Ultimate guide to planning school trips

This ultimate guide will help you to learn tricks of the trade form over 50 experienced
school trip, school camp and educational tour leaders and experienced teachers.

The ultimate guide to planning school trips, educational tours and school camps

We have worked in the educational tour, school camp and school trip industry since 2009. Our first school group was from World Challenge and they visited our turtle project in the Perhentian Islands. We have since led over 5,000 participants and now handle approximately 50 groups per year, well not in 2020!

Even if you are experienced its always nerve wracking to lead school trips especially if you are camping with a large number of students or its your first time ever.  Therefore, we have decided to help teachers and educational tour group leaders by developing this ultimate guide which we hope will help you to be well prepared to manage your next school trip.

To make this ultimate guide we have spoken to over 50 educators, school camp organisers and facilitators and asked them for their handy tips and advice.

Why lead a school trip
Stats about the impacts of school trips on students
How to get a school trip off the ground
Selling the programme to the students and parents
Ultimate pre school trip check list
Departure
During the school camp
After the camp
Resources

Why Lead A School Trip

So first of all, why should you lead a school trip?  One thing that has stood out during our personal experience, and research, are the positive impacts of the trips on the students. Nearly all teachers said the school camps helped the students to become more independent and made lasting memories. Personally, a lot of my school memories are from camps. For example, when I completed the high ropes course and leap of faith in my final year at primary school at Skern lodge. I also remember bumping into my mum whilst we stopped at a service station on a cricket tour. The same is true with your students. These are memories will last forever.  One teacher put it well “experiences always stick with students much longer than the skills we teach. The only thing I remember from 6th grade is building a den that I slept in during camp.” For school trips abroad then the memories are even more vivid as students will experience new foods, smells, sounds and activities. Always remember you are helping the students to develop and make life long memories, if that is not incentive enough, I don’t know what will be.
infographic - why join a school trip abroad

Here We Have Some School Trip Stats

We have scoured the web for some awesome stats that will help you to persuade people to join your school camps. We made some infographics for you to see and use. PLEASE use the infographics in your presentations to parents and wherever you like.  The stats have come from reputable sources with a few quotes from experienced teachers. Below are some comments, quotes and stats we have found and would like to share “Research shows that healthier and happier children do better in school.  Additionally education is an important determinant of future health. But education is not just about lessons within the four walls of a classroom. The outdoor environment encourages skills such as problem solving and negotiating risk which are important for child development.” https://theconversation.com/outdoor-learning-has-huge-benefits-for-children-and-teachers-so-why-isnt-it-used-in-more-schools-118067 In a study by the US Travel Association, they surveyed 400 parents, 200 never been on a school trip and 200 who had.  They found out that “regardless of gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, youth who take educational trips have better grades (59 percent), higher graduation rates from high school (95%) and college (63%), and greater income (12% higher annually). In fact, 89% said educational trips had a positive, lasting impact on their education. The trips made them more engaged, intellectually curious and interested in and out of school.”https://www.neamb.com/work-life/how-field-trips-boost-students-lifelong-success
infographic - why school trips are great for students

How to get a school trip off the ground

I hear you say, YES, I want to lead a school camp or educational tour. But how?  If you are reading this then you must already be online researching. Looking for terms such as school trip provider and school trip ideas.  Read on and learn from the experienced teachers about how to get your school camp off the ground!

Types of educational tours, school trips and school camps and what to consider

Before you can start researching you need to think what sort of experience you want. Do you want to lead an educational tour, school trip abroad or a good old school camp.  Which one you choose will affect your activities, locations and itineraries.
Activities
Think what is the purpose of the school trip, is it more academic like a geography field trip. Is it more focused towards service and volunteering. Perhaps you just want them to have fun, bond and relax.  Once you know the purpose then you can start thinking about the activities. When designing activities think about the age of the students. If the group has mixed ages, think if the older and younger students can do the activity together or not.  The best programmes combine all aspects so the school trip is very varied and exciting
Time of year for school camps
Think about the time of year and the climate. If you are doing a conservation service project is it the best time.  For example, a turtle project, is it the right time of year for doing turtle volunteer work. Also what will the weather be like?  Monsoon seasons can really be a great time to go. During monsoon seasons there are less tourists and you can do different activities like surfing. However you need to think about weather impacts and do more weather independent activities.
Itinerary
The itinerary and structure of the programme is actually really important. For example, don’t have the BEST most exciting activity on the first day.  Always have a set routine for wake ups, meal times and activity start times.  The last day needs to have a BANG. When making a programme I always try to end the programmes on a fun activity. We often go white water rafting on our last day for this reason.

Using a school trip provider or go alone

I would say its always best to go with a school trip provider because you never know what may happen and its best to have someone who has local experience. They will know what is and what isn’t possible on trips. They will also know little tricks of the trade and local knowledge at particular locations.

How to assess a school camp provider

Here is some advice from a freelance facilitator they point out some important things to note.
Having worked with a range of outdoor education providers, each company have different strengths and weaknesses. They will have different specialities in terms of style and environment. Think about what you’re aims are for the trip and choose accordingly. While each will tell you it does everything, some are stronger at different aspects. Some maybe stronger on the activities and personal development. Whilst others are more involved in terms of conservation and sustainability. The feel of the trip will also be entirely dependent on the individuals they employ. Therefore its important for you to check their typical backgrounds and experience. Comparing companies’ backgrounds, SOPs and risk management policies is also a very easy way to assess their experience.”
For me, as a provider the best teachers are the ones who are involved. It’s a two-way partnership and small details are very important. So I personally think you need to find an organisation whom you personally can work well with.  You know the students better than the school trip provider and will know better their food and activity preferences.

In a nutshell

First decide the aim and purpose of the trip. Do you want more voluntary service or team building and personal development. Do you want the students to develop field work skills and use the site visit as case studies? Only then you can start your research of relevant programmes and providers. Research the providers and contact them, speak on the phone. Organise a visit, mainly get a feel of them and how they work and if you are both compatible.  Talk to them about their safety records and SOPs, their facilitators and ask them for contact details of past school teachers they have worked with.

Selling the programme to the students and parents

Now you have found a great programme and provider. You think the programme will be popular with the students and parents with great aims and outcomes. So how do you promote the school trip to the students and importantly the parents? We asked this question to our experienced teachers and leaders and here are the general tips.

Presenting to Students

  • Promote the trips as early as possible
  • Provide lots of photos and vidoes
  • If possible, ask the provider to come in and talk to the students. Get the students doing some short activities related to the school trip like short team building games. This will get them feeling good about the school camp.
  • For older students show that this programme is about building or cementing your friendships and look good for university applications.
  • Make the trip look fun but also challenging.
  • One I find works with kids these days is show off the food and accommodation, if its nice. It’s taken me by surprise but food and standard of accommodation is becoming an increasingly important factor for students.  I think its because they are used to traveling so much. IF, there is a pool at the accommodation SHOW THAT OFF.

Below is a video story by a friend of mine who has made the story book for kids called the Box People.  It highlights the importance of the benefits of nature.  

Presenting to parents

One of the most seemingly daunting tasks is presenting to the parents and this shouldn’t really be the case. Change the presentation completely and present to the parents what they want to know.  Pre-empt the parent’s questions and answer them in your presentation. Here are some great tips and advice from our experienced crowd.
  • If it’s your schools first time with a new provider, and/or at a new location then it’s imperative for the provider to talk to the parents directly. Parents will ask more specific questions than the students. The provider should be able to answer all the parent’s questions and be knowledgeable.  The parents need to feel they can trust you and the provider with their children.
  • Be honest, if there are risks say there is a risk, but stress how the risks are managed. The key is in the detail.
  • Clear payment schedules. Not all parents find it easy to pay for educational tours and school trips.  They may have 2 or 3 children all going on trips at the same time.
  • One reason why we have made the infographics above is for you to use during your presentations. Use the infographics to highlight to the parents the BENEFITS of the trips to the students.
  • Link the trip focus/aims to your schools guiding statements,
  • Point out how the trips are a means to show universities that your child is a risk taker, shows resilience and is willing to face challenge and see value in activities outside the classroom. (This is one way I engage parents whose children are wrapped up in cotton wool. They think academic qualifications are all that’s needed to ace a top university place).

 

Ultimate pre school trip check list

This is a chronological check list to ensure your school camp goes without a hitch! The list below has information about the tasks. You can download the check list in an easy to understand tick box format below.

Download the Ultimate pre school trip check list !

Plan dates

I would go through this list and work back chronologically from the day you depart.  This way you can work out when things need to happen.

Build your core team!

It may seem a bit early but you need to think who will be your on camp senior leaders. I would select 1 or 2 right hand people and get them involved as early as possible.  It is always better to have a few brains rather than one.  These core people will help with decision making and leading if you are unable.

Ensure these people add a different flavour and are hyper and organised.  I love music and drama teachers.  Music is very important on camp.  If a teacher can play a guitar or recorder and play on camp that would be awesome. Drama teachers are great as they normally have 101 ice breaker and energizer games which can help if there any low points.

Site visit

Once you have your core team, do a site visit with the core team. If your educational tour is abroad set up a skype session. Get to know your provider better and ask plenty of detailed questions.  Ask them about dates, transportation, responsibilities, payment schedules and indemnity forms.

Now you are ready and armed with the information to send off letters to the parents, these letters should include

Payment details

Send these to the parents early with a payment schedule and refund policy, these must be signed by the parents.

School trip planning check list
School trip planning equipment list
Permission slips and indemnity forms
These have to be signed by a legal adult which means someone 18 or over. This means the parents will most likely have to sign. MOST if not all providers will have their own.  Check with the school and see if the schools indemnity forms already cover the school trip provider. If the schools indemnity covers the providers then send them a copy. Incase the schools indemnity does not cover the provider then the parents or participants who are 18 years and over will need to sign. When scuba diving is involved then a self-assessed medical form will need to be completed and signed. If the PADI medical is not completed when you arrive you will have a problem. The students who are 17 and under will need to get their form signed by their parents and sent electronically before ANY in water scuba diving activities can take place.  Indemnity forms are important for liability and also if there is an accident to help the teacher and provider to act as guardians for the student. Indemnity forms are very important and always best to get them out of the way early, expect parents to ask many questions.
Scanned copy of passport
You will often need a scanned copy of the students passport. Obtain the scanned copies early especially for international travel. In Malaysia we need these for entering the national parks and forest reserves.
Student detail form
Your school may already have this. If not, you will need all the student details, full name, nickname, gender, passport number, country as per passport, next of kin details, diets and allergy issues.  The best way is to set up a google form and then send the parents the link or you may have something with your school or university intranet.  The idea is to have a system which populates an electronic spreadsheet to save you time.
Electronic copies
Get all these saved electronically and email them to yourself. I recommend you also save them on your desktop for easy access. Then print out hard copies!.  Get a folder with all this in.

Visa’s

If you are travelling abroad ensure you understand the visa requirements for your students.  Do this nice and early like 6 months in advance.  Ensure the students passport is valid for 6 months after they are back from the trip. If you are traveling into Malaysia for your school trip then check out the immigration website here https://www.imi.gov.my/index.php/en/entry-requirements-into-malaysia.html

Building your team

Now, if you have a small group then you should be fine with 2/3 adult leaders but if you have 40+ students you will need a bigger team. You will need a minimum of 1 teacher to 10 students. I recommend 1 to 10 plus yourself so you are free.  This will mean during the school trip the provider will probably provide 1 staff to every 10 students meaning you have a combined adult team of 1 adult to 5 students.  Which is a very good ratio. The key to choosing people is making sure they really want to go.  Don’t take helpers who don’t want to go. You need cheerful people whom the students can relate easily with and a team of people with different skills. Some better at first aid, some better at music, sports, arts etc.  When you are on a school camp the students attitude often is reflected from the teachers.  If the teachers are low and not enjoying themselves this will reflect onto the students who will also be low. If a teacher is really enjoying it, they will spur on the students.

Kit list

Get the final kit list from the provider and ask where best to buy and which items are essential.

Write your Team notes – Detailed Itinerary, PIC’s and menu

Up until now you probably will have had a rough itinerary. Now is the time to ask for a detailed itinerary with rain back up plans and menu’s.  The itinerary should include if free times are structured or not structured and if the provider will provide games and activities or not.  In my experience, free time means the provider won’t provide any activities and the teachers can lead activities if they like. I suggest even during free time there are a few scheduled activities though NOT included on the itinerary the students get. The teachers should get an itinerary we call Team Notes, this document is basically an annotated itinerary.  The team notes will even include tasks of what to do for the next day and who is doing what.  Remember in the team notes to include FREE TIME for staff as well as they will need some down time for sure.

Organise at least 3 meetings with the students.

Before you depart, you will need to organise a few meetings with the students.  We recommend at least 3 meetings with the purposes of each being different.
Meeting 1)
Focus on bonding games. Bonding games help the students to get to know each other and so you get to know the students.  Getting to know the students will help with group and room selections. Give the students a kit list and email it to the parents through your communication channels
Meeting 2)
Learn about the topics covered in the school trip. For example if you are doing a marine conservation school trip then get the students to present topics on marine conservation.  This time I would ask the students to write down their favourite music so you or one of the teachers can compile them onto a USB stick
Meeting 3)
The last meeting should be discussing specifics like rooming partners (ask them to write their preferred room mates so you can then mix and match) and last minute planning and going over kit lists again.

What tasks to delegate to your team

I would delegate tasks to your team a minimum of 2 weeks before the start of the school camp. Go through the detailed team notes and allocate tasks as below.
  1. First aid kits including thermometers
  2. Reflection questions and activities
  3. Free time equipment – frisbee, football, board games, rounders equipment
  4. USB stick with music which the student like – make a few copies for different transport ie if your group moves in 2 buses at the same time you need at least 2 USB sticks.
  5. Cable extension
  6. Coffee and kettle
  7. Zip locked bags
  8. Extra batteries
  9. At least one school phone for communication and DON’T USE YOUR PERSONAL PHONE.
  10. Detailed notes for all with all important contact numbers
  11. Set up whats app group between staff for easy communication
  12. Set up communication channel with the parents – one way for photos and daily updates NOT two way.
  13. Back up phone cables
  14. A lockable box
  15. List of games for wet weather back up
  16. Insurance policy with all contact details – SAVED ONLINE AS WELL, things easily get lost and missed places which will make you panic!
  17. Contingency money, always have some spare money to buy ice creams or whatever

Departure

It’s time, all that prep and now you are going to be making lasting memories for all your students. The day before, if your provider hasn’t contacted you, contact the provider. You can discuss all the final details and the pick up times etc.  If you are booking your bus then call the bus company to get the number of the actual bus drivers.  Then contact the bus drivers directly and share location of where to meet them.  They will normally arrive 30-60 minutes early. Ensure the parents are reminded through your one-way communication channel.   Remind the parents that IF they don’t arrive by x time the bus will leave. If a student is late, give the parents a call and see where they are.  Try not to be to leave late because that will have repercussions and you don’t want to rush your bus driver.

On Site

Here are a few of our tips for making the trip a great one!

Music on school camp

We have mentioned it a few times but MUSIC is a must, especially for a proper ‘in tent’ school camp.  Music really changes the mood. Use upbeat music so the students can dance.  For journey’s have music the students can sing too. You can throw in some golden oldies as well as surprisingly a lot of the students know some of the classics. I always remember one group loved my playlist as it was full of Queen and their dads all play Queen at home.

Games

Have lots of back up short and snappy games. Here are a few from our experts

  1. Uno card game,
  2. Mancala African stone game
  3. Cribbage Card game & travel board
  4. Farkle dice game
  5. Active games that are inclusive and not too skills based so all kids can join in, or let them select from choices,
  6. treasure hunts, scavenger hunts are always good and fun.
  7. Eye Spy,
  8. I went to Market,
  9. Card games – Uno.
  10. Frisbee.

 

Dealing with student problems – disruption and homesickness.

Its likely that some of the kids and staff will get home sick or be disruptive, especially if you have a large group or are away for a long trip of 2-8 weeks.

Here are some advice from our experienced teachers.

“Disruption usually happens with kids who are either fearful of looking incompetent or are bored. If you determine it’s the first, then you can try to identify the source of the fear: don’t want to fail in front of others, don’t have the background knowledge, didn’t understand the prompt, etc”

“For disruptive students in activities the key is to give them something of importance, or at least reined importance, especially if it’s a social issue. Once they feel they’re responsible for a key duty they tend to take on this with enthusiasm, especially the more confident disruptive ones. As an instructor is usually the quite detached ones that are more of an issue. With these involvements may need to be heavily encouraged with additional prompts.”

“If you can create an environment where the students take on responsibility to support each other then this is by far the most effective situation to dispel homesickness. Often homesickness is purely an attention seeking strategy, and even where it isn’t, paying too much attention to the issue can be far more damaging than helpful—it’s a delicate balance.” 

Expect changes and issues during school camps

Sometimes things just don’t go right!  The key to this is to have things planned as best as possible and have back up plans!  Say it rains all morning and you can’t do an activity as planned.  They you need to go into the back up plan. Your provider should have some back up activities planned and also games.

It is always great if the teachers could have a few games up their sleeves as gap fillers as well.  Always expect there to be an accident, so IF heavens for bid it does happen, you are expecting it, and so you don’t panic.

How to deal with an accident during school trips

Time and communication are the most important things with this.  If an accident happens the teachers need to work closely with the providers.  In my experience accidents normally happen in free time, like twisting ankles whilst walking down stairs, accidents happening during sports etc etc  Here are some tips

  1. Always ensure the provider has an evacuation vehicle ready and that the keys are in a safe place! The vehicle has spare cash in case fuel runs out and for whatever happens.
  2. Put a hard copy of all the staff and student details inside the vehicle.
  3. Send one staff, one provider and a friend of the patient
  4. If the person going to the hospital is the leader inform your teacher team and assign someone as the new leader. This is why having a few senior team members is important. They may not be senior at the school but senior for the school camp.
  5. RELAX, you are going to hospital and will be in good care
  6. Inform the school and if its minor ONCE you have information then inform the parents. If major, then of course inform the parents straight away. If it’s a sprained ankle then that’s minor and you will only worry the parents until you have more news from the doctor.
  7. Write what happened down as it happens to help with specifics for your accident report form.

How to deal with special diets

Special diets should be informed to the providers at least 3 to 4 weeks before the start and they should then give you a menu. It is important to add the teachers in this list as well! In my experience the leaders diet requirements are often missed out and then we need to make changes onsite which causes some stress.

Allergies are the main issue, ensure you talk with the parents to get a clearer picture of the allergy. ALSO ask about what the student likes to eat.  Then portray this info to the provider and they should deal with the rest.  But at meal times ensure you have an eppy pen available if they have been required before.  The provider should double check the kitchen to ensure what they have is allergen free.

Assign a few students to be school trip photographers

In each group of students assign a student to take photos and videos.  This is really important for remembering the experience.

Reflections

In my experience its best to have reflections each night which are fun, more game focused and then have a more serious one on the last night.  BUT finding the right time and location to do a reflection is important.

I like to play games like charades and pictionary.  The students will write down their own experiences from the day for the subjects to act or draw.  Make it competitive and then you have a reflection activity that is a fun game and doesn’t feel like a reflection.

Here is what the teachers said

“We found that our students didn’t want to write anything down!!  However, it is always great at the end of the day to sit down together as a team and discuss the day’s events.  What went well, what needs improving etc”

“ A common theme through the week helps them structure their ideas during reflections – small daily ones can build up to a big one at the end of the trip where you go over the ideas they have come up with throughout the week.”

“Would you rather….or…? is a an excellent journal prompt. For example, after a day on the trail, Would you rather pick leeches off your ankles or swat mosquitoes?  After a few of these, the students will be able to create their own and you can use them.”

“video it, podcast it, draw it, act it – anything but write it down which is the boring one. Or ask them questions that are quirky and a little different which make them sit up and think.”

 

The last night

The last night is really important, if we have a large group we would do a talent show with fire breathers and a little disco at the end. Its important to get the students involved in planning and hosting this. BUT be warned you will likely be called up to do a performance with the teachers – this is why I said having a music teacher is important 😊

If you have a smaller group have a BBQ with the students cooking, build a bon fire, play a guitar, cook smores, play some music and games and watch the stars.

After the experience

Let the students go home and relax, time for you to relax and give yourself and your team a pat on the back. You have just one more thing to do. That is ask the students to create a presentation to show to their parents. Use the students who were taking photos to make a presentation or video and use this with voice overs from the students talking about their experience of the school trip.  They can either present this live to their parents or you could film it and send them the video link.  This will cement the learning and experience for the students and show to the parents why school trips are important. Right then, Good luck, and relax. As one of our favourite teachers said – relax and enjoy the experience, school camps are far better than marking books.

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You can adopt one of our turtles in the Perhentian islands.  Through our turtle photo ID database we have identified over 260 turtles that have been seen around the Perhentian Islands.  Support our important conservation and adopt today.

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