In my 15 years of teaching experience, I have been on countless trips. Some for the day, some with an overnight stay, some extending over the whole week. All are great fun but incredibly tiring and a little bit stressful. The number of times I have experienced the school trip from the other side, as a parent, are far fewer. Today was my third opportunity to experience a school trip with my son’s school. Last year, when he was in Reception, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to a local church and Cotswold Wildlife Park with him and his class. Two very different trips, but both very structured and involved us moving around the church/wildlife park all together. Today’s trip was completely different again. We went to the Redwood Outdoor Learning Centre for a bit of Forest Schools experience.

A trip viewed from the other side is a very different experience. The parents waited in the school hall for the children; we sat chatting quietly until 5 classes of very excited Reception and Year 1 children filed in and sat down neatly in their lines. I didn’t have to stand outside toilets chivvying children along. I didn’t have to ask 30 times whether everyone had their bags/coats/lunch with them as they lined up. I didn’t have to deal with the possibility of a child turning up without their lunch and have to deal with the frantic scramble to put a lunch bag together. I didn’t have to go along the line with the bag/coat/hat of a child who had missed the 30 times of being told to take everything with them. And I didn’t have to deal with the fallout when someone wasn’t in a group with their best friend.

It was great.

I just waited for the chaos to become organised (chaos) and for the children to arrive. My head counting didn’t extend beyond 5 today. I checked a few seatbelts, but only a row or two in front and behind where I was sitting. When a girl fell over, I started heading her way but retreated when the classteacher began to approach her. When the class all raced to a gate and one fell over, I carried on my leisurely stroll while the teacher ran towards her.

Now, in all this, I’m probably making myself sound like a rubbish parent helper. I wasn’t: I made sure my group were (mostly) where they should be, I helped out with organising the toilet queue and I chatted with the children at lunchtime. I ran through the woods with my group hunting for pictures (and asked for help when I realised we were hopeless!), I dragged logs to build a beanstalk with the best of the children and I reinforced the “no pick, no lick, be careful with that stick” rules. I did what a parent helped should do.

I still came home absolutely exhausted, just like when I’m the one in charge. But I actually sat down and ate my lunch and chatted with a friend, I drank more than a sip of water all day, I watched the children play without having to monitor everything they did and I went home without a pounding headache.

School trips when you’re in charge are a great experience. You get to see your children in a different light. You get to see what they’ve learned and how they behave in a new environment. You see their relationships and how they interact with each other. But it’s even more enlightening when you aren’t the one in charge and the child in the new light is your own.

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