My first grade son’s school typically holds two field trips per year, per grade. I get major mom guilt from him if I’m unable to be there as a volunteer for the field trip–I learned that the hard way! And I really enjoy having the opportunity to see my child interact with his classroom peers and his teachers, so I do volunteer for the majority of the school field trips.
That being said, good grief do field trips get crazy. As a parent volunteer, you’re typically assigned a small group of children, most of whom you’re meeting for the first time five minutes before they’re released into your care and supervision. You’re given an itinerary of the day from the teacher, which usually includes a meet up spot for meal or snack time, or maybe a group activity, and certainly a meeting time and place to board the bus and head back to school.
And then you’re released into the vast unknown with your handful of new little faces.
It can be scary.
It can be overwhelming.
It can get wild.
What you need is preparation—a game plan. That’s what I’ve done for you today. I made a list of the best things you can do as a volunteer on a field trip, to not only make it successful, but to really enjoy it!
- Bring a backpack. When you need to be able to move quickly, maneuver through crowded or small spaces, a backpack is ideal. Kids inevitably will hand you random things they’ll need you to keep track of–water bottles, coats or jackets, bows that fall out their hair–and it’s helpful to have a place to store everything so you can have both hands free. Also, definitely pack a bunch tissues in the backpack.
- Set alarms in your phone for each scheduled activity on the itinerary. If we are supposed to meet at 11:30 for lunch, I’ll set an alarm for 11:15, and make sure everyone in my group has found and used a bathroom and washed their hands, so we make it on time to lunch. Same thing when it’s time to meet to board the bus, or for any other scheduled meetups. This will keep you on track, and you can also let your group of children know what the alarm means so they’re prepared for transitions: “Okay, kids, when we hear my alarm (play alarm sound), that means we have to stop and use the bathroom and wash our hands for lunch!”
- Save your child’s teacher’s cell phone number in your phone. This ensures you have a quick way to get ahold of him/her in case of emergency or if you’re running behind schedule.
- Establish a “team” mentality with the kids in your group immediately. Kids need to know that your group is going to stick together the entire field trip. As soon as you are broken up into your groups, introduce yourself, have them repeat their names for you, and then quickly come up with a team name. At my last son’s field trip, instead of rushing off after we were released into the madhouse of the St Louis Magic House, I called my group in for a 30 second huddle to make sure I remembered everyone’s name, make sure they remembered mine, and I called us “Team Green.” Any time I needed their attention quickly, I was able to shout “Team Green!” over the noise of all the other children, instead of having to call each of the children by name. Also reiterate that the field trip is a team effort, and that everyone has to stay together!
- Count FACES, not heads. At the most recent field trip I volunteered for, there must have been at least a dozen blonde haired boys with the same type of hair cut. There were about ten girls with brown hair and ponytails. Most of the kids were wearing the same bright blue field trip shirt. In a cluster of children, the children you’re responsible for will all look alike from the top of their head. That’s why you should count them by looking at their faces instead of just doing a head count.
- COUNT CHILDREN CONSTANTLY. I can’t stress this one enough. The last thing anyone wants is to end up on the news because a child was lost or left on a field trip, but it happens all the time. Before you move from one area to another, count the faces of each of the children in your group and ensure they are all there. If at anytime you lose track of a child, put the kids in the group on alert. “Team Green, I don’t see Johnny’s face. Let’s stop and find him before we move on!” Keep the rest of the group in one spot, and if the child can’t be located quickly, then text or call the teacher for further instructions.
- Put away your phone. Unless you’re taking pictures (which I recommend taking a lot of, if it’s allowed!) or your reminder alarm is going off, leave your phone in your backpack. You cannot effectively supervise, engage, and enjoy the field trip if your mind is somewhere else. Be present, and keep the distractions out of reach.
- Be enthusiastic! You’ll enjoy the field trip so much more (and so will the children!) if you’re engaging the children and getting excited about the experiences the children are having with you. Ask lots of questions and keep all the kids involved. Being enthusiastic and fully engaged also helps prevent children from acting out which brings me to the next rule…
- Follow and gently enforce the rules. Most of the locations will lay down some ground rules when you first arrive to a field trip spot. Teachers are relying on you to be the rule enforcer. Use the “team” mentality again. For example, you might say, “Let’s make sure OUR team is listening and setting a really good example!” if children are talking during a presentation. Don’t be afraid to have a child hold your hand or stay close to you if they’re struggling with following rules. Compliment and praise the kids that are doing a good job and trying their best.
- Thank the children at the end of the trip. I always give the kids a “high five” and tell them “Thank you for having fun with me today!” Or “Thank you for being such a good teammate today!” You were their role model for the day, and any opportunity to provide some positive feedback in a child’s life is worth taking.
I hope you volunteer the next opportunity you have for your child’s field trip, and I hope it’s a wonderfully fun experience!
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