Field trips can provide wonderful learning opportunities for children. But safety should always be a top priority when planning these experiences.
Consider the purpose of a field trip before selecting a site or event. Is this an activity that can only take place away from the program? Or, could you bring this experience onsite? For example, if you want children to see and touch animals, you could plan a field trip to a petting zoo. Or, you could have a guest bring baby goats, kittens, or puppies to your program site.
A field trip event that is too long or which requires children to wait for long periods without being actively engaged may result in safety concerns. As any experienced caregiver knows, when children get bored, look out! Children often find something else to do that may be entertaining, but dangerous.
When thinking about potential field trips, consider all aspects of the event, such as safety considerations at the field strip site, potential child activities, meeting basic hygiene needs, transportation and travel time, and other issues.
The age and number of children involved can affect safety considerations. Taking a group of 20 four-year-olds to a shopping mall may not be recommended because there are many places for children to slip out of sight, even with supervision. Other sites, such as a dentist’s office or fire station, are better suited for supervising.
Look at the site from a safety standpoint, and identify potential hazards that could cause falls, entrapments, choking, poisoning, etc. Also, consider accessibility and whether all children can navigate rough ground, steps, escalators, or other environmental elements.
Consider special needs of children in your program. Ensure that the site does not contain products that may trigger an allergic reaction for children with known allergies. Do you have enrolled children who require temperature control? Will children need to eat or have medications administered during the field trip? If so, how will that be handled?
Most field trip sites are not designed to be “children-proof,” so think about hazards such as cleaning supplies on low, open shelves of bathrooms. Tools of the trade (e.g., dentist’s drill, carpenter’s table saw, fry cook’s grease) can be dangerous. Think about how children can watch and participate in activities without harm.
Young children do not enjoy waiting. They enjoy hands-on and interactive activities rather than watching or listening. Think about the developmental levels and abilities of the children, and identify activities they will be able to perform joyfully and safely on the field trip.
Assess each field trip activity related to child safety. A field trip to a petting zoo could be an enriching experience for children to see and touch baby animals; however, there are 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 young children to be around safely. Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after touching animals or items in the environment.
Some hazards can be avoided with proper planning and need not end the field trip idea. When visiting a petting farm, plan extra adult supervision, and be sure children are separated from large or potentially dangerous animals. Animals may be more cooperative at certain times of the day, such as after they have been fed.
Work with staff at the field trip site to plan enjoyable and safe activities. Plan ways to avoid long wait times for children, and prepare children for their participation.
Basic Hygiene on Field trips
Basic hygiene, including handwashing, is essential on field trips, and some sites may lack accessible running water. For example, one preschool trip to the zoo resulted in several cases of an infection. Children touched a railing in a reptile exhibit, and then ate lunch without washing their hands. There have been serious outbreaks of E coli and Salmonella.
Toileting is another issue. Young children generally cannot wait long to use the toilet and some facilities may have limited access or adult-size toilets and sinks. Consider how you will facilitate proper toileting and hand washing in challenging situations.
Being aware of potential obstacles allows you to plan accordingly. With the proper health and safety preparations, unnecessary problems can be avoided, resulting in fun and educational field trips.
Follow local program policies and state regulations when planning field trip transportation. Transportation for field trips sometimes occurs by bus, van, or private vehicles. An adequate ratio of adults per child is important during transporting to ensure proper supervision and attention to driving safety.
All children should be properly and securely buckled into car seats or booster seats approved for their age and weight. Adult seat belts and shoulder straps are not safe for children. The safest place for infants and young children is the back seat of a vehicle; avoid placing children in a front seat.
Plan your loading and unloading areas at the site to prevent the need for children to cross traffic areas or parking lots. After unloading, walk through the vehicle to make sure no children are missed.
Conduct frequent head counts of children. Count children when leaving the program, when they are in and when they exit the vehicle, and again at the designated building or area. When leaving the field trip, count children again to ensure that all are properly buckled in the proper vehicle and returned safely to the program.
Visiting the potential field trip site in advance will allow you to determine the educational benefits and safety concerns. After visiting the site, you may decide that the safety concerns outweigh the benefits; or, you may identify ways to address the challenges you’re likely to face.
With so many potential threats, it may be tempting to avoid all field trips. However, careful planning can reduce many risks and result in a safe and educational field trip that benefits both the children and adults.
Determine the purpose and goals of the trip. Plan for:
• Necessary medication, temperature control, or other health requirements
• Meals and/or snacks
• Safe transportation with appropriate child safety restraints
• Adult supervision during transportation and the activities
• Taking a file containing parent authorizations, emergency contact information, and medical authorizations for each child
• Taking a well-equipped first aid kit
• Taking a cellular phone or two-way radio available in case of an emergency
• Notifying someone at the field trip site and at your program of expected departure and arrival times
• Hazards that may create potential falls, entrapments, choking, and poisoning.
• Check for factors that may reduce accessibility, such as rough ground, steps, escalators, or other environmental elements.
• Allergic triggers
• Basic hygiene resources.
Connie Jo Smith, EdD.,
BECO Consulting President
Field Trip Safety Checklist, www.ucsfchildcarehealth.org/pdfs/healthandsafety/fieldtripsen070604_adr.pdf
Field Trip Safety Grid, www.odjfs.state.oh.us/forms/file.asp?id=50645
Field Trip Safety Training, www.childcareonline.org
Food Safety on Field Trips, www.healthychild.net/NutritionAction.php?article_id=347