I was recently sifting through field trip destination ideas for the upcoming school year and I couldn’t help my mind from going back to the prior years’ field trip chaperone “adventures.” While the field trips are generally the same every year, we somehow always walk away with new lessons learned and some unexpected and (now) hilarious takeaways. It got me thinking, and as a mom of a young child, I’m realizing that so many of our parents just don’t have the kindergarten “chaperone” knowledge that we do as teachers (and I have to admit, if I were to chaperone one of his preschool trips, I know I would walk into the day with a little apprehension as well!).
So I drafted up a list that I’m now going to plan to pass along to our field trip chaperones for our trip of the year next fall. I always thought of this day (yes, we only get one trip per year) as a day for the students; and it is, but I also want our parents and family members to walk away with happy memories and pride from a job well done. So without further ado… a “how-to” guide to be a field trip chaperone for an early elementary class. Some things to do, some things to not do, and a few items to consider packing. (Note: Obviously every field trip is different. These are notes from my own personal experiences. Yours may be different.)
First, keep in mind that this is a day that the kids will talk about all year long and even into the following school years. Really. These events show up in writing assignments and pretend play all the time. Ultimately, your main goals are simple: Keep track of the kids / keep them safe and well cared for. The novelty of just leaving the school on a school day is magic in itself – you don’t need to pull out any crazy stops.
Things a chaperone SHOULD do:
Note the meeting spot(s) and time(s).
Get a paper copy from the teacher or write it down. If it’s not clear to you, ASK! From the teacher’s point of view, I can tell you that there is always a reason for these meet-ups, whether it’s mid day or at the end of the field trip, and it makes the day go so smoothly if everyone is there on time. While chaperones are in charge of a group of students, teachers are actually still in charge of all of those students and the chaperones. Trust me, you do NOT want to be the chaperone that the teacher has to search for by hiking around a pumpkin patch full of school groups as the bus is trying to leave (but yes, it does happen).
Ask for a list of the students in your group.
This is key just in case you don’t know them all already. It’s so much faster and easier to do a head count when you know who you’re looking for. It’s not a bad idea to take a picture of the list so you’ll have it on your phone if you happen to lose the paper.
Get a contact phone number in case of emergency.
The teacher might not give out a personal cell number but will always be able to provide you with a number to call if there is an emergency. If you’re not sure what to do, ask. Always better to ask before hand, right? Better safe than sorry.
Keep close tabs on your group and don’t be afraid to be the boss.
Depending on their age and grade, obviously a little bit of space is doable. But in reality, these kids are so used to having a teacher in charge all day long – don’t be afraid to set a few friendly rules before you get going (ex. “You have to stay with our group and not wander off,” etc.). Maybe even before you get on the bus together. I promise you, they will not feel burdened by these rules. They want to know that someone is in charge. It will actually help them feel really secure in a new place.
Keep track of your group on the bus.
Don’t be afraid to give your group pointers or tell them to sit down. Many don’t usually ride the bus so it can turn into a party REAL quickly. I get it – it’s the little things in life!
Confirm whether there is anything you need to know about members of your group.
You want to help them have a great day. It’s easier to do that if you know about anxiety, fears/worries, toilet issues, etc.
Offer bathroom breaks.
Even if your own little one can make it all day without a trip to the bathroom, chances are high that at least someone will need a break but might not want (or might be having too much fun to remember) to ask.
Wear something comfy.
I promise, there’s no “tired” like “elementary school tired”. Every year at the end of the field trip, chaperones describe to me their sheer exhaustion and express how they don’t know how the teachers lead a whole class every day. You’ll really appreciate comfy shoes and clothes.
Get a class photo at the end of the trip.
It’s really fun to look back on the photos as the years go by. It’s crazy to realize how fast the kids grow up. Send them to the teacher – I personally love putting these in our end-of-year slide show. They’re always a huge hit.
Things a chaperone should NOT do:
Do not apply sunscreen or anything else to students other than your own child.
It always comes from a place of kindness and generosity, but many districts have strict rules about who is allowed to apply these products. In mine for example, even the teacher is not allowed to administer sunscreen; it has to be done at home by the parent.
Do not leave your group unattended.
That sounds like an obvious point, but yes, it does happen. It’s an interesting feeling to see five kindergarteners sprinting around a playground by themselves at a farm, and then spot their field trip chaperone halfway to the bus (alone). Yikes!
Do not buy items for your group.
Again I know it comes from the heart, but it’s so hard to explain to the 20 sad students who did not get to have an ice cream or a handful of petting zoo feed pellets. They’re having such a good time regardless – there’s really no need for treats and souvenirs!
Items to consider packing:
Extra water bottles
Check with your teacher but generally it’s ok to provide water to the kids.
Large bag for lunches (in addition to your own bag).
Warning: If you normally carry a purse, I’ve found that many people regret bringing it and wish they had just brought a wallet in a backpack.
Finally, just remember, it’s a day of fun and learning, and the kids will talk about it for months and years to come. Anything that seems confusing can be cleared up so quickly by just asking someone in charge. The teachers and kids are so appreciative of all that you’re doing to make it a great day – you’re the real hero on this big day!
Permission slips are standard and required for high school field trips in the United States. Yet, what about high schools in other countries? As a teacher who has taught in Europe many years and in China for one year, I went on many field trips outside of the U.S. What do they do different and why?
The educator’s task to arrange a field trip, get all the parent permission slips, then deal with students outside of the classroom and school environment never crossed my mind doing my graduate work.
One thing that is rarely ever covered in new teacher training is how to do what many of us in the profession consider to be “the easy stuff”. Things like how to use the copier, how to set up a classroom, and how to create and send out a movie permission slip.