Taking kids out of the classroom and into the woods, stream, or field can be an exciting and rewarding adventure! If you have difficulty keeping control of a group of kids, however, it can present a unique set of challenges.
I began working with kids at a museum in Philadelphia, PA when I was 14 years old, and have continued since then in various formats: running birthday parties and overnight sleepovers at the museum, working as a counselor at a nature camp, leading tours as a park guide in Utah, and now working in and out of the classroom in Pennsylvania. Over this time I have accumulated experiences that help me greatly in my work now when it comes to working with kids. Here are some things that I find helpful on a daily basis when it comes to working with a group of students:
- First of all, there are going to be things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know! This is bound to happen at first, but will happen less as you get more experience. Try to be flexible so unexpected problems don’t completely throw you off your game. Kids can be very tuned-in to how you are feeling and if you start to get nervous so will they! Be aware of things like where bathrooms are, how cold kids are going to get, what supplies/opportunities they might argue over, the length of their attention spans, etc.
- Be excited! If you are bored, your students will be too. Nothing will make kids care (especially younger ones) like showing them how much you care yourself.
- Kids can usually tell when you are making things up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to a question. There are two good responses to this situation: One, say “I don’t know the answer to that, but let’s see if we can figure it out together.” If you are out in the field try to use your reasoning skills with the kids to come up with a possible answer. If you are in the classroom use the tools available to you like dictionaries, encyclopedias, or the internet. The other options is to say “I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out for you and let you know as soon as possible.” The most important part about this is to actually follow through! I used this method when I gave nature tours to adults as well. If I knew I wasn’t going to see them again I would offer to write down their e-mail and send them the answer electronically as soon as possible.
- Go over the class rules with the students before you start an activity. This is a tip I learned recently at a training for guest teachers, and I have already found it to be extremely useful. I used to go into a class and just start something, and then have to ask the kids to pay attention or act a certain way after things started to go wrong. Now I go into a classroom and ask the children if they have a set of class rules. I ask them to tell me what they are, praise them for knowing them so well, and tell them we are going to be following the same ones. A lot of teachers already have a method for getting kids to be silent, like raising their hand or flicking the lights. If you can find out what that is, the kids are already used to using it and will respond much more quickly.
- Use positive language when correcting kids. On a recent field trip to a sugar maple farm, I noticed that when the teachers correct their students they don’t usually say “stop doing that” or “you are behaving badly.” Rather, they say things like “Make a better decision” and “Be a good leader.” I thought this was a wonderful idea, and have since started doing it myself. You can also try asking them what they think about their own behavior. I recently worked in a classroom that had a substitute teacher for the day. When they were starting to get loud I asked them if they would behave that way if their regular teacher was present. As a group, they said “Noooo,” and immediately quieted. While you might need to eventually fall back on more negative ways of correcting kids if they simply don’t stop, it is nice to give kids the chance to correct themselves using more positive methods.
- Expect positive things from the beginning. If you start the class by saying you have heard how great they are, and how well they behave even when they are outside of the classroom, the students are much more likely to be that way!! Likewise, if a teacher informs you they have a student who often causes problems, rather than waiting for that kid to do something wrong, spend a few extra moments trying to form a positive relationship with that kid! Praise them early on on something they do well, or ask them for help setting up an activity, passing out papers, etc.
There are always unexpected things that happen, but often an activity will go as well as you decide it will! Try to stay positive and be flexible. If kids are really curious about something that isn’t what you had planned on focusing on, don’t be afraid to change your plans a bit if and follow the students’ questions where they take you. If they don’t understand something, try not to move on until they do. That said, some things will just fail, and don’t let that discourage you! I have my own set of things that went terribly and I know not to ever do again! It’s all part of becoming a better teacher. Over time you will find out what works best for you!
If you have ideas or concerns about any of these points or want to know more, please feel free to leave questions in the comments!