School field trips: How to be the best chaperone

What qualities do teachers look for in parents that have volunteered to be field-trip chaperones? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

How to be the best school chaperone
Kids look forward to school trips as well-deserved breaks from their ho-hum school schedules. They get to explore a new place! See new things! Go on an adventure!

Teachers, on the other hand, often see school trips as extra work. That's why they need extra help -- which is where parent chaperones come in.

Students of all ages go on school trips, and Ken Arnott, an elementary school principal in the York Region District School Board and the current president of the Ontario Principals' Council, says the younger the students, the more supervision is necessary. Luckily, that's often when more parents (and grandparents) are available and willing to volunteer their time.

"Many classes often have more than enough [chaperones]," says Arnott, "so teachers split up the trips among all the willing volunteers."

Exactly how many chaperones are needed will be determined by school board regulations and the destination of the field trip. As students get older, there tends to be fewer parent volunteers for field trips, and fewer are actually needed.

Regardless of the age of your child, if you're considering volunteering to chaperone a school trip, it's important to remember that you answer to the teacher and that you're there to help out -- not to make friends.

Expectations for elementary school chaperones
With younger kids, says Arnott, the chaperone's main responsibility -- whether exploring a museum or a farm -- is walking his or her assigned group of children from place to place. Priority No. 1 is keeping track of a group of kids who you may have just met that morning.

Be sure to help the kids with their coats, lunches and any other tasks they're asked to complete while they're out and about.

Expectations for intermediate and high school chaperones
By middle school, field trips start to include overnight stays. This requires a longer commitment from parent volunteers and may include responsibilities throughout the night. By this point, says Arnott, many students prefer their teachers as chaperones -- they see enough of their parents at home!

"Sometimes kids prefer when their parents aren't there," says Arnott, but school boards will still require a minimum number of adult chaperones, so someone has to tag along. This is when many community figures -- people who know your kids from other activities, such as through coaching sports teams -- may step up, explains Arnott. Like teachers, they're familiar faces, and may be seen differently than "just a parent."

Ask your child what he or she thinks
Before volunteering as a chaperone, explain to your child that some parents need to come along on the field trip to make sure everything runs smoothly. Is it OK if you're one of those parents?

If your child is uncomfortable with the idea, ask if it's OK if you come and supervise other students, so he doesn't have to hang out with his mom or dad all day long if he doesn't want to. This way, you can still volunteer your time to the school and help out without feeling like a burden to your child.

A+ school trip chaperones
According to Arnott, parent chaperones who exhibit the following qualities get top marks:

• An understanding of the teacher's expectations and the necessary safety precautions associated with a field trip

• A willingness to spread around and spend time with kids other than one's own

• The ability to follow a schedule and routine

• An understanding that learning is the primary objective of the field trip

• Seriousness and confidence in working with all children

Chaperone screening
Every school board will have its own protocol for screening volunteers. If you're interested in getting involved with your child's school -- either in the classroom or as a field trip chaperone -- contact the school and ask what steps you need to take to be able to help out. You may need to submit specific information or complete certain requirements, such as a police check.

From that point, your child's teacher will likely be your key contact. When a field trip is on the horizon, he or she will send information home requesting volunteers as necessary.

No matter where you go or who you supervise, you're bound to learn a few new things on any field trip when you volunteer as a chaperone!

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