Not many people would volunteer to chaperone twenty-two children between the ages of four and six when you don’t speak the language, but that is exactly what I did. My main goal for the trip was completely selfish. I have been seeking out intensive language immersion opportunities and Swedish children don’t understand English. My basic Swedish was going to get a workout and I figured, at the very least, that I could provide an extra pair of hands and eyes to help out the teachers.
I’m pretty sure the kids thought I was a crazy lady because I accidentally switched the Swedish words for “gloves” and “wait.” Luckily for me, shouting, “Gloves a little bit! Gloves a little bit!” while waiting for the bus did still get their attention, so I wasn’t completely ineffective.
While on the trip, I observed how Swedish daycare teachers fearlessly manage large groups of kindergarten-age children. Without a doubt, corralling that number of kids while venturing out in the big wide world is a bit stressful, but these five tips can help make it a more enjoyable experience.
1. The Buddy System
Each child was told to hold hands with their kompis or buddy. They walked in one long line of two and had to hold hands the entire day. They walked in pairs during the four different connections on public transportation and a lot of walking for little legs. They walked to the bus, bus to tram, tram to the museum, then back from the museum to the tram, tram to the bus, and finally back to school for a total of three hours of transportation.
To say the kids were tired at the end of the trip would be an understatement as I watched a few fall asleep on the tram ride home. Each child took the buddy system seriously and with teachers and parent volunteers interspersed within the line, everyone walked safely, albeit very slowly, along the sidewalks.
2. Make your children shine—the brighter the better
There were lots of other school groups visiting the museum while we were there and the kids’ bright orange vests made it easy to do quick head counts in the lunch room, museum, and on public transit. It did get a bit confusing when another group showed up also wearing bright orange vests but for the most part, it was essential to reducing the stress levels among the adults in the room. All kids blend in together if they aren’t wearing brightly colored vests and parent volunteers may not recognize all of the kids in a class like a teacher would.
3. Label your child’s name on everything
Your kid’s Spiderman backpack may be unique to you, but unless you put your child’s name on it, a clueless parent volunteer like myself has no idea what to do with unlabeled items. “Isobel? Isobel?” I called out hopefully, holding up a bright purple jacket. Nothing. No reaction from any child. Then another kid pointed to Isobel, who was too busy picking her nose to hear her name. Children at this age are likely not to respond to their names when called by a stranger, but at least the labels helped me sort through the gazillion random hats, gloves, rain jackets, and rain pants that were taken off and put back on multiple times during the trip.
Do us all a favor and label your child’s name on everything with a permanent marker.
4. Pack easy to open/easy to eat fruits and vegetables for your kid
When the ratio of adults to children is 1:7, please, please do not put bananas in your kid’s lunch. In fact, never pack a banana for a field trip because it will inevitably end up squished at the bottom of the bag disgustingly smashed over your kid’s water bottle, which will need to be cleaned by an already very busy and hungry adult. All of a sudden, I had kids thrusting juice boxes at me to unwrap and pierce, snack containers to open, and messy bananas to clean.
The best snacks were grapes, apples, lengthwise-cut carrots and cucumbers, and lunches that could be eaten without utensils. Guess what? Forks, knives, and spoons end up on the dirty museum floor, and unless you want your child consuming a bit of dirt along with their lunch, pack a sandwich or a slice of pizza or something easy. (Although, one child did expertly eat his pasta salad with chopped hot dog and broccoli with a fork, but I like to think that kid is is more the exception and not the rule.)
Make your drinks, lunches, and snacks easy for your child to open independently.
5. Keep it simple, stupid (KISS)
Probably the best decision that the daycare teachers made was limiting the kids to one room in the museum—the dinosaur room. The room was relatively enclosed, engaging for the kids, and only had two doorways for us to monitor for potential escapees. The room also had a little excavation section complete with brooms and bones for the kids to pretend to be paleontologists. The teachers didn’t try to navigate the entire museum with this unwieldy group; they kept it simple, and everyone was happy. Doing less is truly more with little kids.
As a parent, you can help your child by finding a backpack that has a chest clip. I helped so many children put their backpacks back onto their backs because the straps kept slipping down over their raincoats. The kids with chest clips didn’t have this issue.
Volunteering for this field trip not only taught me how to be a more mindful parent (re: packing travel-friendly snacks and labeling my kid’s socks), but it also showed me how much effort the teachers will take to provide my child an enriching experience outside of the classroom.
The biggest kudos go out to the teachers who do this every day—you make it look so easy—and a big hug to the parent volunteers who are brave enough to go on a field trip. Pour yourself a glass of wine when you get home because you deserve it!
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