Taking field trips with special needs children

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Fieldtrips are a part of school life

Most schools have them, and international schools are no exception. I just went with my nonverbal special needs child on two. They were very different from each other.

One was a no-brainer and the other could have been if I had been prepared more.

Let’s start with the “no-brainer”.

It was to the zoo, a place that we have frequently gone to as a family; a place that I’m very familiar with. I know where all the bathrooms are and which ones have handicap stalls. I know where the eating places are – the ones that sell Chinese noodles and the ones that sell corndogs. I know this place without using the map, though the map is in a language I can’t read. Been there. Done that.

The trip was exactly what my other two children would say, “Easy peezy lemon squeezy.”

A high-stress fieldtrip

The other fieldtrip was to a small village known for DIY (Do-It-Yourself) pottery.

I knew the moment that I saw the agenda that it was going to be somewhat of a challenge. The combo of paint and my daughter alone equates a mess, but adding fragile pottery to the mixture? That day I was afraid that the shop owner was in for a new décor – Mosaic by Jie Jie.

Though staying home would have been easier, new experiences are good for her development – no matter how hard they may be for me. So, I took a deep breath, said a prayer and entered the pottery shop.

It was not a lemon squeezy easy type of trip and my stress levels were high that day, but it wasn’t a failure either. She did paint a plate – with some help – and I learned some valuable lessons I’d like to pass onto you as a parent, or even to a teacher planning for the next fieldtrip with special needs children.

  1. Research the facility: Find out about the place. What is the food like, what is the bathroom situation? Handicap stalls? Toilet paper? I have a rule: Just carry tissue with you always, because you can never count on it being available.
  2. Pre-run fieldtrip: If there is time and opportunity, take your child there once before. If you can’t take your child, then try to go by yourself. So wish I would have done this. All my anxiety of not knowing what to expect would have been lower.
  3. Stay fluid: Allow for change when it is necessary; don’t be rigid to “the plan.” Kids attitudes and limits change, the activity may have to change, really anything on a fieldtrip could change and not go as planned. As a parent be ready to your child the best way that you can, even if that means taking them home early.
  4. Mark the calendar: My daughter was very excited about the zoo, annoyingly excited. She asked three to four times daily if we were going, so I wrote it on the calendar and we counted every day. It was good for practicing counting and days of the week.
  5. Communicate with the teacher: I actually work at the school, so I see her teacher regularly and know what they are working on and goals we have set for her. I wonder sometimes if parents and teachers, both, forget that they are on the same team. We have to work together and communication is a key to that.
  6. Language: I know that most of our fieldtrips are not in English – it’s a given since we live in Asia. If there is not a translator available, ask and see if anyone in the group can help out – sometimes a student can translate at least part of what is said.

Fieldtrips and special needs children may sound like a horrible combination, especially in a foreign country, but it doesn’t have to be. Plan, prepare, and stay fluid.

And if all else fails, afterwards go get a tea and massage. Tomorrow will be a new day.

By MaDonna Maurer

MaDonna is from a small town in the US and met her German TCK while both were working in an international school in China. You can read more about her adventures of parenting global nomads at www.raisingtcks.com.

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