Planning a fun and memorable field trip takes lots of work; keeping students and chaperones safe, however, can be even more challenging, unless you institute some rules and prepare a safety plan. Here are key aspects to understand and include.
- Obviously, booking a safe bus is key so choose a charter company with a great safety record, qualified and licensed drivers, and a newer, well-maintained fleet. Once accomplished, next you need to put in place some common-sense policies and procedures.
- Know the bus evacuation plan in advance and review evacuation procedures with students prior to departure.
- Develop rules of conduct for the bus trip, distribute these rules to students and parents, and have them sign off on the 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) and ensure the chaperones understand their supervisory responsibilities.
- Make it clear that the bus driver has the first and the last say about matters of bus safety. Period.
Any time food is consumed during school hours away from school, certain precautions should be taken.
- Inform parents 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 restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies), and should not require refrigeration. 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 students’ food restrictions, sensitivities, or allergies.
- Enforce good 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).
Though a long shot, every field trip represents an opportunity for a child to become lost, injured, assaulted, robbed, or abducted. In response to that remote threat, extra precautions should be taken. Remember that kids get excited on field trips and may wander away to explore something on their own; they may get distracted; they may even 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 according to the rule: 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, etc.), participants should have whistles and/or cell phones and/or two-way radios as well as compasses, maps, and/or global positioning systems.
In the event of a medical emergency, you need to be prepared as follows:
- Medical emergency forms with parental consent for treatment should accompany you (in a binder, at the ready) on any field trip. 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 over-the-counter medications (pain relievers, antacids, nose spray), which 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 together 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 10 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).
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. Indian trails can help with our “Professional Guide to Bus Trips with Kids” that is available free to keep you on track and have a field trip your students will remember for years to come.