The Competent Parent: Field Trip Nervosa



Welcome to our online series on parenting advice with our expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My son’s kindergarten class is going on a field trip and he wants me to come along. Since I missed the two prior field trips due to work commitments, I’m feeling some pressure to step up to the plate and chaperone.   Of course I’m happy I’m able to go, but the thought of being responsible for more than one energetic six-year-old in a place I’ve never been to is stressing me out.  I struggle to get just one six-year-old to listen to me in our own home!

Reluctant Chaperone


Dear Reluctant Chaperone,

Field trip duty is indeed an honor and a responsibility.  As a chaperone, you can share the experience directly with your son instead of hearing bits and pieces as he tries to reconstruct it for you later.  You also get a chance to let him feel proud of you in front of his friends and his teacher.

As for responsibility, you are correct that it is multiplied.  Here are some tips for making the trip a satisfying one for all.

Do Your Homework

Assuming the trip is to a place you’ve never been, find out the essentials ahead of time.  See if there is a website or at least a brochure you can look at.  Where are the bathrooms?  You might even want to go as a family before the class trip so you get the lay of the land.

Will snack or lunch time be included in the trip?  If so, where will lunch bags be stored?  Is there a place to wash hands near the tables, or should you bring along hand sanitizer?

What is the purpose of the trip?  Usually a field trip ties into a unit of study – farm animals, for example.  See if the teacher has a Chaperones’ Guide, or list of learning objectives so you can help your children get the most out of their experience.  For example, is the focus of their learning more on animal care or animal behavior?  Clues may be found in your son’s recent schoolwork or a class newsletter.  A little background knowledge will help you point out significant elements at the field trip site.

Take Names

The best way to command the attention of your assigned children will be to call each one by name. As soon as you get your crew, make a quick association with each child and his or her name.  Arthur acts like a king (King Arthur).  Raymond has a sunny disposition (ray of sunshine).  Paul is wearing a purple shirt (Paul and purple start with “p”).   Keep reviewing the names during the ride, and practice calling each of them by name a few times so the children get the idea that you are indeed paying attention to them.

Count Heads

Your essential responsibility is to keep track of your group.  If you are assigned four children, including your own, keep counting those four heads every few minutes.  As you know, a six-year-old can cover some ground in a flash.  If you are walking from place to place, count heads each time you turn a corner.  Preschoolers will accept hand-holding to stay connected, but this may not go over well with great big kindergarteners.  If any children are missing after a turn, take the ones you still have back around the last corner to find the stragglers.  Hopefully, “stay with your grown-up” will not be an issue the teacher has to be called in on.

If the children are let loose in an open area, such as at a playground or inside a children’s museum, park yourself strategically so you can continue to watch your charges, and they can see you watching them.  You need to be accessible should one of them need some help and or guidance.

Positive Direction

A field trip should be an enjoyable time, without need for harsh discipline.  Apply the basic discipline strategy of meeting the children’s needs and their behavior will be fine.  Physical needs are met with well-timed food, clothing appropriate to the weather, and with sedentary activity balanced by opportunities for body movement. Intellectual needs are met with novel experiences and opportunities to get their individual questions answered.  Emotional needs are met knowing a caring adult – even one he’s just met – is here to keep him safe.  Social needs are met by sharing discoveries and reactions with one’s buddies.

Home Connection

It may help you in your role to connect yourself to the children’s parents.  (If you are feeling outnumbered, this will give you more strength!)  Ask the teacher ahead of time if it would be all right to take pictures.  Rarely is this a problem.  When you snap a shot, let the children know you will be happy to share the pictures with their families.  In this way, they will feel that their own parents are along on the trip, keeping an “eye” on them, through your camera.

Have a wonderful field trip!


Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis.  She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum.  Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

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