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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Mom's Survival Guide to Fieldtrips with Toddlers and Preschoolers

Originally uploaded by marytsao.
As promised, here are my [obviously unedited] thoughts on how to survive fieldtrips with toddlers and preschoolers. Hope this information is helpful to you, and please feel free to leave additional tips. It's never too late to teach an old mom new tricks. What works for you?

  • Be prepared. Know where you're going, how to get there, and whether the place is open on the day you want to go. Make sure you've got your wallet, charged cell phone, and cash. If you're going to a city, make sure you've got quarters for the meter. Bring anything you need to keep your kids happy. This is important! I can't tell you how many times a bag of crackers (for Thomas) or a notebook and pen (for Emily) has saved my life. Of course, bring diapers, wipes, juice boxes, and possibly even extra clothes. Organized moms keep all of this stuff in their car in a special "just in case" bag. I'm not that organized.
  • Expect the unexpected. When you get to the children's museum and realize that it closed early, don't despair. Look for the nearest public library, park, college campus, McDonald's with a playland, shopping mall, etc. Keep a smile on your face and never let your kids see you sweat. This is especially important if you have kids who get disappointed easily and who were looking forward to the original destination. Don't make a big deal out of a change in plans and promise ice cream, the universal healer.
  • Know thy child. If your kid is better in the mornings, go on fieldtrips in the mornings. If he has a short attention span, keep it simple. Don't go where a kid sensitive to light and noise will be overwhelmed. Not every fieldtrip on every occasion is for every child. Don't feel bad about declining any fieldtrip invitation that you know is wrong for your child, for whatever reason.
  • Know thyself. I'm not a big fan of playgrounds unless I've got another adult with whom I can chat. There, I said it. You may not like museums or pools so don't feel compelled to take your child to one because it's good for her. What's good for her is spending time with a happy mom. Also, don't go on a fieldtrip during your nap time. I've seen pregnant moms bolt from playgroup when it was time for the kids (and mom) to go down. Those moms are smart.
  • Go alone. I prefer going on fieldtrips alone. I mean, my kids are with me, but we seldom go with other moms and kids. When I'm alone I can cater directly to my kids's--or to my--needs. If I sense we need to cut the outing short, we do. If I want to change plan A and go with plan B, I do. And there's no being late if I have nobody to meet.
  • Go with friends. The drawback to going alone is that I'm alone. I mean, my kids are with me, but any conversation is limited to saying things like, "Use your words!" or "Thomas, give Emily back her notebook!" Fieldtrips without other adults can be boring. Kids rarely want to discuss scenery or art or the weather. I like going on fieldtrips with other moms and kids when we can be flexible about times and she understands if I have to leave early. And sometimes there can be strength in numbers. I am more inclined to allow my children to run around in public if I'm with another mom and her kids are doing the same. Rebel moms!
  • Be creative. Going anywhere with small kids is a fieldtrip. A drive to a playground in a neighboring town followed by frozen yogurt is a fieldtrip. Going to a matinee of a G-rated, animated movie is a fieldtrip. Bringing notebooks, crayons, and a picnic lunch to the park is a fieldtrip.
  • Get while the going's good. If things just aren't going according to plan, cut the fieldtrip short and go home or cut to plan B. I do this all of the time, mostly in restaurants. If the kids are misbehaving, I have the food wrapped up and I leave. Sometimes your kid is tired or sick or just doesn't want to be where you put her. Take the cue and leave. There will be many more fieldtrips in the future.
  • Be rigid. If you know that your child is only "socially acceptable" during the hours of 9:30 and 11:30 AM, don't go on a fieldtrip at 2:30. Know your windows of opportunity and stick to them.
  • Be flexible. Set your expectations low and be prepared to change them according to your child's mood, the weather, or outside influences. Sense when a situation isn't working and then work to change it. Most of the time this equates to going home even though you've seen only one floor of art at a four-story museum.
  • Know your rights. You are allowed to be out in public with small children. Ignore any and all nasty looks or comments from strangers and those who refer to themselves as childfree. Breastfeeding a baby in public is the first hurdle for any new mom. Taking a toddler who uses screaming to communicate and can sprint like he is training for the Olympics is the second.
  • Think quality, not quantity. I go on a lot of fieldtrips with my kids, but none of them last longer than a couple of hours plus drive time. That includes trips to expensive places like Legoland. Some kids can go-go-go all day long, but my kids can't. Neither can I. I like doing things, but I don't have to stay somewhere all day to feel that I've gotten my money's worth. I'd rather leave with a smile on my face and memories of a good time.
  • Keep a good attitude. Deep breaths, counting to ten, singing softly to yourself as you run after your toddler -- use known relaxation techniques and make a conscious effort to remain calm, cool, and collected when you are on a fieldtrip. Remember that there's a glass of wine, a hot bath, or both at some point in your future. Remember, too, that one day this kid who insists that you carry him the entire time you're in the museum, one day won't even want you to drop him off where his friends can see you. Cherish these moments. (As hellish as they sometimes seem.) And don't forget that even though your kid seems entirely uninterested in the cultural event you've so lovingly brought him to observe, he will undoubtedly surprise you in a week or so by bringing up something he saw when you thought he was interested only in licking the plate glass window.