Photo: Sean Locke/iStockphoto
“Mom! Mom! You’ll never believe what happened on the field trip.” My son, Nate, rushes in after what should have been a fairly uneventful trip to the pumpkin patch. “The bus got stuck in the mud! And Dad and all the parents tried to push it out, but it wouldn’t move. Then they brought another bus to pull it out, and the bumper fell off the first bus... And then on the way back we got lost!” Nate’s laughing so hard he’s in tears now, busting a gut over a story that could not possibly fit on this page, with all its comic nuances. It becomes his favourite shtick, repeated for months after.
My husband, Jan, is self-employed and has a flexible work schedule, so he’s a seasoned field trip volunteer. With his level of patience, he should have been a teacher. But even he walked in shaking his head, lugging pumpkins, legs covered in mud up to his knees. My first thought? Thank goodness I didn’t chaperone that one.
As a working parent, I have learned to let go of the guilt on the days when I drop my kids off and wave to some other field trip volunteer, who looks at me snidely as I sneak away, BlackBerry in hand. But I have promised my kids that I will go on one field trip a year, which I take a vacation day for.
Last spring, Jan and I both tagged along to the zoo with the entire school — about 300 kids. It was an unusually hot day. My husband led our son and another first-grader, while I tended to our daughter, Lucy, and two of her kindergarten pals. It felt like a family outing, but with more yelling and frequent head counts.
It goes without saying that I learn something new about field trips each time I volunteer. This year, I learned that you shouldn’t go out celebrating a work success with your colleagues the night before, and if you do, you should limit those celebrations when you’re chaperoning the next day. (Ouch.) While it may sound like an experience I survived rather than enjoyed, in the end I was so glad I made the time to go, because being a field trip volunteer makes for amazing memories.
I also consulted our amazing Today’s Parent Facebook community and my teacher friends for advice from the trenches.
Every school board has its own policies, so check with your child’s teacher or principal to make sure they don’t require volunteers to get a police check. If they do, try to get it done sooner rather than later; criminal record checks can take anywhere from two days to several weeks to process, depending on whether the RCMP, local police service or a third party needs to research your history.
“Make sure you get a list of responsibilities from the teacher in charge,” suggests Sarah Merrifield, a mom of two from Chesley, Ont. “You’re there to help, not to socialize.”
“Be sure that all parent supervisors have a list of all kids on the trip, and not just those in his or her own group, and exchange cellphone numbers for easy contact during trip hours,” advises Victoria McTaggart, a teacher and mom of two in Ajax, Ont. Photocopy a set for every parent-chaperone.
While this might seem obvious, McTaggart has seen it all before. “Parents should not smoke, swear, talk on the phone, wander off to look at other things, or assume that someone else is taking over their supervision job – especially at lunch,” she says.
Try to learn the kids’ names as soon as possible. Note your meeting place and time, especially if you’re free to wander the grounds independently. Take a head-to-toe photo of each kid in your care. Should you need to describe a lost child, you’ll have detailed photo of what he was wearing that day.
“An adult in charge of a severely allergic child needs to know how to administer an EpiPen,” says Colin Paton, a teacher in Edmonton.
“On top of school fees and supplies, last year I spent more than $100 per kid in field-trip costs,” says Paton. Check with your school to see if any trips can be subsidized. My kids go to a school where no child is excluded from field trips for financial reasons, thanks to public and parent council funding. If price is an issue, consider hosting a fundraiser to take the financial stress off parents.
If the other kids’ parents are anything like me, they probably forgot. Bring enough for your charges to share.
“It never fails that someone is underdressed or spills something,” says parent Mandy Metheny Campbell. “I’ve always taken a couple extra jackets, and they’ve always been needed!”
Tissues, wipes, sunscreen — if you’d need it for your own kids, bring it. “There’s always someone who forgets a water bottle, drops their entire lunch on the ground or scrapes their leg, and no one has a first-aid kit,” says Emilie McAlister, mom to two boys in Ajax, Ont.
Several of our readers suggested bringing a comfortable, mostly empty bag. “When all the kids give you their coats, hats, etc., to hold, you can put them in the knapsack,” says Sandy Lee MacKenzie-Cranston.
“Try to research your destination a bit before going so you can answer some of the kids’ questions,” suggests McTaggart.
“Act like just another chaperone, or you’ll ruin your child’s day,” advises Candi Daley. On our zoo trip, our family rules quickly became the group rules. For a moment I thought Nate might be embarrassed by my anxious yelling after the kids who were running too far ahead, but instead he became my deputy, rounding up the troops when they were out of bounds.
“Always count the kids, but do it in a fun way for your group,” Melissa Bogaert suggests.
Depending on the age of your kids, you might be making multiple snack and pee stops. While other groups claimed they saw every exhibit at the zoo, our group spent a full third of our allotted time sitting and munching together.
“Know that you will likely have at least one kid in your group who is a challenge in some respect (a runner, a crier, a slowpoke, etc.) and who may not respond when you ask him to correct his behaviour,” says McTaggart.
Bus rides can be long, especially for little kids. Kate Jones Miner, a mom of three girls in Hallville, Ont., shares a great idea for keeping them occupied: “When I volunteered for the first time with my daughter’s class last year, several of the chaperones who’d been on trips before brought storybooks, colouring books with markers, and small toys for the bus ride.”
Sarah Nason from Hillsborough, NB, gives this motherly advice: “Make sure to eat a well-balanced meal before you leave, and get a good night’s sleep.” Sandra Dinato, a mom of three in Binbrook, Ont., jokes, “Take some Advil, too.” And while you’re at it, “Don’t forget to pack your own lunch,” says Ally Cooper, an Oakville, Ont., mom of two.
“There will always be a few hiccups on a field trip,” Calgary mom of two Lisa Rossiter reminds us. “But don’t forget to get past the small things and take advantage of the time to be a kid again.”
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