When it’s your turn to chaperone your child’s field trip you might be excited, but apprehensive. After all, you’ll be responsible for other people’s children in a potentially unfamiliar place while expected to follow school rules. It’s no small order, but it’s certainly not too much to handle if you’re well prepared.
Tom Justie, a stay-at-home dad of two in Arlington Heights, is a veteran chaperone. While he knows attending school trips can present their challenges, he sees how much his kids, Ben, 8, and Lilly, 6, love having their dad on trips. Here’s how to make the most of the opportunities:
1 Speak up. Want to volunteer as a chaperone, but you’ve never been contacted by your child’s teacher? It’s possible she thinks you aren’t available. Many times teachers choose parents who have expressed interest in volunteering. Don’t hesitate to call or e-mail your child’s teacher long before permission slips come home.
"Definitely come out and tell the teacher at the beginning of the school year if you are interested in chaperoning," says Jill Fulton, a first-grade teacher at Limestone Grade School in Kankakee. "Parent involvement, especially on field trips, is great for kids."
2 Study the info. Before leaving home, make sure you’ve read the information the school passed out. It should contain times, location and what the kids need to bring along. All of this information is important for you to know so that you can concentrate on the more important parts of the trip like watching the kids and helping the teachers. Put it in your bag or your pocket, but make sure you have it with you in case you forget a detail.
3 Ask in advance. Even if you know the location of the field trip, you may still have questions about which children will be in your group, what your role will be on the trip and whether or not you need to pay for your admission. The teacher may not have time to answer your questions the day of the trip.
Make a list of questions and ask your child’s teacher a few days before the trip. The answers will be fresh in your mind and may even remind the teacher to pass on information she had forgotten.
4 Pack care items. If you’re allowed to bring a backpack to your destination, then do it. Extra tissues, bandages and cash could be useful in a pinch. If a child forgets his money for lunch, you can always step in. Likewise, having your own supplies keeps you from running to the teacher each time a child needs something. Rely on teachers for the medications. "Teachers will bring any medications a child might need and they should let you know if a child in your group has allergies," Fulton says.
5 Don’t bring siblings. Chaperoning is a great chance to witness how your child acts around his friends away from home. While most schools don’t allow siblings on field trips, some do. But bringing a needy little sister might take your attention away from the kids you volunteered to watch. It’s best to focus on your child that day, which will make him feel special.
6 Consider your options. What if you work and you’re not able to take off the whole day for a field trip? Negotiate with your child’s teacher. You might be able to meet them at their destination instead of riding the bus. If you’re an at-home parent with a small child, trade child care with another at-home friend so you both can enjoy chaperoning on different occasions.
7 Team up. If you’re on a field trip to the zoo, or someplace that allows small groups to move independently, it doesn’t hurt to team up with another parent. Two sets of adult eyes watching the kids’ movements increases the safety factor. But don’t get distracted with adult chitchat and lose track of the kids.
On a field trip to the Brookfield Zoo, Justie’s group of two merged with three other groups. While it was chaotic, the parents were able to help each other out.
8 Know the kids. As soon as you know who will be in your group, make sure you know who each child is. Introduce yourself to the kids so they know you and memorize their names. Speak to each of them to establish a rapport. You will be their primary caregiver and advocate during the trip.
9 Stay safe. If you have a cell phone, take a head shot of each child in your group in case someone gets lost. Institute the buddy system between kids and do frequent head counts. This is particularly important in larger groups to make sure no one has slipped away. When it comes time for bathroom breaks, make sure each child has a partner in the bathroom and that no one is left alone.
Check with your child’s teacher on emergency procedures and know where to go for first aid. It’s not unheard of for a child to get sick during a field trip and if parents are prepared for the worst, emergency situations can be handled smoothly.
"It’s always fun to go on school trips," Justie says. "The kids get so excited and have a great time."
10 Enjoy yourself. While field trips are meant for learning, they are also meant for fun. Kids love attending field trips and as their chaperone, you should have fun, too. If you can establish a good relationship with the kids quickly, your excitement will rub off on them as well as your ability to model appropriate behavior.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook, who has great memories of her dad chaperoning a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. Visit her on the Web at www.michellesussman.com.