(Photo Caption: Girl on her way to catch the school bus )
It’s back to school time so I’m dusting off some of my blind parent “lessons learned” which I used to help us have a successful school year. Today’s tip is to do a dry run of your route to school.
This may seem a little unnecessary, especially if you are traveling in areas you typically frequent, but it can be really helpful to get familiar with the route to school. Whether your child rides a bus, rides to school, or walks, it is really good for you as a parent to know multiple ways to get to/from home as well as any obstacles you may encounter along the way. Don’t feel silly doing this either. I have sighted friends who often do a dry run drive to a new location or special event too. Remember what the Boy Scouts say…be prepared. It’s also great for your kids to practice a dry run if they are a little nervous about the first day, and this can help get you back into that early morning routine.
Photo Caption: Photo from behind, blind dad using cane and walking with son down a sidewalk.
Whether you are just walking down the street to the school bus stop, or around the block to the neighborhood school, a preview can be helpful. It will help you get a sense of how much time it will take you and your child (Ren) to walk the route, as well as an idea of any potential hang ups along the way. A dry run also allows you a chance to look out for low lying tree branches, jutting up sidewalks, neighbors who repeatedly park their truck over the sidewalk (ever banged your knee on a trailer hitch? No fun.)Or other possible obstacles along your path. These are not things you want to encounter for the first time as a blind person when you’re trying to get somewhere on time on a first day. You should also think about walking on both sides of the street and even vary your route a time or two just so that you become more familiar with the area and multiple routes—not suggesting memorized route travel. Rather, this will help you in those times when you need to go an alternative way.
For longer walks than just around your neighborhood, a dry run can familiarize you with traffic patterns, crossing intersections, and any physical obstacles you may encounter on the route and need to be aware of (again, low lying branches, broken side walk that may be hard to navigate if you are pulling a wagon or stroller, places where the side walk stops, tricky intersections, etc. Again, things that you probably don’t want to encounter for the first time on the first day of school. You may even consider a drive-by with a sighted friend who can describe the route to you and point out certain things that may be a challenge, but I’d still suggest walking it as well as you’ll get a different picture and more info on foot. I would also suggest trying a couple of different routes to the same place—e.g., walking on the opposite side of the street, or taking a parallel street. It is a good idea to know more than one way so that you are prepared for any unforeseen obstacles. This might seem a bit unnecessary, but you never know when a sidewalk might be blocked off because the homeowner is pouring a new one, a water main breaks and closes off the sidewalk, or someone doesn’t shovel the sidewalk one winter morning. It’s great if you are a good problem solver “in the moment”, but a little prior preparation never hurts.
()Photo Caption: Small boy riding in kids’ car down the driveway
Whether you take your child to school with a ride (i.e. taxi, uber, public transit, etc., or they are driven by another parent/friend, it is a good idea for you still to be familiar with the route and do a dry run. Even if you are not the primary provider of your child’s transportation, there will be times when you may need to drop off/pick up your child because of unforeseen circumstances like tardiness or illness. So knowing the route is still helpful. For example, a dry run can help you determine how long it may take to install a car seat (if needed), and how long it will take you to get to/from the destination. Even though you’re not the one driving, knowledge is power and you and your child can be more empowered riders when you know how to get where you’re going. I would suggest asking a friend or family member to do a dry run with you so that you can ask questions and take time to become familiar with the route initially, rather than trying to do this on a metered fair. Asking questions like street names, places you are passing, and exit numbers are helpful. This is also helpful because while a GPS is useful, they are not always correct. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been riding with someone and had to correct the GPS or suggest a better route.
If you take public transit to/from your child’s school, a dry run is definitely a good idea. Since buses and trains are not always reliable, it is good to get a sense of your window of time, so you may want to practice this route a couple of times so that you can get a good estimate of the travel time. . If you have to make a connection or walk for a part of your route, it is a good idea to check this out ahead of time too so that you will know what to anticipate during the real deal. Also, there are always little extra things like finding the actual stop, fare machines, or entrance and exit ramps that can add time and little hang ups. A dry run will help you know where these things are so that you’re not fumbling around looking for them on a first day.
At the School:
Lastly, a dry run at the actual school is also a good idea. Our elementary school has a “Peek at your Seat” day the week before school. I find this to be really helpful for me too so that I can learn where my child’s classroom is, and familiarize myself again with other important locations around the school. Most schools will have some kind of Back to School night, so plan to take a few extra minutes to tour the building if possible. Knowing where things are like the main office, your child’s classroom, library, lunch room, gym, and rest rooms can be handy for those times when you come back for meetings or school events. This will help you feel more comfortable navigating around the school later. It will also show others that you are confident and competent as a blind parent which can’t hurt!
Good luck and happy trails!