Field trips are an important part of a well-rounded education because they take students out of the classroom and into the real world … but how can we make sure they’re safe?
The factors that make field trips special are the very same factors that can make them risky. Because they take place away from school in an unfamiliar setting, field trips present more opportunities for injury, property damage, and exposure to such potential hazards as chemicals, animals, or even fire. Plus, medical issues, accidents, and other emergencies are more manageable at school than on a field trip. And, if a child misbehaves at school, the principal’s office is just down the hall.
Do the downsides mean we should give up on field trips? Not at all. It just means we need to exercise extra safeguards, precautions, and vigilance.
Here are some basic tips for safe field trips.
The first step to bus safety is booking a safe bus. Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is enforce some common sense policies and procedures.
- Do your due diligence and find a charter bus company with an excellent safety and inspection record, trained drivers, and all the proper licenses, permits, and insurance.
- In the unlikely event of an emergency that requires evacuation, know the evacuation plan in advance. Review evacuation procedures with students prior to departure.
- Develop rules of conduct for the bus trip, distribute these rules to students and parents, and get riders to sign off on these rules prior to departure.
- Follow the guidelines established by your school or organization for the ratio of chaperones to students (the younger the students the lower the chaperone-to-student ratio). Make sure chaperones understand they are responsible for supervising students, keeping track of them, and monitoring their behavior.
- Make it clear that the bus driver is the final arbiter when it comes to matters of bus safety. What he or she says goes.
A kid’s gotta eat. But any time food is consumed away from school, there are certain precautions that must be taken into account.
- Let parents know how food and drink will be handled on the field trip and solicit their consent on the permission slip.
- Make sure that the permission slip and/or emergency medical form prompts parents or guardians to list any food restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies.
- Food brought from home or from the school’s food service facility should be properly wrapped and labeled (to protect students with dietary restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies), and should not require refrigeration. During the trip, food should be stowed in a safe place, away from potential contaminants.
- If food will be supplied by the venue, or purchased at a cafeteria or restaurant, be sure to pay attention to food restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies.
- Enforce good hand hygiene: kids should wash their hands before meals, after meals, and throughout the field trip as needed (i.e., after handling chemicals, playing outside, or touching animals).
Let’s not equivocate. On a field trip, there is an increased danger—however rare—of the unthinkable: that a child could get abducted, assaulted, robbed, injured, or lost. That doesn’t mean we should stop going on field trips. It does mean that we should take additional precautions. Remember that kids get excited on field trips. They may wander away to explore something on their own; they may get distracted; they may even (gasp) do something risky or dumb.
Reduce the risk by establishing rules, policies, and procedures before the trip:
- Students must be supervised by an adult at all times (keeping in mind that if you can’t see them, you are not supervising them).
- Enforce a buddy system that prohibits any child from going anywhere alone.
- Adults must accompany children to the restroom. (At a rest stop with stalls, it makes sense to station a same-sex adult inside the restroom and another adult outside the restroom until everyone has used it.)
- Take attendance when your group boards the bus, disembarks, and at other intervals throughout the day.
- Be sure students know what to do if they get separated from the group.
- Students should carry only the money they will need on the trip and should be advised about how to carry it.
- In the case of higher risk excursions (like camping, hiking, boating, or other outdoor expeditions), participants should have whistles and/or cell phones and/or two-way radios along with compasses, maps, and/or global positioning systems.
In the unlikely event of a medical emergency, you can’t be scrambling to make decisions or devise a plan. You have to be prepared.
- Medical emergency forms with parental consent for treatment should accompany you (in a binder, at the ready) on any trip away from school. Another copy of the forms should be kept on file at school.
- On every field trip, there must be a qualified (i.e., CPR/first aid-certified) adult who is authorized to administer oral medication, insulin shots, inhalers, EpiPens, and the like. Be aware that over-the-counter medications (pain reliever, antacids, nose spray) also require parental consent and must be labeled by the parent, secured during the trip, and administered by an authorized adult.
- Keep emergency phone numbers, local emergency and paramedic contact information, and directions to the nearest emergency room in one place and with you at all times.
- Ask one adult to drive separately to the venue so there is a car in case of an emergency.
- Make sure staff and chaperones understand all field trip-specific emergency procedures.
- Review any known medical concerns with the staff and chaperones prior to the field trip.
Preventing behavioral issues is so much easier than dealing with behavioral issues. Take these steps to ward off any problems before they occur.
- Provide plenty of supervision. For school age children, a ratio of one adult for every eight to ten students is usually sufficient on a field trip. By high school, one adult for every 15 kids is the norm. But if you know you have students who are behaviorally challenging, consider adding more chaperones.
- Before the trip, communicate behavioral expectations to students, parents, and chaperones. Make it clear that any rules that apply at school automatically apply on the field trip (i.e., no roughhousing, horseplay, fighting, property damage, or dangerous behavior). Also explain that, on a field trip, students may be expected to adhere to heightened restrictions and expectations. For example, students may not wander away from the group, they have to stick with an assigned “buddy,” and they’re expected to follow additional rules on the bus and at the venue. Many schools ask students and parents to enter into a “behavioral contract” that outlines specific expectations for the field trip.
- Enforce the rules. Be prepared to take school-sanctioned action when a student violates the contract (i.e., breaks school rules, is overtly defiant, or does anything dangerous, illegal, or destructive).
When you consider all the things that could possibly go wrong on a field trip, you may be wondering whether they’re worth it. They are. Field trips can enrich your curriculum, enhance learning, and energize students to stretch and grow. And with careful planning, adequate staffing, and good communication, your field trip can be safe and successful from beginning to end.