Do you get exhausted just thinking about taking the children on a field trip? Do you have visions of losing a child, or worry about the children fooling around and being out of control? Do you wish your field trips could be more of a learning experience? Let’s explore some strategies to help turn this around.
Preparing the Children for Learning: Think about your learning goals for the trip. If you’re going to the farm, what are the few overarching concepts you’d like the children to learn? Plan some lessons to give the children the background knowledge they need to better understand what they will be exposed to. If you’re going to a play, you could learn more about the story or setting. If you’re going to a museum, find out what exhibits will be available. If you’re going to a park, think about what activities will be best for your children. Even if you are just going for a neighborhood walk, think about what children can learn along the way and prepare them for the content.
Prepare the Children for Proper Behavior. A few days before you leave for your trip, go over the behavior expectations you have for the children. This might include the following:
- Appropriate behavior for sitting on a school bus
- How you will line up
- How to behave when a guide is explaining information
- What they are allowed to touch
- What to do if they have to go to the bathroom
- Procedures for eating lunch or snack
- What to do if they get separated from the group
- Who will be in charge
I recommend that you practice these behaviors before leaving. Teach them the same way you’d teach procedures in your classroom. Model what you want the children to do and have them pretend they are on the trip. If you create a sense of play to this, the children can have fun pretending they are at the trip location. For example, you can set up the chairs like a bus and practice appropriate behavior.You can also provide visual supports like photos and additional practice with appropriate behavior for the children who might have the most difficult challenges during the trip. They might need to take the photos with them as a reminder.
Prepare the Adults for the Trip. Decide on who will be your chaperones, if you will have any. Even if you don’t have extra people to help, be sure to work with your assistants to clearly understand your roles. Think through who will go first on the bus, or who will wait with the children while you check in or get tickets. Assign children with challenging behaviors to a specific person to keep on track. If you have parent volunteers, put into writing what behaviors you expect for the children and what the chaperone’s specific jobs are. For example, make it clear that it is inappropriate to buy food for their own child that other children won’t get. Or write out the procedures for helping with lunch. Write down the names of the children they are responsible for, meeting times, meeting places, or other important information – including a contact phone number if there are any problems.You can put these instructions on a clipboard, or laminate them on a card.
During the Trip. Be organized! Have all materials ready before the children arrive, and keep a positive and calm attitude. Remind the children one more time about the behavior you expect on the trip. Needless to say, keep your eye on children who need more support, and be very careful about intervening when you see any agitation in children. Giving a child a quick break to get a drink or a quick walk around for a few minutes can avert a behavioral disaster. Some children will have a great challenge in staying as still as we want them to during presentations, or maintaining impulse control in new and interesting areas. Be positive and firm, and most importantly, intervene before behavior gets out of hand.
Provide Positive Feedback. Most of all, give lots of praise and feedback. Let the children know when they are doing well, and point out appropriate behavior frequently: “I see many children sitting quietly and waiting.” “I noticed how you kept your eyes on the speaker.” “You all did a great job of keeping your hands to yourself.” “Maria, you’ve stayed with your leader the whole morning!” “You have all kept yourselves very safe by following the directions.” These positive statements are much more effective than trying to correct children’s minor misbehaviors. Also provide this positive feedback to your chaperones!
Review the Trip. After you return, review all aspects of the trip with the children. Let them know what they did well, and what areas could be improved for the next time. Continue follow-up activities that build on your learning goals. Field trips are often a wonderful opportunity for children to record their experiences – using their literacy skills in meaningful ways. Create a class book about the trip, make posters about their experiences, or write a story for the class newsletter.
I hope these strategies will help make your trip into a better learning experience and help you stay sane! Please share in the comments any other strategies you’ve found helpful in your field trips!