The one back-to-school feature parents most dread is that snaking car line with oblivious drivers skirting the school's traffic pattern. One cure for that is to carpool, which cuts down on your own driving, but can bring with it its own minefield of communication blunders. We offer these tips for navigating the rules of the road on the way to school:
For the car line
.Resolve not to be that always-late parent who sneaks into the parking lot by going the wrong way and shoving their kid out to run across the parking lot before the bell rings. And don't be that one who parks in the car line and runs into the classroom for "just a sec" while the line waits ... and waits ... and waits.
.Aim to be in line 20 minutes before school starts or earlier if it's raining.
.Patience is easier to muster when you plan realistically. Most car lines will take a minimum of 15 minutes from start to finish, more if you are arriving at peak times or on a rainy day.
.If you park and walk, observe and use the proper pedestrian crossings.
.If your child has a cellphone, text him or her when you are in line so he or she can be on the lookout for your car (assuming this won't get your kid in trouble at school). Display your child's name on a placard in your windshield.
.Stay off the cellphone when the car line is active.
With gas prices soaring and kids in different schools, carpools are a godsend to busy families. But the negotiations for a successful one could outdo treaty talks in their finesse and politics.
Start looking: Ask around in your neighborhood and at school. Many schools have a carpool registry where parents who live in the same neighborhood can be matched up. The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority has a host of helpful tools for carpooling, from matching commuters to helpful tips, all found at tampabayrideshare.org.
Get organized: Once you've found a family to carpool with, set up a schedule of what days and times work best. Make a calendar highlighting the weeks with everyone's phone numbers and emails on it. Give each person a calendar in a plastic protector that they can keep stashed in the car.
Revise as needed: Don't just suffer in silence if something isn't working for you. Carpools can be changed to meet your needs. Some families prefer to have one crazy week of driving, then two weeks off. Others prefer to pick a morning or afternoon pickup each day.
Behavior: Establish firm but fair rules about safety. Who sits where can be a big issue so consider letting kids have a designated week or day that they get the seat they want. If someone is misbehaving, pull over. Nothing gets kids' attention faster than a stopped car. Continue when all is quiet again. My trick: Fridays are for getting an ice cream or Slurpee, but if the carpool doesn't behave, no treat. It's a great threat when behavior starts to get out of hand.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne writes for the TampaBay.com parenting blog Whoa, Momma! Join in the debate and discussions at tampabay.com/blogs/moms/.