For child care centers, summer is a busy time of year for field trips. Most days there are off-site activities planned, whether it’s a trip to a park, petting zoo or nature center.
When you are taking children off site, it’s important to remember that you need a plan to minimize risks and hazards that addresses the circumstances you are facing outside the school environment.
Think of it as a portable emergency plan.
While there are a number of considerations to ensuring your charges are safe, much of the preparedness comes in three areas: Response to emergencies, being ready for children’s needs and keeping track of everyone.
Response to emergencies:
A key part of any facility plan is having in place strategies in case of inclement weather. But what will you do if there is a threat of bad weather – or worse, a storm hits while you are at the park or zoo?
You can’t create a response on the fly, particularly since you are outside your environment and often have a number of children for whom you must account. Before you take a field trip, study where you are going and then find suitable evacuation locations – just in case. We recommend finding a nearby fire station, police station or emergency rooms.
It’s not enough to have an idea of where you might go. Determine the navigation ahead of time and have it ready in case you need to evacuate. And don’t forget to have cell phone chargers on hand so that phones are available for quickly retrieving information and calling supervisors or parents as necessary.
Also, be sure to check the weather forecast before venturing out. If storms or other extreme weather are likely, it makes sense to modify plans rather than risk a potentially scary situation for your group.
Being ready for children’s needs
Some needs are universal for children: Ensure sunscreen and insect repellant are available. Take extra clothes along in case they are needed – such as if there is a sudden turn in weather or kids’ clothes get wet or soiled, as well as water and snacks.
Also, be sure emergency supplies are on hand, which applies to staff members and the vehicle. And ensure emergency medical authorizations are available for students and emergency contacts for parents are updated and with you.
While these are general precautions, some children have specific needs and you must account for them. Ensure that you have every child’s medication, be it insulin or an EpiPen. The latter is especially important in the summer with more outdoor activities and an increased chance of bee stings and the like. Be sure to have a way to keep those medications cool and secure so that kids are safe.
Keeping track of everyone
This is as daunting as it is crucial when on a field trip.
Take a headcount at the beginning of the trip and share with staff members. Once there, count again. And again. And again. You need to count continuously throughout the trip and then do a double count at departure so you don’t leave anyone behind. It doesn’t take much of an online search to find news stories about children left behind on field trips – and very angry parents waiting for them to return.
Also, be sure you aren’t just counting heads but that you are actually matching up names and faces (and have digital photos of each child). Kids wander, and you could have the wrong kid wander into your group while one of yours is elsewhere.
Use the “buddy system” to assign kids in pairings of two to maintain accountability. Consider using tags or common-colored shirts to help keep the group together – but don’t use names. Have staff members in front of and in back of the group while it’s moving.
Select an easily identifiable meeting spot in case a student or staff members gets lost. If possible, point out to children what a worker at a location is wearing and who is a safe person to approach.
Above all else, make sure everyone is clearly communicating on these trips. Supervisors need to know itineraries. If there are chaperones, communicate expectations clearly with them and make sure you have a way to reach them at all times in case one goes rogue and wanders off with kids – which happens more than you think.
And lastly, be sure to talk ahead of time to the children about expectations, rules and the importance of safety. In the end, adhering to all of these practices ensures you can provide what these are meant to provide: fun, education and great memories.