Preschoolers book a ticket to ride on the magic bus

New transport requirements for early childhood education and care centres came into effect this week. Vanessa Lahey profiles a best practice service.

Image: Bowraville Community Preschool parents Simone Hordern (left) and Belinda Walsh (right) love the preschool’s ‘magic bus’ as much as their children, Ollie and Arlo (in background) and Luna (right)

“The wheels on the bus go round and round, all through the town” – this happy tune has been sung by generations of children while travelling on bus transport.

For many NSW preschool children, the bus ride is an important feature of their developmental journey and treated as an extension of their learning environment.

New regulatory requirements came into effect on 1 March 2023 for early childhood education and care centre-based services offering bus transport. The primary goal is to ensure that every child is accounted for when picked up and dropped off by a bus.

Bowraville Community Preschool is acutely aware of how important preschool bus transport is for its children and their families. The service has had rigorous transportation policies in place since bus transport was first introduced.

The preschool’s director, Melody Mackay, said the bus run has been in operation since 2018 and all the drivers are educators, too. Children are taught how to get on and off the bus safely, and how to behave on the bus.

“Our educators teach the children how to buckle and unbuckle their seatbelt harnesses,” she said.

“The children then take pride passing on the lessons to new children. It’s always amazing how quickly the children learn these key safety points.”

To Bowraville Community Preschool youngsters Luna and Ollie, their preschool ride is a ‘party bus’. Ms Mackay explained that one of the preschool bus runs transports children who love the gummy bear song played . . . on repeat.

“When educators turn the music down, they insist on us turning it up. I think the chant of ‘Gummy Bear, Gummy Bear, Gummy Bear’ can be heard way before the bus arrives at our families' houses,” she said.

“The other bus is called the Magic Bus because it has magical powers. Once the children are all inside and buckled up, the doors close… all by themselves.”

The benefits of bus transport for the preschoolers also benefit families.

“Some families don’t have safe transport, some rely on the local bus services, some have diverse family needs, and some are just juggling time – which is why the children enjoying a safe ride home, while being educated, is paramount,” Ms Mackay said.

It’s easy to see how a simple bus ride forms part of a child’s preschool day. And just like a car ride with a parent or carer, there’s a duty of care that a child feels safe and secure in the knowledge they will be collected at the end (asleep or awake).

New requirements

The new regulatory requirements will apply to centre-based services who provide or arrange for regular transportation.

Under the changes, approved providers and nominated supervisors must:

  • ensure a staff member or nominated supervisor (other than the driver) is present to account for all children as they embark and disembark a vehicle at a service premise.
  • ensure a staff member or nominated supervisor (other than the driver) checks inside the vehicle to ensure no children travelling to or from the service are left behind.
  • ensure records are made showing that all children were accounted for, and a vehicle check was completed after they had disembarked to ensure no children were left behind.
  • notify the regulatory authority when they begin or cease operating or arranging regular transport.
  • update required policies and procedures to bring them into line with the new legislative requirements.

Appropriate risk assessments and determining adequate supervision remain a critical element to ensuring the safety, health and wellbeing of children during periods of transportation.

For more information about changes to transportation requirements for centre-based services, visit the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority website.

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