Field trips can provide wonderful learning experiences for children of all ages. In order to make the most of this experience, it is important to keep safety as a top priority.
Before selecting a field trip site or event, caregivers should consider why they are taking children on a field trip. Is this an activity that can only take place away from the center, such as a visit to a children's theater? Or could this experience occur just as well in the center? For example, if you want children to see and touch animals, you can visit a petting zoo, or you might ask a guest to bring baby goats, kittens, or puppies to the classroom.
Safety concerns can arise when children get bored because the event is too long for their attention span. Children also may lose interest if they cannot perform the activity, either because it is developmentally inappropriate or because there are too many children for the number of activities. When children get bored-look out! They will find something else to do such as wandering off or climbing the stair railings. When planning the field trip, here are some points to consider:
Is this field trip appropriate for the age group? The age of your children can affect your safety considerations. For example, taking a group of 20 four-year-olds to a shopping mall to see a clown might not be a good idea because there are too many places for the children to "escape" and get out of your sight. However, other sites might be much better suited for a field trip such as visiting a fire station or dentist's office.
Consider the developmental level of your children. Children enjoy hands-on and interactive activities rather than watching or listening to someone else. However, if it is hands-on, can the children perform that particular activity?
Is the activity safe for children? Consider a visit to a petting farm. This can be an enriching experience for children to see and touch baby lambs, goats, and duckshowever, there are still hazards. Some animals bite. A goose can give a mean pinch! Even a baby lamb who wants to "suck" on little fingers can hurt a small child. Some animals are too big for children.When visiting a petting farm, plan extra adult supervision and be sure children are separated from large animals and/or potentially dangerous animals.
Transportation may occur by bus, van, or private vehicles driven by parents. All children should be securely buckled into car seats or booster seats approved for their age and weight. The safest place for all infants and young children is the back seat of a car. Older children should buckle the lap belt and shoulder belt. Never double-buckle children in seat belts as each child should have his or her own seat belt to provide the best possible protection.
Check out the loading and unloading area at the site. Children should exit the vehicle and enter the area without crossing traffic areas or parking lots.
Do head counts frequently. Count your children as you leave the childcare center, once they are in the vehicle, as they exit the vehicle, and when they get into the designated building or area.
Visit the site prior to the field trip. Look at the site from a safety standpoint, such as potential falls, entrapments, choking/poisoning hazards, etc. Remember, most field trip sites are not designed to be "children proof."
- Plan adequate adult supervision, both during transportation and during the field trip activities.
- Take a file containing parent authorizations, emergency contact information, and medical authorizations for each child.
- Take a well-equipped first aid kit.
- Notify someone at the field trip site of your expected departure and arrival.
- Have a two-way radio or cellular phone available in case of an emergency.
While on a field trip, basic hygiene such as handwashing is important. One preschool program's trip to the zoo ended up with many cases of an intestinal virus when the children touched a railing that was part of a reptile exhibit and then ate their lunches without washing their hands.
On longer field trips or when children do not have access to a water fountain, bring along ice water in thermal coolers. Do not forget to bring disposable cups and extra garbage bags for clean up. If the children are outdoors, especially in hot weather, offer them water about every 30 minutes.
Sometimes soap and running water are not available for handwashing. Take along pre-moistened towelettes or baby wipes to be used before and after meals and snacks. A spray bottle with antibacterial soap and clean water and paper towels is another alternative. Also, a waterless hand sanitizer can be used in addition to the pre-moistened towelettes.
Weather can be hazardous, particularly heavy rain or snow or icy conditions. Make sure your drivers are prepared for all types of driving conditions and know when stopping is more prudent than proceeding during a storm. Be prepared to cancel field trips or other activities if the weather is hazardous.
Field trips are fun and educational and with the proper health and safety preparations, unnecessary problems can be avoided.
Charlotte Hendricks, EdD
Editor, Healthy CHILDCare
Head Start, www.head-start.lane.or.us/administration/policy/health/fieldtrip-safety.html
National Network for Child Care, www.nncc.org/Health/fieldtrips.html
Safe Field Trips, www.metrokc.gov/health/childcare/fieldtrip.htm