The "kiss-and-go" lane at your child's school could also be called "stress and go" when things don't go smoothly. In the hundreds of hours I've spent dropping off and picking up kids, I've made a few observations about keeping things stress-free. One of them is that the second-row configuration of a three-row vehicle can make or break the transition from car to school and back again.
If you're shopping for a three-row SUV with school carpool in mind, read on to find out what setup works and which one doesn't. If you've already got your three-row SUV gassed up for carpool duty, our tips will help you make the most of your car's setup.
Configuration No. 1: Second-Row Bench, Outboard Seat Folds for Third-Row Access
This is the least efficient configuration, particularly in SUVs. While minivans have enough room at the door-end of the second row for a kid to squeeze into the back, SUVs usually require the seat to be moved or flipped forward for the child to gain access to the third row.
Add to the scenario a taller step-in height, a large backpack and a panicked sense of urgency, and a child will ultimately try to just power-wedge their way into the third row without moving the second-row seat forward. What's worse is when they try to get out and get hung up by their backpack, stuck on something inside the vehicle.
Configuration Work Around: The first week or so of your carpool probably won't go smoothly. To counteract the stress, take some extra time to teach the older kids how to fold the second-row seat — both from outside and inside the SUV. Then assign the older kids to the third-row seats and make sure they get in the SUV first at pickup.
Configuration No. 2: Second-Row Bench, Folding Center Seat Offers Third-Row Access
This setup works a little better than the first configuration. The primary hiccup with using the second row's center seat to get to the third row is that there is more hurdling and effort to get to the third row. Most parents I know have the second-row center seat because they need a child to sit there, so the center seat stays up instead of being folded down, and kids hurdle the seat to get to the third row. Or they revert back to Configuration 1 in an attempt to gain access to the third row.
Another problem that tends to happen with this configuration is the first kid to get in the car doesn't want to do the hurdle into the back so they sit in that first outboard seat and then the other kids have to not only work around the seating configuration but also the kid seated by the door.
Configuration Work Around: Just like on an airplane, though hopefully a lot more pleasant, the SUV's rear row should be filled with passengers first for carpool. Then the second row's center seat can be unfolded for a seating position. When exiting the SUV, a second-row passenger is responsible for folding the second row's center seat before he or she hops out of the vehicle.
Configuration No. 3: Second-Row Captain's Chairs, Center Aisle Access to Third Row
This is as close to the perfect setup as you can get. No flipping or scooting is required to get to the third row. The backpack doesn't have to squeeze through the wedge between the second-row seat back and the doorjamb. The kids just climb in and make their way down the little aisle to their seat and buckle up. Ah, carpool bliss.
Configuration Work Around: There's no need for one. Carpooling is a dream — or at least less of a nightmare — with this setup.
If you don't require that center seat in the second row, go for the low-stress configuration and get fewer scowls from your fellow 'poolers.