fill out forms without needing to call each participant.
3. Keep communication open.
Who doesn’t love the convenience of texts? I start group texts for each of my car pools, which we use continually as questions or scheduling issues arise. For instance, if my child is home sick from school, it only takes one quick text (instead of multiple phone calls) to let everyone know. If texting doesn’t work for your group, consider group emails or a private Facebook group where messages can be exchanged.
Rotating schedules (such as, ‘I pick up Monday, Wedneday, and Friday this week, then Tuesday and Thursday next week’) are the death of carpools. They’re just too hard to keep track of, once you add school holidays, sick days, and snow days to the equation.
If possible, it’s better to have each parent responsible for a day of the week, and stick to it, even if that means not every day of the week is included.
For example, I have a school pick-up carpool with four members. Because we don’t want to rotate for one day per week, we each have a day assigned for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, then everyone is responsible for his or her own children on Wednesday. This is easier to remember than alternating Wednesdays or worse, every day.
Avoiding a rotating schedule may mean having fewer members in your car pool or having one member take two days. Another example: for a soccer pick-up that occurs two days per week, I prefer to have only two people in the carpool, instead of three.
As a result, we each pick up more often, but no one has to remember which ‘week’ it is in the rotation. Trust me, this is preferable.
5. Remember how many seats you have in your car!
Have a school pick-up five times per week? It’s tempting to form a group of five parents. But if each of those families have 1-2 kids to pick up, do you have space? Make sure you have a seat belt for every member of the carpool, and are only counting available seats which are safe for the age of the child. For example, I have six available seats in my car, but only five for the elementary school carpool, where the kids are too young to sit in the front seat.
Carpool Troubleshooting: What to Do When Kids’ Carpools Go Wrong
Scenario: A carpool parent is not installing your child’s booster or car seat correctly, or it’s too difficult to provide one every day.
Solution: If this is a long-term carpool, buy an extra car seat or booster seat to leave in the parent’s car permanently. When the carpool does end, you can always use this seat in Grandma’s car, or for travel.
Scenario: Your child doesn’t get along with another child in the carpool.
Solution: Kids don’t have to be best friends in order to survive a 10-minute drive together, but if there are serious problems between them, suggest a carpool hiatus. Your child should not have to be in a hostile environment every day, and he or she comes first.
Scenario: A particular carpool parent is always late for pick-up or drop-off.
Solution: Offer to trade days or times. Perhaps it’s too hard for him or her to get there on time due to another commitment. Even if this is not the case, offering to trade will alert the parent to your awareness of the problem in a non-confrontational manner. Being chronically late to an event or lesson causes stress to any child; like in the above scenario, your child and his or her well-being has to come first.
Carpooling is a great way to save money, time, and the environment. Getting a carpool off the ground can be challenging, but these tips will help you overcome any carpool hurdles and set up a successful carpool for your kids.
Using these carpool hacks and carpool advice in advance of setting up your carpool for kids will make for a less chaotic and stressful commuting experience for everyone. Plan to go green this summer and throughout the school year with these best carpool tips. Photo credit: daylmer and philscoville.