I'm teaching my kids how to get around on public transport. Why? Because they need to learn that big leather seats, an on-call chauffeur and being delivered door-to-door is not a lifetime entitlement. They also need to understand that their parents have a life that doesn't involve the inside of a car!
Weekends are a good time to become familiar with public transport as it's less busy and you'll have more time to get around… and get lost.
Announcing a weekend jaunt on public transport may not generate a massive round of applause from the kids, so it's important to make it interesting and fun. So, how do you do this?
First, give them control. I have a view that most kids are "Gen I" – I want, I need, I must, etc. My kids want, need and must regularly have a gelato from Gelato Messina (voted best ice cream and gelato by SMH Good Food Guide 2011). Although familiar with the chauffeur driven route to Gelato Messina's Darlinghurst location, they had no idea how to get there by public transport. However, with the promise of a gelato at the end of the journey, they were eager to start researching public transport options.
Second, make planning fun. Put away the paper timetables and slow-loading websites as kids will soon lose interest. Instead, download apps cleverly designed for planning travel on public transport. A favourite in our house is TripView Lite (by Grofsoft), a free app with an option to upgrade to an enhanced version for a small price. The app is easy to use and enables you to plan your trip from A to B with timetable options, service updates, estimated arrival times and more. You can even track in real-time how far away your train, bus or ferry is so you can confidently decide whether there's time for a toilet stop beforehand or whether you'll have to hold on!
Other apps that may appeal to kids and parents alike are TripGo (by SkedGo), Triptastic (by AppJourney), Arrivo Sydney (by Riverstone Labs) and TransitTimes (by Quentin Zervaas). Each has different features that will appeal for different reasons but they all meet the objective of helping kids to learn how to get around on public transport.
Another fun app is Hidden City. If the kids don't know where they want to go, this app will suggest a destination and then give you step-by-step instructions on how to get there by public transport. This is great if you're in the mood for a magical mystery tour.
For those of us who struggle with the idea of releasing our kids into the world as independent travellers, have a look at some of the child safety/emergency apps that are also available. There are a few of these apps around and one which comes highly recommended is the HelpMe app launched by the Daniel Morcombe Foundation in 2012. This app has some great features for child safety and will also alleviate some of the worry for parents.
Another way to ensure kids enjoy the experience of public transport is to have fun getting lost. We missed a bus and caught a train going in the wrong direction (had we taken notice of TripView's platform indicator, this wouldn't have happened). Remember, this is about learning so mistakes help to reinforce how to avoid the same thing happening in future. The important thing is that the kids have fun, they feel they're in the driver's seat and we can sit back and enjoy the ride.
So, having exhausted Sydney's network of ferries, buses and trains and come across some surprises along the way, we finally arrived at Gelato Messina. We felt we'd earned our double scoops of tiramisu, chocolate fondant and salted caramel and white chocolate gelato. With contented tummies and titillated tastebuds, we started on the journey home listening to the kids discussing where they'd like to go next weekend.
Gelato Messina salted caramel and white chocolate gelato - worth the trip
Great article, Jenny - especially encouraging kids to be independent is so important. I love the Hidden City app - have just downloaded it on your recommendation. I agree with Bryony though, too - learning to read maps helps kids develop a good sense of direction, and to understand East-West etc, which following GPS etc intructions does not. J.
Thanks Julie and Bryony for your comments. The feedback is appreciated. Yes, knowledge of map reading is important (though I've never been good at it - ask my husband...)! Bryony, although we don't have A-Z in Sydney, I carried my tatty copy with me everywhere when I lived in London. It was a handbag essential!
The best way is to teach them how to read a map; that way if they are every going somewhere they haven't been before, or get lost, they can find their way by following an A-Z. Although it is rare, not all kids have mobiles which they can download apps from. I also think it is very beneficial to learn the old fashioned way, so they are not totally reliant on technology.