After three kids and eight years of chaperoning field trips, I have come to expect and recognize a few classic characters will be a present on every excursion. While most students assigned to parent chaperones happily go along with the field trip flow, the following list of archetypical personalities keep chaperones on their toes.
1. The Wanderer
No matter where you are or what you are looking at, The Wander meanders off to look at something else. When you leave one exhibit to move to another, The Wanderer stays behind. Of all the kids to have in your group, The Wanderer is the one who gets your heart racing, because you are constantly trying to find him or her. Losing your own kid brings about panic. Losing someone else's kid on a field trip is a terror Stephen King has yet to tap into. Kids in a group with The Wanderer get frustrated too, which is good for the chaperone. The Wanderer's classmates will often step in and say, "You're slowing us down! Knock it off!" As kids get older, peer approval means so much more than obeying some kid's mom or dad, so in this case, peer pressure works in the chaperone's favor.
2. The Know-it-All
The Know-it-All is the kid on every field trip who possibly knows more than the museum guide, and definitely knows more than you, the parent chaperone. The Know-It-All's favorite word is "actually," as in, "Actually, it's a stream, not a creek." "Actually, it's a vegetable, not a fruit." "Actually, we have 17 minutes left, not 15." At first, his or her knowledge is impressive and you are sort of amazed that it's coming from someone so young. After several hours of listening to The Know-It-All challenge everything you say, however, he or she becomes tiresome. Unlike a cocktail party where you can announce "excuse me while I get another drink," you must listen to the field trip Know-It-All without the benefit of alcohol. As with so many other qualities in children, immediate families find their precociousness endearing, but a little goes a long way for those outside his clan.
3. The Over-Sharer
The Over-Sharer will drop personal information about his or her family throughout the duration of the field trip. Over the years, via the Over-Sharer, I've learned where folks have vacationed, jobs they've lost, surgeries they've had and how much money they make. I know about arguments with landlords, reproductive highs and lows, divorce agreements, the type of beer in the fridge and the family's favorite swear words. I know about mom and dad's religious beliefs and whether or not they align with those of grandma and grandpa. I know how parents feel about the teacher, the principal and in some cases, even me. As kids get older, their filters get a little stronger and the over-sharing diminishes. For the record, I keep all information to myself, as I hope every parent chaperone would. Other kids are usually unfazed by the Over-Sharer. Ether they've heard it all before, or whatever they are doing on the field trip is more interesting.
4. The Personal Agenda Kid
The Personal Agenda Kid has already been to this field trip's destination. He knows the venue and regardless of what the class is supposed to be seeing, this kid goes where he or she wants to go. Unlike the Wanderer, who mindlessly drifts away, the Personal Agenda Kid knows the lay of this land and makes a bee line for exactly what they want to see. They are completely comfortable with their surroundings, so have no fear of getting lost or getting separated from the group. In fact, it may seem like they'd prefer it. The Personal Agenda Kid is tough on a parent chaperone, insisting that the exhibit or animal they want to see is far more interesting than whatever you suggest. It's a crapshoot as to whether the other kids will back up the Personal Agenda Kid. It doesn't matter to him, though. He's seeing what he wants to, with or without his friends.
5. The Whiner
If there is anything that makes a parent snap, it's when their kids whine. It's even worse when it's someone else's kid. The whine of children not your own triggers a strong desire to start tossing bodies overboard. The Whiner is always griping about something. They are either hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, bored, tired, their feet hurt or they have to pee. Unfortunately, you never lose The Whiner. He or she is right by your side the whole trip, reminding you that they are far from comfortable. In their defense, it's often the parent who sets The Whiner in motion by sending them on the field trip over- or under-dressed, or with the wrong type of shoes, or insisting that they drink as though they were slogging across the Sahara. The other kids will either tell the Whiner to "quit complaining about everything," or will show a remarkable ability to let The Whiner's complaints roll off of them. They have learned to tune it out. This is a good game plan for chaperones, too.
6. The 'It's All Stupid' Kid
Nothing you see or do makes this kid happy. They are out of school and you'd think that alone would be reason enough to rejoice, but no. For what ever reason, every exhibit, animal or speaker -- everything -- is stupid. I've seen the It's All Stupid Kid grow throughout the years, participating in all sorts of field trips, and it's doesn't matter where they go. To them, it's all stupid. "This is for babies." "This is so lame." "This sucks worse than the last trip sucked." His friends are used to him, though, and can tune him out or respond with a, "Why did Ms. Johnson have to put you in my group? Shut up, will ya?" Peer pressure can often get him to quiet down to a low mumble of discontent. On the plus side, if your own children are approaching adolescence, the It's All Stupid Kid is excellent practice for dealing with the soon-to-be teenager in your home.
7. The Problem Lunch Child
As every field tripper knows, the best part of the field trip is lunch. I've chaperoned field trips where the kids are asking, "When's lunch?" from the time we step off the bus. The Problem Lunch Child takes the best part of the trip and creates... problems. Instead of bringing a lunch, their parents gave them money to buy lunch, but they left the money back at school. Or they brought their money, but they can't make up their mind and use up lunchtime deciding what to buy. Or they've got a lunch, but they eat it slowly and don't get why they are being asked to hurry up. The Problem Lunch Child can also be the kid that feels compelled to comment on everyone else's lunch too. "Oh my God! You're eating THAT?" "Ew, what IS that anyway?" "I can't believe your mom let's you eat THAT!" The students in your group will tell you that this kid is a Problem Lunch Child back at school, too. A Problem Lunch Child often grows up to be a Problem Lunch Coworker. They still can't decide what to order for lunch, still take too long, still forget to bring money and/or still feel the need to comment on what everyone around them is eating. I think there is a problem lunch gene, and you just can't fight genetics.
8. The Queen Bee
The Queen Bee continues her reign off the school grounds. She holds court on the bus, deciding not only where she sits, but also who sits next to her and more importantly, who does not. She tolerates the field trip... barely. The only fun part of the whole trip for the Queen Bee is the gift shop. Indeed, after a few hours of enduring whatever the field trip entails by eye-rolling and stage whispers of "OMG" and "seriously?", the Queen Bee's entire affect becomes electrified as she enters the overpriced, stuffed animal stocked souvenir shop. She always has at least a twenty on her, and always buys something that inevitably becomes the focal point on the bus trip back to the school.
9. The Tester
This kid is out to push buttons, and not the kind that are part of an interactive display. He's pushing your buttons, or better yet, the person in charge of the venue. To the rest of the class, the field trip is an opportunity to see something new or get out of school. To The Tester, a field trip is a whole new arena to challenge authority. He is keenly aware of field trip protocol, and will use it as his true North... and then head South. Also known as Mr. Literal, he will break the rules but wills you to challenge him, just so he can argue how he's innocent. No talking? He's whispering. No candy? It's cough drops. No running? He's galloping. No climbing? He jumped up there. If you have a Tester child of your own, you probably already know that a quick "knock it off!" works better than any long explanation of why the rules are in place. The Tester knows the rules. He just wants to see if anyone is going to actually enforce them.
If you get the opportunity to chaperone your kid's field trip, take it. Venue aside, the company you'll keep is usually highly entertaining.