When I was 7 I missed out on a trip to Bristol Zoo thanks to being very poorly and in hospital.  I remember receiving a package of hand-drawn get well cards from my classmates featuring all the animals they had seen at the zoo.  All very lovely but the salt was well and truly rubbed into the wound.  I was totally gutted.

Since then I have made up for it and have been on a fair few trips as both student and ‘helper’.  Schools always welcome adult helpers with open arms and yet there seem to be few of us that actually make it on an educational trip.  If the thought of spending a day with 30 over-excited primary children sends chills to your very core then I am here to allay your fears.  It’s really not that bad, honestly.  Just take note of my top 10 tips on how to be a successful aide to proceedings.

  1. haynesTake a camera to document the day.  Most schools are wary of smart phones doubling as cameras thanks to the ease with which the photos can be shared through social media and a 4G mobile signal.  So dig out your camera and become a photo journalist for the day, at the end of the day upload to the teachers computer for their records and delete from your own.  Good photos to take are of the children working together, selfies aren’t so useful.  The kids also love taking photographs which can play a part in the development of the class project, just remember to make a note of which child took which photo.  Consequently this may not be the occasion for your 25 Mp with Zeiss lens and 10 x zoom.
  2. Chances are you will be allocated a group of children to look after.  Give yourself a fighting chance of not losing one and give yourself a point of reference.  Take a quick group photo of them which you can refer back to, frequently.
  3. Ensure that you have a pack of tissues or toilet roll somewhere about your person.  There will be a child who’s snot will find its way on your hand/face/coat/hair.  In a similar vein, tuck a plastic bag into your pocket for the coach journey.  Yes, there will be a bucket and sponge somewhere on the coach but believe me it will not be in easy reach when the heat and motion of the transport becomes too much for Penny’s porridge to stay down.
  4. Don’t be afraid to tell a child off.  This is a hotly debated one and I have found that many parents are not comfortable telling someone else’s child off.  However, you are there to help teachers keep a large group of children under control, to ensure that they get something out of the day.  If Fred is racing round the science museum paying no attention to man nor beast, ruining other people’s day out, you are perfectly within your rights to reprimand him.  Do it.  Oh, and make sure that you also inform the teacher about the situation, there could be history with Fred.
  5. Don’t be afraid to have fun.  Yes you are there as the responsible adult but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable and aloof.  The kids will get far more out of the day if you, as guide, are as engaged as they are.  Also your own children don’t want everyone to think that you are mean and grumpy and as the teacher is actually in charge you don’t have to keep your own child in check, so you can enjoy yourself.  The time you spend with youngsters as their imaginations are sparked and education is brought to life if something truly magical.
  6. Make sure you have a copy of the worksheet that the kids need to complete, and more to the point that you actually understand what they need to do.  Pretending that you have no idea what they have to do does actually work wonders as the kids then think that they need to explain it to you, taking great pride in doing so.  Hey presto, you’ve checked that they understand and can complete the task.
  7. Wear a watch.  You will have to meet somewhere at some time.  Don’t be the group that everyone else is waiting for because you lost track of time.
  8. Take a bottle of water, and a packed lunch if necessary.  You will not have time to visit the cafe, and if you get anything other than your entrance paid for then you are doing well.  Equally, be prepared that going to the toilet will be a group activity.  Count them in, count them out and no matter what their age make sure hands are washed and all bags have been picked up, you don’t want to spark a security incident because Ella left her backpack in cubicle number 3.
  9. Know how to count (at least to 30).  Just as taking a photo of your group will help you remember who’s in it, continuously counting the number of children you have will minimise the chances of one wandering off when you hadn’t realised.
  10. monkeyWatch out for escaped monkeys.  On a recent trip to the zoo my group were observing a cage of monkeys when shouts and screams erupted, on turning round I spotted a monkey racing up the outside of a cage with a bag of popcorn in its hand which it had just grabbed from one of my young charges.  The unexpected will always happen, you can’t plan for it but it does make a great story in the report afterwards.

One final tip, make sure that you have a bottle of wine in the fridge ready for your return home.  You will need it.  You may also need half an hour sat in a quiet, darkened room before you are ready to face the rest of the days routines.  Now, go forth people and volunteer on the next school trip, I look forward to hearing all about it, feel free to send me a card…