Whether you call it a field trip, excursion, school trip or outing-it’s exhausting! True, field trips can be a lot of fun, but they can also be stressful if you are unprepared or if things go wrong. Nobody wants that. All it takes to have an amazing field trip is some planning, a great place to go and a positive attitude. Okay, that might not be all. Check out our ultimate guide to mastering field trips!
Planning for Your Field Trip
Your school likely has policies about what you need to do before scheduling a field trip in your class. Check with your school about arranging payment, booking buses, policies on locations/activities that are prohibited, what forms need to be filled out and what the rules are regarding volunteers.
Choose field trips that your students wouldn’t normally get to experience in the classroom. There is no point going on a field trip only to watch a video, listen to a lecture or complete worksheets (not that your class would be that boring all the time). Ask other teachers about field trips they have taken and get their honest opinion about whether the cost is worth the learning and experience.
It pays to be organized! Some schools have a budget of a certain amount of money that can be used/spent on field trips, but many locations have discounts for booking in advance. It’s better to book and cancel, than not book and pay full price (assuming you don’t have to pay a big deposit). Try to get all your field trips mapped out and booked within the first few weeks of school so you can be ready for all of them.
If your school sends home permission forms to be signed, try to have all your forms for the whole year ready to go at once. It saves so much time later in the year if you already have everything done weeks before you head out on your trip. This can also apply to paying for trips if your school allows this. Getting it all done at once can also make it easier for parents (unless paying all at once is a struggle-do what is best for your school community).
Keep each field trip in its own folder. On the front of the folder clearly write the date and location of the field trip and attach a class list to the front of the folder. As forms are returned to the school, check off each student and place the form in the folder. When a folder has all the forms, keep all your forms in the same location in your classroom (like in a file cabinet) in chronological order. As each trip happens, move that set of forms to the back of the cabinet. By the end of the school year you should have all your forms ready to hand into the office for record keeping.
Ninja Note: If you get a new student after the year has started, print off all the remaining trip forms and send them home at once. Add them to the folders and you’re back in business.
What to Take on Your Field Trip
Emergency Contact Information: Print off your class’s emergency contact information. Also include a page with your principal’s phone number, emergency services, the bus company, the number of your school’s administrator and a few teachers at your school. Put all this information in a plastic folder that you can take on every trip during the year. Prepare this at the beginning of the year so you only have to do it once, or update it if needed.
Student medications: If your students have inhalers, insulin, testing kits, allergy auto-injectors or any other time of medication that they need at school, do not forget to take it on the trip. We usually put these medications into plastic zipper bags clearly labelled with student names. Each medication goes into the bag of the parent volunteer with each child (you’ll hear more about the bags in just a moment).
The Ultimate Field Trip Back Packs: We prepare a few of these (one for each adult that will be coming along). In fact, we make up five of them at the beginning of the school year and restock in between field trips throughout the year. These back packs contain all kinds of supplies that might be needed (most of them based on our own experiences) and we’ve been using the same bags for over ten years!
Place everything in a zippered back pack. Here’s what you need:
- First aid kit (bring lots of bandages)
- Sticky notes (there’s always room for sticky notes)
- a cloth pencil case with 12 sharpened pencils, eraser, pencil sharpener with shavings catch (for quick writing on the go)
- individual wet wipes/small package of wet wipes (baby wipes work)
- roll of masking tape (great for labeling random things)
- Sharpie (see above)
- plastic bags (great for wet clothes, student vomit)
- master list of groups (more to come on this below)
- a few non-perishable snacks (because someone always forgets their lunch)
- a few pairs of plastic gloves (for the student bodily fluids that accompany students on field trips)
- a few extra bandages (they usually fix most field trip problems)
- label the bag with a luggage tag that has the name of the school, classroom and phone number to reach the school
- sunscreen (check your school’s policy about whether or not you can apply it) Most parents would prefer safety, but check with your school.
Hand out a bag to each of your volunteers (including yourself). They can use the bag to place their purse, lunch or any other items (such as any assigned students’ medications). Place the emergency contact information in your bag.
Each time you return to the school collect all the bags and restock them (maybe with the help of your students) for the next trip. Don’t forget to sharpen the pencils again.
A Few Tricks of the Trade to Make Field Trip Day Run Smoothly
Parents and Their Own Children: Sometimes some students cannot handle their parent being on a field trip. The most well-behaved lovely personality can transform into some sort of demon at the zoo just because dad came along.
So, in an effort to avoid awkward conversations mid-trip, we always include this line on our permission forms when asking for parent volunteers: We cannot guarantee you will have the opportunity to spend the whole day with your child as our main objective is for the safety and supervision of all students. This means you may be asked to supervise students in different groups or classes based on the needs of all students.
Master List of Groupings: Before your field trip make a master list of different student groups. For example, pairs, groups of 4, 5 or which students work well together. Lots of times when we arrive at a field trip we are told the students will be in groups and having this in advance means all your volunteers already know the groupings (because you put on in each bag, remember) and it make this transition super quick.
Take a Photo of Your Bus: All school buses look the same, but take a quick photo of your bus number and the driver. This was a lesson learned on a trip in 2006. Imagine over 100 school buses in a gravel parking lot (field?). In the rain. With hungry students. Without umbrellas. Looking for our bus. We still don’t know if it was 113 or 131.
Get to Know Your Driver: Ask your bus driver for a cell phone number. This can save you so much time looking for your bus (remember the last piece of advice?). You can also leave your number with the driver so they can contact you if they are going to be late (or get lost).
Leave Your Information: Leave all the field trip information with someone in the office of your school. Even a little piece of paper with the class number, where you’ve gone and when you expect to be back is helpful when they receive parent phone calls, calls for you or are looking for you. They don’t have to spend the time if they know you’re out of the building (and they can help you out if your bus is missing/late).
Save the Date: If you plan to take parent volunteers in your field trips, announce the dates and times well in advance of the trips so parents can make arrangements to take time off work or find babysitting for younger students.
Have a Volunteering on a Field Trip Responsibilities List: Create a general list of expectations and share it with your volunteers as soon as they say they’ll volunteer. This way there are no surprises and they don’t show up with a toddler. Refresh this when they arrive for the field trip. Be very clear that they are responsible for children and need to be focused on that. Don’t forget to include information about: photo taking (their child or others), using their phones, eating, smoking, cannabis (it’s Canada yo), buying things for their child (eg. shopping when supposed to be supervising), or riding the bus (as opposed to bringing their car and taking off before returning to school)
Teach Your Class a Thank You Song: Having a quick song or poem that your student know and use each trip makes everything fun. Keep it simple, but thank all the volunteers, the bus driver, the people at the field trip location and anyone else who helped along the way. It’s also a great way to build class community.
Teach Your Class How to Act on a Field Trip: Like everything else, you students need to be taught your expectations. They will not magically learn to behave, so you will need to lay down the rules. We usually start with the fact we are guests, we are out in public representing the school and we are there to learn. Go over expectations and consequences. Never use a field trip as a reward or punishment-it sends the wrong message about it’s value.
Prepare Your Students for Change: No field trip is perfect. Prepare your students that things might change and part of the experience is to “go with the flow.” This is super important for those students in your class who thrive on structure. Field trips can be hard for them, so prepare them as best you can by making sure you support them in advance as much as you can (even if things change last minute). Talking about the fact that things might change can help.
Field Trips are Intended as an Extension of the Classroom
Educate Your Parent Community About the Value of Field Trips: Think about it; some of your best memories as a student were probably field trips. Your students are no different, but it is important that there is a purpose for your trip. Be sure to explain the value of learning to your parent community so you don’t hear, “It was just a field trip so I took him to the mall instead.” (Insert eye roll here). What learning outcomes will be met by attending this trip (if you need to be creative keep reading).
Pre and Post Field Trip Learning: Get the most out of your trip by planning your teaching around the field trip. It should not be a stand alone activity. Keep it simple.
Before: predict what they might see, collect questions they might have, research the place online, learn about some of the topics that will be covered
After: write about experiences, draw experiences, interview classmates about the best/worst part, look at photos and create displays to talk about what was learned, write thank you letters, write letters asking more questions.
Post-Field Trip Teacher Preparation: You are going to be tired. Put on your pedometer because you’re going to rack up the steps. It will be busy, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Stay organized, be flexible and have fun with your students. Have a hot bath ready with a relaxing beverage and enjoy a great night’s sleep!
Share your field trip stories with us! We’re always looking for more ideas to make field tripping (that’s a word we made up?) easier. Leave us a comment below!