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How Chaperoning a School Field Trip Made Me a Better Parent

I recently chaperoned my first elementary school field trip. It was an eye-opening experience in more ways than one.

Chaperones are not allowed to travel on the bus with students, so I drove myself and met the group at the location, a local ranch.

When the children arrived, my daughter ran to me, hand in hand with a classmate. “This is my partner today, Mommy!” she told me.

I looked down and read his name tag and felt a pang of panic.

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I regularly explain to my child the only behavior she needs to focus on in school is her own. But she loves to share with me all the details of her day. It’s not so much that my daughter tattles on her classmates; she has no malice in her. She just likes to tell me everything about school.

I can’t get her to stop talking about it, and honestly I don’t want to. Eventually, I know she will clam up. So I’m soaking these early, enthusiastic and somewhat naïve days of her education up while I can.

Because she operates in full disclosure mode all the time, I know when other kids have bathrooms accidents, or get boo boos on the playground. I know what everybody likes to have for lunch. I am also aware of which ones are disciplined for behavior issues.

The child I was assigned to on the field trip has experienced his fair share of those, which made me a little concerned about being responsible for him that day. It turns out our pairing was a gift in disguise.

The field trip was a welcome reminder of how important it is to praise my own child regularly.

Here’s what I learned about my charge:

He has lots of energy. In other words, sitting still is not his strong point. No big shocker; he’s 5 years old. Fortunately, the field trip was outdoors and included lots of opportunities for him to move his body. But I tried to picture him in the classroom setting and how hard it must be for him.

He’s impulsive. This sounds a lot like the small child who lives in my home. When he saw something that interested him, he grabbed for it. He didn’t think about safety or appropriateness or rules. He just knew he wanted to touch it.

His listening skills need some work. Again, I could say the same about my own child. It is one of my greatest frustrations, an issue I have approached from a variety of directions with minimal success. But when I got down on his level and made eye contact, as I try to do with her, he responded well.

He loves to explore and to learn. I don’t know anything about his living situation, but much of the ranch experience seemed to be new to him. With every discovery his eyes sparked and his smile widened. He approached the day with absolute glee. All of the kids did.

When the field trip ended, I walked hand in hand with him to the bus. “I’d like to thank you for being my buddy today," I told him as we walked. “I really enjoyed spending time with you.”

With that, he abruptly stopped walking and looked up at me with big brown eyes filled with disbelief. I knelt down on one knee.

“It was fun making new discoveries with you today. I hope I will get to see you again soon. Can I have a hug?”

There was no hesitation in his response. He threw his arms around me and came in for an enthusiastic squeeze.

More is being asked of Kindergartners today than ever before. In many ways, the expectations are not developmentally appropriate. Some kids are able to adjust better than others.

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The field trip was a welcome reminder of how important it is to praise my own child regularly, looking for opportunities to “catch” her doing things right. To guide her with more loving, positive reinforcement and less strong words and discipline.

And above all, to let her be a 5-year-old kid.

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