How to Make Field Trips a Good Experience for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues

By Amanda Morin

Expert reviewed by Bob Cunningham, EdM

At a glance

  • When it comes to managing sensory processing issues on field trips, planning ahead is essential.

  • Your child may need accommodations on field trips, just as he does in school.

  • It’s important to prepare your child for the whole field trip experience, not just for a specific destination.

If your child has sensory processing issues, you probably know that field trips can be tough for him. He may have sensory meltdowns or other strong reactions to unfamiliar routines or unexpected sensory input. And this can make him stand out from other kids.

You can’t always go with him to handle the challenges as they come up. But you can help by working with field-trip chaperones, teachers and your child himself to make sure everyone knows what to expect.

Prepare field-trip chaperones.

Chaperones are sometimes other teachers, but they’re often the parents of other kids. Either way, they may not know your child as well as his regular teachers do. And FERPA, a federal privacy law, says that the school can’t share your child’s records with other parents.

But you can share information about your child. Consider asking the teacher if she’ll pass along a note to the trip chaperone. You don’t have to go into detail about your child’s issues. But you may want to let the chaperone know about some of his trouble spots.

If your child gets that help him manage trouble spots, you can share that information with the chaperone, too. Any accommodations your child has in school should also be available on a field trip.

Troubleshoot with your child’s teacher.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child’s teacher before an upcoming field trip. Here are some things to cover:

  • Ask about cell phones. If he has one, can your child have his cell phone handy in case he needs to check in with you? Discuss what “needs” means. For example, should your child call or text you only if he’s overwhelmed? Or can he also contact you to check in or say things are going well?
  • Talk about “field trip only” accommodations. For instance, maybe your child can have an aisle seat so he doesn’t feel overcrowded or closed in. Or if he’ssensitive to noise, maybe he can use an MP3 player.
  • Ask for an overview of the schedule. Knowing the basic plan can help you give your child an accurate picture of what to expect on field trip day.
  • Go over the transportation plans. Confirm how the class is traveling, who will be with them and if they’ll be using a “buddy system.”
  • Talk about suitable “buddies” for your child. Having an adult as a buddy can make your child feel singled out. Ask for your child to be paired with another student. If needed, they can both be accompanied by a chaperone.
  • Discuss food issues. If the kids will be eating at the field trip venue, ask to see a menu. If you know your child won’t eat the food, mention you’ll be packing a lunch for him.

Having a backup plan in case things don’t go well is essential, too. Make an action plan with the teacher for managing a meltdown. And talk about having someone available if your child needs a break from the group.

Prepare your child.

When you plan for a field trip, it’s easy to focus on the destination and what happens there. But there’s a lot to field trips. That’s why it’s important to prepare your child for the entire experience.

Here are some topics to cover and things you can do to help.

  • Go over the schedule. Talk about any potential trouble spots (such as crowds or new foods). If you have a young child with sensory processing issues, you can also create a picture schedule.
  • Explore the area. If possible, consider taking a “virtual tour” through the destination’s website with your child.
  • Help your child practice self-advocacy. Discuss ways your child can communicate his needs and which adults he can turn to for help.
  • Send a small “sensory kit” with your child. Pack the tools your child needs to be comfortable, like sunglasses, fidgets or earplugs.
  • Ensure he’s comfortable on field trip day. Let your child choose his clothing and make sure he’s well rested and fed.

This may sound like a lot of work, but successful field trips can be a lot of fun for your child. They’re important learning tools that can expose kids to exciting experiences they can’t have in the classroom—like seeing great art, working farms, live animals or historical artifacts in person.

For more tips, explore ways to help grade-schoolers with sensory processing issues manage school challenges.

Key takeaways

  • Teachers can’t share information about your child with chaperones, but you can.

  • You can work with chaperones and teachers to find ways to help your child feel less singled out on field trips.

  • Knowing the schedule, having sensory tools on hand and being able to self-advocate can help your child manage field trips more easily.

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.