One of the activities that I like to do if I know it will be a long ride is to have a bingo game made of various sights or signs they may see on the way. This gives some excitement for the ride, keeps them learning on the way there and gives each child something to focus on. It's adaptable with pictures for non-readers or more challenging things to look for more advanced readers.
I am the administrator of a Children's Art Museum, so this is coming from a person who hosts field trips: Name tags are very helpful, that way staff and volunteers can call students by name. Have your students divided into groups before you leave school. Using different colored ink on name tags makes it easier for chaperones and staff to tell who belongs where. Make sure your chaperones know what they are expected to do. Have your admission money (if required) in a bag or envelope. If your school is sending several classes over several days, ask if you can send one check at the end of the week. If you have a special code such as "if you can hear Ms. Smith, clap" for quieting the class, tell the staff. I prefer to use a phrase the children are used to--especially with younger classes.
Make sure the field trip is interesting to the children. Often, my field trips center around a theme we have been studying in class. That way, my students have some background information and are able to ask informative questions. It's also a great idea to have a project for them while they are on the field trip. For example, if they are going to the zoo and have studied animals, the teacher could have them make a list of all the mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, etc. they find at the zoo. The students have fun and learn at the same time!
I teach science classes to 5th-8th graders. I like to plan trips that have a lot of hands-on experience that relates to what we are studying in our curriculum. Field trips are great ways to help students apply what they have learned in class. I took my 7th graders on a Manatee Encounter field trip where the students not only learned about the manatee and its habitat but also experienced it by snorkeling with the manatees in the Crystal River. That was a field trip that was expensive, required a lot of planning, but one the students and I will always remember.
One tool I have used to ensure that a field trip is successful is a scavenger hunt. This helps students focus on details they might otherwise overlook. For example, we recently attended the Titanic exhibit at the Florida International Museum. Prior to the trip, I put together a scavenger hunt worksheet where students used clues to search for answers found in different sections of the exhibit. One extra benefit of this approach is the greater interaction between students and chaperones who provide help to the students.
In order ensure the day runs smoothly, I make certain each child has a buddy, a name tag, and a trip ticket. The trip ticket is a type of scavenger hunt which asks specific questions about the sights seen, new facts learned, and other interesting phenomenons. The number of questions answered is the number of minutes the class can earn towards recess, pizza parties, or the like.
In addition, I brief the parent escorts before the trip. Making certain each parent has a clipboard, an attendance sheet, and a first aid kit. It is ideal to try to arrange at least one father to escort the children as it is always a source of anxiety for boys to enter public restrooms unescorted.
I have found it very motivating to give the students specific things to be looking for. For example, on a trip to the Electrical Museum at the end of our science unit on electricity, I asked them to look for 3 things that we had studied in class, 2 new things they learned about electricity at the museum, and 1 thing they found most interesting. I often use this 3-2-1 format. It seems to be engaging and easy for students to remember. They do not need to carry notebooks around with them, but can -- and usually do -- complete the task in their mind. The following day, or the same day if possible, they know they will be expected to write about their observations. This is usually quite successful.
To make sure that a field trip is successful, I try to prevent the unexpected. I call to confirm reservations, ask if we need to bring anything, and ask what to expect when we arrive at our designated time. I also try to prepare the children for what to expect. For example, if we're going to a play, then I explain what the show will be about. I review the schedule of our trip before we go, before we get off the bus, and during our trip. My students enjoy field trips--we have been on 6 this year and loved them all! Parents are always welcome, of course. And I've found a bus driver who enjoys the traveling and doesn't charge us for the bus!!!!
I plan as far in advance as possible, which gives me time to make sure I have one chaperone for every six students. I keep the parents informed and remind them about the trip a week before and about the lunches the day before. Also, our school district gives us plastic arm bands for each child and adult in case of an emergency with the student's name, our school name and the phone number of our school. Our school also gives us a cell phone to take in case the bus breaks down or any other unforseen needs arise.
Prepare youself. Go to the field trip site to see and do what the students will do. Talk to the people in charge and ask what they expect. Then prepare the students. Tell them everything you can about what to expect to see or do. Be clear about behavior expectations. Prepare other chaperones with exactly what is expected of them and what is expected of the students. Be sure they have permission to correct or to bring to your attention ANY problems.
As the field trip organizer for the seven kindergarten classes in our school, I find that being sure enough transportation is available for the trip is the most important variable. Calling for buses as soon as you can and reminding the transportation department every few weeks seem to be the best way to ensure the correct number of buses will show up on time for your trip.