Class Trip Planning Tips
Field trips are a highlight of a child's school year. With some careful planning they can be a highlight for you, too. Use these trip-planning tips to eliminate the element of surprise and help tame the would-be chaos on your next outing.
Choose the Right Activity
- Pick a destination that has a highly structured tour and is age-appropriate. An historical home of antiques can get dicey quickly for a squirmy group of children straight off an hour-long bus-ride. A busy farmer's market might lend itself well to learning, but too much scattering could make chaperones nervous.
- Consult the teaching staff. This may feel like a given, but if youre a parent volunteer, make sure teachers are an integral part of the selection process and planning. They will know best what the group can handle.
- Consider how busy your trip destination will be during different seasons of the year. Mixing with the public means heightened awareness for everyone, students included.
- Book it! A day trip typically needs to be booked six months in advance. Some venues must be arranged up to a year in advance. -
- Let the venue be your guide. Often the venue will dictate how big or small groups need to be, how many chaperones, and if a docent (a volunteer who guides tours, typically in a museum or art gallery) will be along to give information about the exhibit. Getting these details ahead of time will help with organizing tour groups, estimating the number of chaperones, and making sure the tour is a good fit for your students.
Recruit chaperones and collect payment for your field trip on one sign up. SAMPLE
- Don’t assume school transportation is available – check early. If your trip is less than an hour away, contact your district's transportation department as soon as possible. Because many districts use buses for several schools with staggered starting and ending times, you will want to make sure that a bus is available in the morning after it finishes its route and at the end of the day to bring your students home.
- Consider transportation options. If your trip will need to leave earlier or return later than the buses are available, you will have to consider alternate transportation, which means recruiting drivers, signing waivers, getting copies of insurance forms and any additional documentation your district may require.
- Make safety a priority. If you are headed more than an hour out of town, consider using a rental tour bus that has video screens for movie viewing. This is not just for entertainment, but very important for safety, says Cathy Conner, a 5th grade teacher at Sharon Elementary in Charlotte, North Carolina. An interesting, age-appropriate movie helps keep students occupied rather than yelling, singing, or other activities that can be distracting to the driver.
- Avoid a carsick crew. Find out ahead of time which students are prone to motion sickness and be sure to put them close to the front of the bus.
- Tip accordingly. If you do use a tour bus, giving the driver a "thank you" in the form of a tip (depending on the length of the trip) is a great idea.
Assign volunteer drivers and plan carpool easily. SAMPLE
Coordinate Tour Groups
- Organize a buddy system that is both kid-friendly and chaperone-friendly. It’s fun for students to get to be with a friend, but you will do yourself a huge favor to carefully consider this. Let them suggest four friends they want to be paired with, says Cathy Conner, then try to match them with one. Ultimately, it should be the adults that choose the groups. Allow no last minute regrouping.
- Get the teachers’ input when grouping students. They have "insider knowledge" and may even want you to keep two friends in separate groups because talking or other issues could lead to discipline headaches.
- Stick with it! Every movement that you make must have people in groups, urges Conner. Having paper plates with tour groups lettered A,B,C, etc. for chaperones to hold up will help students find their groups easily.
- Assign parent volunteers to groups. It’s best if teachers avoid being in charge of a tour group so that they can manage other situations that might come up, suggests Conner. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the reality is that if someone is sick, a discipline issues arises, or a parent needs to be called, it is best handled by a teacher unhindered by the responsibilities of a chaperone.
- Get everyone on the same page. Even for a day trip, getting chaperones on the same page is imperative. Sending group emails or organize a meeting so everyone has a chance to get questions answered. If the trip is larger in scope or overnight, calling a meeting not only for chaperones, but also for nervous parents to ask questions and look at the itinerary together will help alleviate concerns, says Conner.
- Communication between the teacher and chaperones is easy with cell phones. Create a group text with the chaperones to easily communicate group information, such as when a stop is coming up or what time the group will be eating lunch.
Planning several class events at once helps people stay organized! SAMPLE
Meals and Snacks
- Take note of allergies. It is inevitable that there will be some type of meal or snack on the trip. If you have a child with food allergies, Conner urges that they must pack their own meal and snacks to avoid any issues.
- Consider timing of meals. If your lunch is early in the day (or delayed till late afternoon) consider a "heavy snack" which can be organized and assembled with the help of parent volunteers. Include some kind of protein or fiber-rich snack to help keep hunger at bay.
- Keep it simple. A boxed meal with a sandwich or wrap and a side is a great way to keep a group meal simplified.
- Stay hydrated. Stash extra bottled water on the bus.
- Limit sugar intake. If you’re stopping to eat or children are allowed to buy snacks, be on the lookout for sugar overload. Limit students to one dessert or you may have some sick tummies along for the ride.
Create a supply wish list so parents can donate the items you need. SAMPLE
- Assign seating and scatter chaperones among the children on the bus. Though it may be met with groans and complaining, it is the best method to get people settled into tour groups and keep rowdy behavior to a minimum. Another tip from Conner: never seat troublemakers at the back of the bus.
- Make the tough call on tech. An electronics-free bus (and for the whole trip, if possible) will make your life easier.
- Give kids the run around! In this case that means breaking up a long bus trip with time in a large grassy area at a rest stop or park. Give specific expectations about staying within sight of a chaperone, using playground equipment, or using the restroom so there are no gray areas.
- Pack a handy travel bag. If traveling by tour bus, be sure that everything you need for the time on the bus is handy in the overhead bin. Don't open or get things out of luggage unless it’s an emergency.
- Make check-in a priority. On overnight trips, Conner suggests you check in before dinner to lessen the chance of rooms not being ready when its time to go to bed.
- Set parameters ahead of time. Conner suggests avoiding gift shops if at all possible. If you do let them venture in, make sure the shops are extraordinarily kid-friendly. Sugar-overload is another danger of unmonitored spending money, so be sure chaperones feel the freedom to help students make good decisions with their cash.
Keeping children and adults happy on a school field trip is not just a matter of luck. Choosing the right activities (both busy-time and down-time), keeping the lines of communication open, and making the day as stress-free as possible will ensure a good time for everyone.
Julie David lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and three daughters.