Ben Doesn’t Always Nab Badgers: The Three C’s of Chaperoning

May 26th, 2012  |  Published in this mortal coil

I volunteered to chaperone yesterday’s second grade field trip to OMSI. It was a little exhausting. I was assigned five children (Ben among them) and thought I’d just be sort of walking alongside as the children were ushered from learning station to learning station. As it turned out, we were let out at the curb, taken to the lobby, handed a page with a few questions related to some of the exhibits in Life Hall, then cut loose until lunch. 
Everyone who knows me knows I have a hard time remembering or keeping track of things as simple as where the coffee mugs go (at all stages of the coffee mug life cycle clean, dirty, full), and I briefly imagined one of my charges deciding to just run off into the crowd, so the first order of business was figuring out how to remember their names so I could call them by name (which any good Bene Gesserit will tell you is 90 percent of getting The Voice to work). That brings us to the first of our three C’s:

1. Commit Names to Memory

That turned out to be pretty easy:
  1. Ben — Ben
  2. Dallas — Doesn’t
  3. Alex — Always
  4. Nicole — Nab
  5. Brandon — Badgers

I practiced on the bus ride to the museum and had them all down quickly enough.

2. Constantly Count

Once faced with the reality of OMSI’s Turbine Hall, though, I realized I was really just in a struggle for mere survival. There were bunches of school groups there, all running in different directions. So “Ben Doesn’t Always Nab Badgers” became a constant nose count: 1,2,3,4,5,1,2,3,4,5,1,2,3,4,5,1,2,3,4,5. It paid off big when Dallas, Ben’s best friend, looked up from what she was doing, didn’t see anybody she recognized in the only direction she looked, instantly decided she’d been abandoned by the group and sprinted into the crowd looking for us. A quick, gentle application of The Voice and she was back among us. If I’d put off my five-count for another three seconds, I would have lost her for at least a moment, and that would have sucked. (I should point out that, of the five I had, Dallas is the one I would have most trusted to collect herself and find us … by the time the day was over, she was my go-to child for herding all the others back into one place so I could move them along to the next area.)

But just knowing what to call them and keeping constant track of their whereabouts was strictly for keeping total chaos at bay. It offered no security, because even steady Dallas showed any one of them could go random. That brings us to the third C:

3. Contain, Contain, Contain

At first glance, Turbine Hall is a nightmare scenario: It’s a huge, open room full of children running in all directions, the half-zombie parents chasing them, and that one dad who has embraced his inner multitudes by wearing Jedi robes, hanging a light saber off his belt, and yet taking the decidedly non-whimsical measure of putting his child on a leash. 

If you pause for a moment, though, and analyze the situation, you begin to see where all the choke points are. Most areas can be mentally cordoned off, either because they have just one or two entrances/exits or because there’s a lot of empty space between them and some other thing a child might want to run off to. About ten minutes into to the trip, I started seeing how those worked and it became pretty easy to figure out a post to stand at that gave me a good view.

In the end, I had one or two brief “child goes random, runs off” incidents that were quickly kept from being a Big Deal because I knew a name to call out. 

And the children themselves were great: I could tell when consensus was building among them that it was time to move on, at which point I’d send Dallas in to get them all rounded up. Letting them lead themselves for the bulk of the day made them easier to gently nudge along. When it came time to take them up to Life Hall, where the question sheet I’d been handed could be answered, they were willing to be taken to each of the stations to watch little videos and fiddle with the Q&A screens. For the last 30 minutes, I posted at the main entrance and let them run around until it was time to get back on the bus and go home.

I think the best part, in the end, was Ben. He’s at that stage where he’d rather I not be walking him to school at all, and any hugs goodbye are to be conducted in a small, closed-off hallway outside the cafeteria where the students gather in the morning to be taken to their rooms. Most of the day yesterday, though, he was the one trying to hold my hand or stand close to me. I’m guessing there won’t be much more of that in any setting, so I reminded myself — between committing, counting and containing —to enjoy it.



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