In any science activity, the safety and well being of students is the most important priority. Teachers are ultimately responsible for their students and must follow all school and professional requirements to ensure student safety. It is not the intent in these short paragraphs to make specific safety recommendations for every situation and eventuality. Excellent resources are available on safety in science teaching and all teachers should be aware of these. Less safety information is available for science at the elementary level, but the National Science Teachers Association has produced one excellent new book (Kwan & Texley, 2002).
Here we only offer a few general suggestions to help ensure that field trips and other outdoor investigations are successful, meaningful, and safe. As a general rule, plan ahead so you can avoid problems on the day of your scheduled activity.
Before ever planning any activities, you should have communicated with parents and obtained written information of specific health problems, allergies, or other safety concerns for individual students. Parent permission forms are essential for all field trips and outdoor activities. Make sure you have enough chaperones for your trip and have followed all other school rules and procedures. If you take students to visit a stream or beach, you should visit the site before taking the students.
Ask yourself the following questions.
• Is the site appropriate for the lesson? For example, if your students will look for insect larvae in a stream, make sure the stream supports such animals.
• Is the site safe and free from natural or man-made dangers? For example, is the stream bank free of dangerous litter or poisonous plants? Be alert for any indication of animals that could bite or sting.
• Check the depth of the water, the speed of the current, and the water temperature.
• Are all aspects of the site accessible for your students with special needs?
• Is there parking and/or turn-around space for a school bus or other vehicle to be used?
• Is there access to bathrooms when needed?
• If you plan to have a meal or snack during your visit, learn if there are picnic areas and a place for students to wash their hands before eating. If the site you are to visit is located in a local, state, or federal park, make contact with park rangers or staff as part of your planning before the trip.
• Meet the rangers or staff and discuss with them the date and time for your class visit.
• Ask if the park staff can recommend a good site for your visit. Ask if they are able to give you any assistance in planning or presenting activities to be held at the site.
• Learn if there is a visitor center, park office, or other buildings that could be part of your visit. Are there bathrooms available for students? Also, if students may need to change clothes, where can they do this?
• Find out the emergency phone number for the park so that you can share this with your school and with parents.
Make sure students are well prepared before
any field trip or outdoor activity. In addition to class preparations for learning activities,
students should know why and when they will take the trip, and they should know exactly what to bring with them. Parents should also be well informed by a written letter explaining the purpose of the trip, the date and times, and everything students will need to bring with them on that day. Depending on the trip, students may need to bring the following.
• Shoes and clothes to get wet and muddy.
• A change of clothes.
• Jacket, hat, gloves, and rain gear. It is often cooler on the water than it is on land.
• Long pants, not shorts. Shoes or boots, not flip flops or sandals.
• Sunscreen, sunglasses, and bug spray.
• Bagged lunch or snacks and water.
• Notebook and pencil.
On the day of a field trip or outdoor activity, make sure you review all safety rules with
students and chaperones. Your safety rules might include the following.
• Stay with your group members at all times.
• Stay in the designated area, and do not go near or into the water.
• Keep your shoes on at all times to protect your feet from harm.
• Keep out of dunes and do not step on any plants.
• Do not touch any wildlife that you find or taste any water or plants.
• Learn what poison ivy and poison oak look like, and avoid these plants.
• Do not eat any food without first carefully washing your hands.
Finally, when you take students on a field trip or outdoor activity, make sure that you are well prepared yourself. Have a first aid kit with you and know how to use it. Make sure you have not overlooked any of your school requirements for field trips. You should certainly have health information for all your students with you, and contact numbers so you can quickly reach a parent or guardian in the case of any accident. Remember the most important rule: think of the worst thing that might happen and then plan accordingly.
Adapted from Virginia's Water Resources—A Tool for Teachers. 2003. By Jeremy M. Lloyd, PhD and Kathleen Register. Published by Clean Virginia Waterways and Longwood University. Farmville, Virginia. http://www.longwood.edu/cleanva/images/Introductionpdf.pdf
Exploring Safely: A Guide for Elementary Teachers. Kwan, T., & Texley, J. (2002). Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association Press.