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How to Have a Safe, Fun, and Successful Field Trip With Your Students

Because When You Leave the Classroom, There's a Whole New Set of Rules

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During my first year of teaching, I naively thought that field trips would be easier and more fun than a typical day in the classroom.

Then, I got my first taste of field trip reality - my student Andrew got stung on the tongue by a wasp first thing in the morning. Next on the agenda was a lost group of children with a rogue chaperone. Needless to say, field trips went from fun to frantic in no time, from my perspective.

After that stressful first foray, I quickly adjusted my expectations and come up with a new, more practical way to approach field trips and minimize the chances of drama and mayhem.

Follow these field trip tips and you'll likely create fun learning adventures for your students:

  • Explicitly discuss field trip behavior rules with your students beforehand. - Teach, model, and review appropriate field trip behavior with your students for at least a week before the big event. Drill into their heads that field trips are not the time or place to mess around and that any aberrant behavior will result in non-participation in any future field trips that school year. Sound serious and back it up with consequences as needed. It's good to have your students scared of testing the boundaries on field trips. Emphasize that they are representing our school's reputation when they are off-campus and that we want to present our best behavior to the outside world. Make it a point of pride and reward them afterward for a job well done.
  • Give your students a learning task ahead of time. - Your students should show up for the field trip with a base of knowledge on the subject at hand, as well as questions to answer before returning to the classroom. Spend some time in the weeks before the field trip discussing the subject matter. Review a list of questions they will be looking to answer during the field trip. This will keep them informed, engaged, and focused on learning all day long.
  • Choose parent chaperones wisely. - Field trips require as many adult eyes and ears as you can get, but unfortunately you can't be everywhere at once. From the first day of school, observe the parents of your students closely, looking for signs of responsibility, firmness, and maturity. A lax or careless parent can be your worst nightmare on a field trip (see example mentioned above), so choose your parental allies wisely. That way, you'll reap the benefits of having adults partners in the field trip process.
  • Make sure you have all necessary medications. - Talk to the school nurse and procure any and all medications that your students usually take during the day. While on the field trip, make sure you administer the medications accordingly. If you have students will allergies, you may need to get trained on how to use an Epipen. If so, the student involved will need to stay with you at all times.
  • Arrive at school early on field trip day. - The students will be excited and antsy, ready to go. You'll want to greet the chaperones and give them instructions for the day. It takes some time to organize the sack lunches and ensure that everyone has what they need for the day. And one last pep talk on appropriate behavior never hurt anybody.
  • Give your chaperones the tools they need to succeed. - Make nametags for all chaperones and students. Create a "cheat sheet" of the day's itinerary, special rules, your cell phone number, and the names of all kids in each chaperone's group; distribute these sheets to each adult on the field trip. Procure and label grocery bags that each chaperone can use to carry the group's sack lunches. Consider getting a little thank-you gift for each chaperone, or treat them to to lunch that day.
  • Be proactive in regards to challenging students. - If you have a student who causes trouble regularly in the classroom, it's safe to assume he or she will cause at least five times more trouble in public. If possible, ask his or her parent to be a chaperone. That will usually limit any potential problems. Also, when you are making groups, split any problem pairs into separate groups. This is a good policy for troublemakers, chatty girls, or bickering frenemies. And it's probably best to keep the most challenging students in your own group, rather than pawning them off on an unsuspecting parent chaperone.
  • Count all day. - As the teacher, you will likely spend most of your day counting heads and making sure everyone is accounted for. Obviously, the worst thing that can occur on a field trip is losing a student. So count accurately and often. Enlist the help of chaperones in this task, but do it yourself too, for your own peace of mind. Keeping track of each and every student is the number one priority of field trip day.
  • Do a "debriefing" when you return to the classroom - If I have a few extra minutes after the field trip and before dismissal from school, I'll often put on some soothing classical music and have the students draw about what they saw and learned that day. It gives them a chance to decompress and review what they experienced. The next day, it's a good idea to do a more active and in-depth review of the field trip material, extending the learning further and connecting it to what you're working on in the classroom.
  • Write thank-you notes after the field trip. - Lead a class language arts lesson the day after your field trip, formally thanking the people who hosted your group. This serves as an etiquette lesson for your students, and helps form your school's good reputation at the field trip destination. In future years, this goodwill could translate into prime perks for your school.
With proper planning and a positive attitude, field trips can be unique ways to explore the outside world with your students. Stay flexible and always have a Plan B, and you should do just fine.

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