As you might have read already, I am now in my fourth year of schooling the Vintage Two; I am pretty certain it’s almost as involved, being a parent, as when I went to school myself! School trips can form quite a large part of the school adventure; I have been lucky enough to be able to go along as a parent helper to quite a few. Some may say unlucky though! They are always an experience, if that’s the way to describe them.
I’ve done them as a parent helper, a dinner lady (or whatever term the school use, I love the fact that I got to be a Midday Supervisory Assistant, it sounds so posh), TA / LSA – again, whichever term the school uses for a Teaching Assistant, big point to make that I was never a Teacher’s Assistant, the TAs amongst you will get that one! Here are a few hints on how to survive them and hopefully, enjoy them.
Currently, I am back to being a parent helper, as my TA days are on hold for now. There is a hierarchy to the parent helpers; I’ve been one of the chosen few, that get into the inner sanctum of the staff room, as well as one of the nameless additions that usually gets forgotten, and arrives as an afterthought. Today I was one of the nameless few. I like the air of mystery I get with the nameless few role though, the chosen ones get too much responsibility for my liking. Looking after infant aged children in the great outdoors is like herding cats, so the less responsibility the better.
First stop on arrival at school, is the grouping; that desperate wait to hear if you get one of ‘those’ children in your group, or a set of angelic children that hang on your every word, those groups probably only exist in my imagination though. I then have the painful task of trying to remember names and faces, which seems to be an endless challenge for me.
Try and find a memorable feature on each child – blond hair, pink coat, massive back pack, dodgy hair cut – anything that helps you remember at least what they look like. It’s useful to remember what they look like from behind, that way you can spot them as they disappear off into the distance. Always keep a firm hand on your flight risks, you will know the ones pretty quickly. They are fast and can disappear in an instant, but will also take forever to move, when you actually want them to do something educational.
Names: even as a TA, I was horrendous at names, so any term of endearment that I can think of will come into play at least once during the day. ‘My love’, ‘poppet’ – you get the idea. As a lady of a certain age, I think I get away with these old-fashioned terms, but maybe the children are just being polite and actually thinking, “She can’t remember my name, the dotty old dear (or insert a slightly less polite word here).”
After collecting the mountains of kit required for an outdoor excursion, toilet trips all round, final roll call; we head to the bus – today’s offering looked like something out of a museum and had that unique aroma that only school buses have. (I am fairly certain I sat in a suspicious wet patch too). There will always be the drama surrounding who will sit next to who; and that’s just the adults.
Stay away from the front, the vomitters always sit at the front, with the lovely cardboard sick bowls. A seasoned TA once told me to take newspaper for the vomiters to sit on, as apparently it helps with the nausea.
My own child went through a phase of being bus sick, so strangely enough, I avoided her school trips until that phase passed.
On the bus, there will be long games of I Spy, as well as other old favourites, there is usually a strong possibility of singing of some sort. There will be the chat from the teacher about not distracting the bus driver with too much noise, but it doesn’t take long for us all to get into the swing of whatever game is on for the day. The solo children will prefer to fire questions at their companions, so if you get a quiet one, be prepared to be quizzed about life, the universe, and other unanswerable questions. It will be sweaty, smelly and bumpy; the journey is definitely the worst part, but take heart from the fact that it will be quieter on the way home; there will be sleepers.
On arrival, there is the moment when you suddenly realise you can’t remember the names, or the faces of your group, it is a brief moment of panic, but they generally come to you in the end.
If you are not shepherding the flock from A to B, as a parent helper, you just wander around being helpful where you can, there might be a specific task, but equally you could feel like a spare part for some of it. You are still useful though, so take a break if there is one. I did a Marwell trip with a group of 4, very energetic 6-year olds, it was the fastest time around Marwell ever; at the end of it I just wanted to lie down in a darkened room, I would have given anything for a quiet moment that day.
Give your own child space to do their own thing. Mine have been used to me being in school since the start, so they are pretty laid back about it all now, but I have always said if they get too clingy, I won’t go back. School is their time to find independence. Equally be prepared to be blanked, especially as they get older and you become an embarrassment to them.
It is possible that your child will surprise you; they may be more outgoing than you expect, or equally, they may be shyer and more reserved, they might be a bit naughty (feel free to step in), this could be down to the excitement of it all. You might think they have a great friendship with the child of your best friend and then find them squabbling, or ignoring each other. It can be an eye opener.
The crier – all classes have them, most staff will be prepared for it and quickly deal with it, but if you get a crier, keep it upbeat, positive and try to get them out of it asap, no cuddles, that just makes them cry more.
(I even got to go to the panto as staff once, but my child was the crier!)
Lunch – I tend not to take lunch as I find 12.00 for eating is more like breakfast than lunch, but take a rucksack with water and supplies, wet wipes are always good too. Lunchtimes are fun; food will be just about everywhere, it is quite zoo like. They they will all be trying to sneak in the chocolate first, you will hear yourself say, “Eat your sandwiches first!” a thousand times. I love checking out the other lunchboxes to see what other kids bring. You can tell how wealthy a school is by the amount of hummus and quinoa on offer. My favourite was a box full of cold fish fingers and chips with ketchup.
Arguments – I love the term ‘tittle tattle’, it is so old-fashioned, but sums up many school children, they love to rush to teacher (you will become teacher for the day on a school trip, they don’t differentiate between adults), with any snippet of gossip and general complaints about other children. I tend to listen, mediate, sympathise and then move on as fast as I can.
Do not use the school trip as an opportunity to engage with your child’s teacher and have a deep and meaningful chat about their development. Take it from one who has been on the inside, all we care about is getting the little darlings through the day in one piece and without losing one, it is immensely stressful. Plus, there will be a mountain of planning to ensure the trip is proven effective as part of the curriculum. Teachers will rarely relax and have a chat on these days. That is not to say that you won’t be appreciated though; staffing in schools has been dramatically reduced due to funding cuts over the years, so there are not enough staff members to support school trips anymore. School trips will not go ahead without parental support. This is a sad state of affairs, but there are still enough willing participants to carry on this age-old tradition. Even oldies like me remember the school trips, they have been part of our school for years and they are often the things that stick out in our memories. I don’t remember the every day stuff, I remember the ‘special stuff’ and I am pretty sure my children will too.
If you can help out on a school trip, then give it a try, many parents can’t, because of work and I have been there with that issue too. If, nothing else, it’s a chance to get a day out for free. I’ve not gone along to the older school trips yet; I’m guessing there will be a whole list of new hints from those though, so watch this space.
(Obviously I can’t use pics of actual school trips, so these are just a few of the popular school outings)