So, you volunteered to help out on the field trip. I’m sure you had your reasons. For me, one of the great joys of no longer being a teacher is never having to go on another field trip ever again. But maybe you don’t feel that way. Or maybe this is your first time. Or maybe, just maybe, you are one of those wonderful, confident, upbeat parents who knows just what to do on a field trip and makes the teacher’s life so much easier. If so, please know that the teacher is eternally grateful. But, just in case you’re not totally sure how to behave on a field trip, here are a few pointers.
1. You’re here as a grown-up, not a kid.
It’s possible you signed up for this trip because you always wanted to ring the bell at a fire station, or because you heard the zoo’s new exhibit on animal adaptations is excellent, or because you’ve always wanted to go to the Natural History Museum but the admission prices are so high and now you’ll get in for free. But none of these are good reasons for signing up. You see, you signed up to be a chaperone, not a member of the class. Ringing the firehouse bell and yelling “Fire! Fire!” or insisting the class detour over to the the exhibit you’re interested in (even though it’s not part of the itinerary), or sneaking up behind kids in line at the museum and roaring like a dinosaur are all frowned upon chaperone behaviors. Since you actually are an adult, please act like one.
2. Prepare your child for the trip as if you weren’t coming.
The fact that you’re going to be with your child all day does not mean that he can arrive to the field trip unprepared. If the permission slip says to bring a packed lunch, for example, don’t assume you’ll be able to run to the corner store and pick something up for yourself and your child. That will inevitably hold everyone up and deprive the teacher of a necessary chaperone for however long it takes you to find the one kind of sandwich your child eats. Pack a lunch for him and one for you too. The same goes for whatever other instructions the teacher has given. You signed up to be there with the class, not around the corner trying to buy sunblock.
3. You’re here to chaperone the whole class, not just your kid.
You signed up as a chaperone, not as a parent. This means that spending the entire trip walking next to your child and talking only to her is not helpful. It’s also probably not desirable to her, either. Chances are she wants to talk to her friends and, depending on her age, may be slightly embarrassed to have you there. It’s fine to check in with her from time to time or to point out something you know she’ll be interested in, but you also have a job to do.
4. Find out what your responsibilities are and do them.
The teacher will probably assign you certain tasks, like standing in the street to stop traffic while the class crosses the road, or bringing up the rear of the line to make sure no one gets left behind. She might give you these tasks in advance, in which case you should be sure to do them throughout the trip. Or she may ask you to do them in the moment, in which case make sure you are paying attention and respond quickly. She’ll be grateful to find you ready and willing when she suddenly finds herself in need of another adult.
5. Follow the teacher’s lead.
The teacher is in charge of the class. You are her back-up. So if, for example, the teacher is insisting on absolute silence during the IMAX space show, it doesn’t matter that you think it would actually be okay to whisper. If you hear kids start to whisper, politely remind them to stop. Or, better yet, silently put a finger to your lips. And don’t you turn to the kid next to you and start whispering everything about astronomy you can think of. The rules apply to you too.
6. It’s okay to remind other people’s children of the rules.
In general, there are lots of different philosophies on whether or not it’s okay to discipline someone else’s child. But, on a field trip, it’s very simple. Whatever the teacher says goes. It’s no help to anyone (least of all the teacher) if you see someone in the class doing something you know the teacher disapproves of but say nothing because you feel it’s not your place to speak to someone else’s child. Remember, you’re a chaperone which means you’re basically the teacher’s assistant. If, for example, you notice a child who isn’t holding his partner’s hand (when the teacher explicitly said that everyone should) it’s absolutely fine (and the right thing to do) to politely remind that child to hold hands. Don’t do anything ridiculous like yell at him or grab his hand and his partner’s hand and mash them together. But do, by all means, remind him. If he still refuses to follow the rules then let the teacher know. She knows the child better than you and can find the best way to help him comply.
7. Stay for the duration of the trip.
Getting a bunch of tired, hungry, cranky kids back to school is often the hardest part of the trip for the teacher. The fact that the trip is really near your house, or that, since you’re in the area, you’d like to stop at Whole Foods, is irrelevant. You signed up to chaperone the trip and the trip isn’t over until each and every one of those kids is back inside the school building. So even though you, too, may be tired, hungry and cranky, stay the course.
If, after reading all this, you’re still excited to go on the trip, I salute you. Please sign up for every field trip! If not, well, you can probably call in sick that day.