The School Bus as an Extension of the Classroom

In a Head Start program, the bus is not just a vehicle to transport children; it is also a learning environment. This article can be used by classroom teachers to further their understanding of creating age-appropriate activities for children who ride the bus. The classroom teacher can help transportation staff become a resource for the classroom; likewise, transportation staff can be an integral part of the classroom.

Note: This resource is under review.

The following is an excerpt from Transportation PathFinder.


In a Head Start program, the bus is not just a vehicle to transport children. It is a learning environment on wheels. This time is an opportunity for a Head Start program to creatively structure an extension of the classroom with activities that support the regular curriculum (45 CFR 1304.21).

The definition of an extension is to support what is being taught by the teacher in the classroom. In a daily lesson plan, a teacher will often encourage an extension for what the child is learning. This extension may involve an outside resource such as a computer lab, the library, or parents who are willing to help a child do extra activities. An extension, therefore, is a planned activity that takes place outside of the classroom.

The teamwork to make the bus an extension of the classroom involves primarily the Bus Monitor and the classroom teacher. The teacher can regularly share lesson plans to keep the Bus Monitor informed about what is being learned. The teacher may set occasional meetings or have the Bus Monitor observe in the classroom. In this way, the Bus Monitor becomes knowledgeable about the topics being taught. Also, appropriate songs and finger plays may be learned by the Bus Monitor. Together, their efforts can focus on the creative use of time on the bus to reinforce a child's learning.

Safety is a primary consideration when transporting children in a school bus or allowable alternative vehicle. There is a requirement that children practice and have reinforcement for safety education procedures on the bus (45 CFR 1310.21). Once seated in a moving bus, children should not experience a time vacuum throughout their ride. Many Head Start programs fill this time with songs that children are learning. While fun, singing is a limited approach for an extension of learning on the bus.

Bus Monitors and Bus Drivers can promote interaction and increase language use among children and between children and adults 45 CFR 1304.21(a)(4)(iii). This role in a child's learning requires training that is supportive to their services (45 CFR 1310.17(f)(2)).  With training, the time spent on the bus can become invaluable for helping children to successfully end their day away from home.

Standard Practice

The program must give time for preparations to make the bus an extension of the classroom. Planning includes not only knowing what the children are doing in the classroom but also knowing how much time is available on a bus route. The classroom teacher can help transportation staff become a resource for the classroom. Likewise, transportation staff can be an integral part of the classroom.

With good planning, several learning activities can be properly sequenced from the time children board the bus until they exit. Children can learn about safety procedures along with continual support for their classroom learning. By taking time to plan, learning can become relaxed and fun for all the participants.

As in the classroom, the need to discipline a child is unlikely to arise when there are procedures to guide behaviors. It is essential for adults to give constant encouragement and support as children learn. The amount of time given towards this positive reinforcement reduces the amount of potential discipline problems.

Children feel reassurance when they know that adults are caring and sensitive to their needs. Both Bus Driver and Bus Monitor work at diligently conveying safety procedures upon a child's first boarding of the bus. Once the child is inside the bus, procedures help children find their seat and Bus Monitors buckle everyone's safety restraints before the bus is put into motion. Throughout this process, positive attitudes should be expressed about the child's ability to learn bus procedures.

As the driver sets the bus in motion there is ample opportunity for the Bus Monitor to interact with children. To be effective, the Bus Monitor should be knowledgeable about what children are learning in the classroom. Then, the Bus Monitor can creatively use the environment which is shared with children on the bus. This environment includes the interior of the bus, as well as outside surroundings, such as buildings, natural geologic formations, and weather conditions.

An example of an extension would be to continue learning the letters of the alphabet while riding the bus. The interior of the bus with its variety of signage offers letters of the alphabet, such as the Exit and fire extinguisher sign. Colorful letters can be taped to the ceiling of the bus. Outside the bus, road and store signs reinforce children understanding that letters of the alphabet are a visual graphic with a name. Other examples of extensions inside and outside their bus may include numbers, colors, sounds, objects, shapes, sizes, and patterns.

In the bus, the Bus Monitor sets the mood for children to continue their learning outside of the classroom. This can be likened to continuing a conversation after a topic has been introduced in the classroom. The focus is upon the knowledge of things in the child's world. A positive experience is enhanced when children successfully expand their vocabulary and develop patterns that transfer their learning to other objects. Under the guidance of the Bus Monitor, children can continue this learning about their world.

For example, children in the classroom may be learning how to distinguish types of weather. The Bus Monitor engages children with a statement about the sun, snow, rain, or wind that can be observed by everyone. With children listening, the Bus Monitor is able to focus their attention with questions about the weather. Children can use this topic to increase their use of language and to communicate information, experiences, ideas, feelings, opinions, or questions. This discussion can reinforce children's learning as an extension from their classroom.

Each day, the Bus Monitor is truly in a position to motivate and stimulate children's thinking skills and build understanding. They may also introduce attitudes, emotions and values that develop interests and appreciation. Given this key position to extend a child's learning, the Bus Monitor is a strong team member with the classroom teacher.

Parents should be invited to become involved in how children spend their time while riding the bus (45 CFR 1304.21(a)(2)(i-iii)). For example, a child's parents may identify the need for social skills such as to learn better manners or to be less timid. A parent may identify a child's lack of understanding words such as inside, outside, top and bottom. In becoming familiar with how children are spending their time on the bus, parents may expand their understanding of how children learn from their environment.

Local Perspective

Each Head Start program provides its services within a given community. This creates a program that is unique in comparison with other Head Start programs. Similarly, as a program establishes its bus routes throughout the community, no two bus routes have identical scenery, buildings, streets or roads. The differences that exist between programs through meeting the needs of each community is important in Head Start.

In planning for the bus to be an extension of the classroom, it is important to examine the amount of time children are in a moving bus. During the morning period, the time will vary between children who are picked up earlier and the time that a bus is full and ready to stop at the Head Start Center. At the end of the program day, the bus is full for a period of time and empties as children reach their stops.

Reviewing the length of time between stops will determine the amount of time available for an extension of a lesson. As time permits, a Bus Monitor may decide on a sequence that involves bringing attention to a topic (the alphabet), asking a question (Name the letters in the sign above the door … Exit), playing a game (I spy with my little eye the letter "E") or singing a song (Alphabet song). No matter how briefly a topic is introduced during a bus ride, it has great value for any child's learning.

In communities where language preservation is a priority of parents, the Bus Monitor may use the local spoken language other than English. This is a strong reinforcement for children to hear the language that is spoken in their community. As with English, the identification of objects is an important step in knowing the language. Riding on the bus and reviewing the names of objects increases vocabulary usage and knowledge of the culture.

Learning can take place in many ways and in many places. Filling the time available as a child rides the bus is an excellent step to expand their world. Teamwork and thoughtful planning can help pave the way to valuable extended learning opportunities.