Taking a Youth Group on a Trip
By David Subu and Ron Tucci
Also see: Youth Trip Checklist
What is an outing? An outing is any youth activity that involves transporting a group of youth together to a site away from the parish and or their parents. Typical outings include trips to museums, amusement parks and service projects.
Those of us who have been working with and planning outings for the children know very well that planning them is essential; however, we also know that in rare instances do the outings go exactly as planned. As many plans and backup plans that we may have something challenging comes along. Be at peace and know that many of us have and can share incredible stories of where the youth event progressed differently than expected. As youth coordinators and event planners, we are doing something very important and we must keep in mind that our children need to be together and to share the faith.
There are tricks to every trade and the Youth and Young Adult Office would like to share some ideas with others. Included at the end of this article is a checklist of things you will need for your outings and we also added for your convenience “20-something Ideas for a Youth Outing.” Many blessings and God’s saving grace be with you as you venture into the holy work of event planning.
First and foremost, it is essential to set dates, contact parents, locate a facility, send out and have parents fill out permission slips and insurance forms. (You will need to have emergency medical information handy at all events. This is a must.) This overhead planning is very time consuming and you may want to break up job responsibilities. Have others help you. Appoint a contact person who will handle the insurance forms and permission slips. This will give you the freedom to explore the outing place or facility in more detail and to handle your other responsibilities.. From now on, the outing facility or place will be referred to as the “site.”
Well before the date of the trip you should be familiar with the site. You will want to know the hours of operation, the cost, if any, including special group rates and requirements for tax exemption, and any requirements that the site operators may have for incoming groups.
You may need to arrange transportation for your group. Arranging transportation is important, and it must be flexible to accommodate last minute additions. If you are contracting outside providers, such as a bus company, make sure they are kept aware of the schedule. If you are using a caravan of volunteer drivers, you should make sure that all the drivers are legal, of majority (at least 25 years of age or older), and that the vehicle they will be using has enough seat belts for each youth to be transported. All drivers should have directions to the site in case you are split up. You should also have a means of contacting each other if any get lost or breakdown.
Check to make sure all forms are completed and in your possession before going on the trip. This includes a release form (permission slip) and insurance information and emergency contacts. Do not leave without having your forms and do not take any child on an event unless they have these forms filled out. It will be your responsibility if something goes wrong and a child needs medical attention. Likewise any and all staff, volunteer or otherwise who will be involved should also have similar forms completed. Having all this information helps to safeguard both the youth and youth ministers. You should also have some method of keeping track of participants when off-site, such as a sign-in/ check-in, roll call, and/or head-count sheet. Lastly, in case of an injury or accident, you should have an “incident report” form as well. Examples of each of these is provided at the end of this article.
Have a rules talk. Establish rules of conduct for the youth and go over them more than once with them. Recommended rules include the three buddy-system: everyone should be in a group of three or more people at all times. Those who are found without at least two others get to stay with the activity coordinator until they can be placed with a suitable group. Tell the youth that their adult group leader(s) should know where they are at all times and trips to the bathroom should be done in groups of at least two for safety. Also, for day-long activities where youth will be spread out such as at amusement parks, it is useful to have one or more check-in times during the day.
Upon arriving at a site, and before taking youth into the site or even off the “bus,” it is best to first have the coordinator go into the site and confirm with the site staff the schedule for the day, rules of conduct, and so on, and if possible, to settle the bills. Have a full head count of all youth and adults ready to go and before anyone enters the site. All youth and staff should be reminded to take the same vehicle on the return trip to make head counting go quickly and smoothly.
It is important to know what schedule that the site has for your group, since it may not be the same as your own! Some tours, for example, will require you to split up a larger group into two or more smaller groups. Be prepared to offer alternative activities for any who have to wait for the next turn. If the site is offering a mix of structured and non-structured activities, then all staff and youth need to know when and where they should be for the structured activities. For example, many museums may offer special programs, such as Omnimax/Imax theaters, that are available only at certain times. Your group may be scheduled for this but the rest of your time may be for exploring the museum as desired. All youth and staff will need to know when and where they should be. If the outing site is not one with professional operators such as many public or state parks, then you as outing coordinator must fill that role.
As soon as possible, select a central, stationary point as home base for your group. This may be a pavilion at a park, an area of a museum, etc. All staff and youth need to be made aware of this location. The group should be taken to this place first before allowed to separate into any groups and go off on their own. This stationary site must be staffed at all times by one, preferably two, of your staff. They can then help any youth who come in with problems or questions. If the group will be eating at the site, then this station should be the place for that. This should also be the place for check-ins and rounding the group up in time of bad weather and departure.
In addition to the stationary staff, one or two wandering staff should be assigned to make rounds and check on youth as needed. If the site is exceptionally large, as are some amusement parks, an additional stationary staff member on the other side of the park is advisable. In order to really facilitate the use and placement of staff on site, invest in portable two-way radios. These are also useful if more than one vehicle is being used. Cellular phones are also useful, but primarily for communicating with people back home.
If your youth group is composed of children and pre-teens (7-9 and 10-12 years old), it is necessary to have adult supervision. One adult per every five to six children or pre-teens is suggested, with two adults for groups of 8 or more children or pre-teens. Mature teens (13-17 years old) are suitable as assistants to adults in this regard. “At the very least, the double coverage rule is recommended for every 8 younger children (under 13) and every 15 older youth (13-17).” (Do the Right Thing) The responsibility of these adults is to supervise and guide the youth through the activities, to make sure they don’t get lost, and that they get to the bus on time.
Some trips require that meals be a part of the activity, either at the site or en route. In any case, make sure that the food is kept and served at the proper temperatures and by the proper sanitary means. If you are depending on a caterer or restaurant, make sure that you have coordinated with them the meal times and the amount of people to be served. If the meal requires the youth to return to a central location at a certain time, they need to be told this clearly before setting off on their activity.
Even if there is no meal planned, bring water and some small snacks. During summer time activities, heat, sun, and dehydration must be protected against with drinks and sun-block and other means of cooling off. Likewise in winter, outdoor activities require children to be properly dressed and staff should have some blankets and hand warmers at the ready. Overnight activities likewise need extra planning and equipment, especially when outdoors. And, of course, bad weather can change any schedule, so be prepared.
When your group is ready to leave the site, gather at your central meeting point and take a head count. It’s better to do this here and now before you load the vehicles and potentially have some people in the site and some outside of it. A missing person is of course the greatest concern and worry. A misplaced person is often the greatest headache, once the relief of them being found sets in. Keeping your group together as much as possible is the best way of preventing such situations from becoming worse.
Once in the vehicles, take another head count. Once everyone is accounted for, set off for home! You should try to return as closely to the scheduled time as possible, especially if parents are going to be waiting to pick up their kids at a set time. This is why pleas to stay a little longer cannot be listened to in most situations. Once you return to the parish or starting point of the outing, make sure that all youth are returned or picked up. Staff may need to stay behind to wait for late parents who need to pick up their children.
Later on, make sure to file the forms, attendance sheets, and any incident reports. You may want to make copies of any incident reports and file them also at a diocesan level so that all levels of administration can have that information in case of any questions or concerns that might arise. This is typically not the case but it is good for everyone involved to be properly informed. For more info, see Doing the Right Thing available from the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, PO Box 675 Syosset NY 11791 or http://www.oca.org/yya.