In 1971, LIFE magazine published a special double issue called, simply, "Children." In the issue, LIFE's editors sought to peer into what they characterized as "a secret world"—the world of childhood. One of the sweetest features in the entire issue was a series of pictures by Ralph Morse chronicling the goings-on at school bus stops near his home in northern New Jersey.
As LIFE put it to the magazine's readers, when introducing Morse's photographs:
On a certain morning in September, two dozen children stand waiting along a road in Rockaway, N.J., eyeing each other warily and going through their own private first-day-of-school crises, until at last the school bus comes. LIFE photographer Ralph Morse was at the bus stop that day and on many other mornings in the next two months. He watched the stiffness disappear and a bouncy little society emerge. Long before the first snow fell, he knew every member well: the cutups, the bullies, the loners, the flirts.
Here, LIFE.com fondly recalls Morse's photo essay, and the images that capture the intense, singular, "bouncy little society" of the suburban school bus stop, circa 1971.