Know the Plan
Before you leave, discuss the itinerary, logistics, and any chaperone guidelines with the teacher in charge. If you can, get this information ahead of time and familiarize yourself with it before the trip. Ask how many kids you will be responsible for (usually 5-10, depending on their ages and your destination) and learn their names as soon as you can. Make sure you’re clear on meeting and meal times – especially for going home – and if you’re responsible for your own admission charges. You should also find out if any of your charges has a medical or behavioral problem you should be aware of and what the ramifications might be. Be clear on the school’s disciplinary policy and what to do in case a child gets lost. Ask the teacher if there are certain exhibits, shows, or displays that should not be missed.
Come Prepared – Bring enough cash for food, extras, or admission fees. Though you’re not responsible for paying for your charges, you never know who might forget her money or lunch. Throw a few band-aids and some bottled water in your bag, too. Dress appropriately for the destination and wear comfortable shoes. A cell phone can be an excellent helper if you have one, but keep it turned off.
Show Up – Believe it or not, one of the biggest problems teachers face is parents who cancel the morning of the trip or simply don’t show up. If you have to cancel, try to give the teacher as much notice as possible and help her find a replacement. Many teachers will book more chaperones than needed for this very reason.
Be Focused – Remember your primary concern is to make sure kids are safe and help them enjoy themselves. Model good behavior and professionalism – after all, your group is an ambassador for your school. Avoid discussing your child’s progress or other irrelevant topics with the teacher during the trip. By riding the bus, following the tour, and eating with your charges, you not only help maintain their safety but keep them involved in the trip. If you have other children, leave them at home. Avoid smoking in front of the students. Pay attention, be on time, and follow directions. Keep your voice at a moderate level and be courteous.
Establish a Rapport – While you need to keep your group under control, remember this is not a military exercise. Be firm about important issues – running off from the group, horseplay, behavior that bothers others – but let minor infractions slide. After all, learning is supposed to be fun! When a child breaks a rule, try to pull him aside rather than reprimand him publicly, but don’t be afraid to discipline when necessary. While it’s important for you to be respected, you don’t have to be liked.
Staying Safe – If you stick with the group and keep kids away from potential hazards, you should be in good shape. Take frequent head counts, particularly when moving to a new location. Learn the names and faces of each child in your care, and be sure they know you too. When your group travels, space adults out so that there’s always a grownup in front, behind, and in the middle of the group. When you reach your destination, find out where you can go for first aid and the location of the bathrooms, but be sure to let the teacher know before you take any child away from the group. Be clear on what to do in the event of an emergency.
Help Teach – Engage your charges in the trip by asking thought-provoking questions that help them discuss what they see, rather than test what they know. If you can, involve all the students in your group – the shyer ones may take a bit longer to participate in discussions. Be careful not to interrupt the guide or teacher and try not to contradict any information they convey.
Stay Positive – Your enthusiasm and interest may be infectious. Keep the kids as engaged as you can, participate in the activities, and support the teacher and/or guides’ decisions. If you do disagree with something they say, speak to them about it privately. Compliment kids on good behavior and thank guides for their help.
Keep in Good Communication – If there’s a serious problem, let the teacher know as soon as you can. While you should discipline where you can, let the teacher be the ultimate boss.