Four kids, 20 years and several dozen field trips in, I’ve learned a thing or two about chaperoning. I’m here to help future parent victims.
- Don't do it. Field trips are a nightmare. If you have a choice, pick any other event (anything else but a dance) that has a shorter timespan than the inevitable 16-hour day. But if you, like me, have fallen victim to the pleas of your child and ended up chaperoning an amusement park field trip, read on.
- If the bus (which better be a sweet Coach bus because if you agreed to a full day on a school bus you will need to seek medical help) leaves the school at four a.m. and the McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts in your town aren’t open that early, it’s worth it to get up and make a travel mug of coffee at 3:30 even though that seems ludicrous. Bring snacks and water and/or Diet Coke on the bus. 5 Hour Energy drinks are your friends, but don’t feed them to the middle schoolers. Bring pillow, blanket and movies if bus has a DVD player.
- Begin the day with a positive attitude about spending time with your child because you love him or her, this sentiment will only last about 12 minutes, so enjoy it while it lasts and get a photo of you and your child in the first 12 minutes so you can both pretend later that the trip was a meaningful bonding experience.
- You are embarrassing your kid just by existing. Depending on the particular field trip child’s personality, certain activities (eating, talking, laughing) will be frowned upon during the trip. Some of your kids may be the type who don’t care what you’re doing while others, though raised in the same house, will scrutinize your every move with squinting eyes, rolled eyes and snarls. If you have the don’t-care kind, be thankful. The day will be easier.
- Know the chaperoned. Are they independent, intelligent high school kids who can be allowed to roam free, choosing their own ride lines and activities? Lucky you. Bring a book, a phone/device charger, and have fun. There are air-conditioned “comfort centers” with computers, couches and chargers of every variety. Find one of them and don’t leave until the bus comes. Have kids text you if they need anything. Maybe show up and go on one ride. But if you have a group of middle schoolers, you’re going to need to stay with them most of the day unless you luck out briefly and the comfort center is next to the biggest ride line you’re just waiting for them to get through: one sweet hour of freedom.
- Know your amusement park. Don’t show up at the entrance gate of a 200-acre facility with no idea where to go. Download the park’s app from the bus. Ask kids which roller coasters they really want to ride. Check the ride wait time list on the app. Even in the very beginning of the day, the ride wait time list is a great way to plan your route. Hit the hottest coasters first while that wait time is 20 minutes—it’ll be a two-hour wait by lunchtime. Apps can also be used to find bathrooms, food, charging stations, etc. Running into a frazzled mom at the comfort station who had a Blackberry, I actually ended up screen-shooting my ride wait time list and texting it to her. How’s that for an Apple commercial?
- Pretend the whole day is a game. When the kids all gather again on the bus ride home, they’re going to be comparing their day—which rides they went on, what they ate, how much fun they had. In other words, they’ll be comparing chaperones. Maybe it’s just my competitive nature, but I wanted to win that game. My group of girls was jumping up and down telling tales of the eight best rides in the park, making a karaoke video, buying candy on the chocolate tour, getting coffee from Dunkin Donuts. My daughter enthusiastically said it was the “best day ever!” and when we got home after the 19-hour day, that felt like a win.