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School trips

Photo: School trips can be lots of fun for deaf children and young people

During their time at school most children and young people have the opportunity to go on school trips. This can include both day and residential trips, with overnight trips often starting during a child’s final year of primary school. School trips are exciting but can also be a little daunting, especially if it’s a residential trip and a child’s first time away from home without their parents or extended family.

This can be worse for deaf children. They might worry about managing their hearing technology or staying in an unfamiliar environment. Quite often, the trips include water activities such as canoeing or kayaking and deaf children and parents may worry about how they will manage. There are a few things you can do to help prepare and support your deaf child.

Siobhan is mum to Conor (11), who is profoundly deaf.

“After the school trip he lost his fear of new things; he’s willing to try new experiences, such as going for a meal and to the cinema. Now if he can’t hear you, he’ll say so, or that you need to turn up the radio aid – it’s a huge step for him.”

Make sure everyone supporting your child knows about their needs

Your child’s school teacher should know how to support your child in the classroom but do they know how that translates to other environments? You might want to think of some of the things your child may encounter when on their trip.

  • On a residential trip, will your child’s teacher know how to wake up your child in the morning before they put on their hearing aids or cochlear implants?
  • Will they know what arrangements need to be put in place to keep your child safe if there’s a fire alarm? This might be when your child has their hearing aids or cochlear implants removed if they’re asleep or when they’re in the shower.
  • What about the other school staff that will be supporting your child? Are they familiar with your child’s needs or would some written information be helpful for them?
  • You might also want to ask your child’s school if any external providers for the trip have had deaf awareness training. This could be a tour guide at an attraction or an activity instructor at an outdoor centre. Your Teacher of the Deaf (ToD) is there to support you in having these conversations and to make sure the school is fully prepared. You may wish to signpost to the National Deaf Children’s Society online training modules for professionals including Introduction to Deaf Awareness and Deaf-friendly Activities.

Beth is mum to a deaf child.

“My kids have been on nearly every type of school trip – field trips, museums, theatres, Harry Potter World etc. The school should always provide the support needed to include every child. I’ve also always been on the school trips with my kids.

It’s helpful if the school can give you the itinerary for the day, then you can review what might need to be adapted. For example, who’s going to pass the radio aid to the speaker, who’s going to repeat instructions, who’s going to be responsible for fire alarms and emergency procedures. It’s also worth considering, if it’s an outdoor trip, what happens if it rains? The school previously collected my child if it rained because he couldn’t hear without his hearing aids.

Remind teachers what’s included in your child’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) or personal plans. Remind them that your child might feel isolated or embarrassed if they can’t join in so ask them open questions and be discreet. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious because sometimes their opinion of what’s needed is completely different to what you would say.”

Selina, a parent of a deaf child, recommends thinking about travelling. She suggests planning with the school who your child sits next to when travelling to make sure it’s someone who has empathy for them. Selina says sometimes a teacher is best placed and can make sure your child feels at ease.

Plan ahead and pack for hearing technology care

If your child is just away for the day, they might only need to take spare batteries with them, like a normal school day. If they’re on a residential trip, there’s a bit more preparation that will be helpful.

  • Does your child (or their teacher) know how to charge or change the batteries for their hearing technology?
  • Does your child know how to safely store their hearing technology, for example overnight or if technology needs to be removed for water activities?
  • Does your child or their teacher know how to clean hearing technology, for example hearing aid tubes?
  • Would your child (or a member of staff) know what to do if their hearing technology stopped working?
  • Does your child (or a member of staff) know what to do if their hearing technology accidentally gets wet?

If your child isn’t confident about caring for their hearing technology, supporting them to take responsibility in the lead up to their first residential school trip can be a great time to start. We recommend they start in the months leading up to their trip so you’re still on hand for any issues. It can be a bit scary if their first time caring for their hearing technology is while they’re away from home.

If it’s not realistic for your child to look after their own hearing technology, you may wish to identify a member of school staff supervising the trip who will take the lead on this. You or your ToD can make sure they’re trained and comfortable. You might also want to think about any other equipment your deaf child uses, for example if they experience tinnitus and have a white noise machine. Again, have a plan to make sure your child is confident using this technology independently or that there’s someone to support them.

Josie, mum to Maia (15) who is moderately to severely deaf.

“Maia enjoys school trips with her friends. She uses a waterproof, protective box to store her aids safely overnight and during water-based activities. She has a second box for her batteries, streamer and charger and a vibrating travel alarm clock to wake her in the mornings.”

Selina, mum to a deaf child, recommends being clear about who’s responsible for your child’s radio aid and checking it’s covered by insurance.

Think about electricity

This one is particularly important for any deaf children who use hearing technology or equipment, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, radio aids or a vibrating alarm clock. Outdoor activity centres often have limited plug points and they aren’t always in the most convenient location.

If your child is attending a residential school trip, you may wish to pack an extension lead or adapter to provide additional plug sockets. Alternatively, you may like to pack disposable batteries. If your child is going camping, you may wish to speak to the school to understand when they will be able to access electricity to charge their equipment.

Assess any risks specific to your deaf child

Many school trips involve outdoor activities which can sometimes come with more risks than a child’s day-to-day activities. It might be rock climbing at an outdoor centre or a roller coaster at a theme park. While risks will be managed and are helpful in contributing to a child’s positive development, some activities may pose more of a risk than you and your family are happy with. For example, a deaf child’s cochlear implants could be damaged through impact. For other young people, their hearing loss is degenerative and impact could result in further hearing loss.

The level of risk associated with physical activities is a very personal decision for you and your child. You and your child may wish to speak to the school to fully understand the activities and then decide if you’re happy with that risk. There’s guidance you can refer to depending on your child’s specific needs, for example, this guidance for cochlear implant users. You can always discuss any concerns with your child’s school teacher, ToD or Audiologist.

Have a plan for how your child can contact you

If a child feels worried or homesick, sometimes a call home can make everything better. Some schools will allow children to take mobile phones on school trips while others will ask that children leave these at home. Whatever your school’s policy or preference, discuss this with their teacher and make sure your child knows how they can contact you, if they need to.

This is particularly important for children who don’t speak on the telephone. Can arrangements be made for your child to video call you? Or perhaps they would prefer to be allowed to text you?

Practise makes perfect or make adjustments

If your child’s school trip is to a museum and they feel nervous about it, you might like to arrange a day trip to a museum for you and your child first. That way, they can get to know what to expect on the upcoming trip, helping them to feel confident and comfortable. If your child is going away overnight for the first time, it can be helpful to do this with someone they know well and trust. Does your child have a family member that could host them for a sleepover? Or perhaps a friend that they would feel comfortable staying with? Having a practise with someone your child knows well and trusts can be a great stepping stone to their school trip.

Conor (11) who has cochlear implants and uses a radio aid was too anxious to attend a three-day residential school trip to support his Year 6 topic on World War II. But not wanting him to miss out, his parents worked with the school, his teaching assistant Keira and the venue to make adjustments so he could join in the fun as a day visitor.

“I think the trip gave Conor great insight and inspired more self confidence in him to ‘have a go’. He was surprised at how the experience of being with friends, away from home and family, inspired such comradeship and brought the children closer. It was only made possible with the help and cooperation of the school, teachers, trip venue, his Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), parents and teaching assistants. But with careful planning and orchestration, it enabled Conor to be totally included in such a positive, enlightening experience… He’s really grown in confidence – the trip was massive for him. As scared as he was, he didn’t want to come home! He absolutely loved it. It encouraged his friendships to grow even more in a different setting away from school. He felt included.”

Find out more about the adjustments that made Conor’s confidence trip possible.

Josie, mum to Maia (15), who is moderately to severely deaf.

“Before a school trip, we chat through the different activities she may be participating in and encourage Maia to discuss any adjustments she may require with her teachers… It can be helpful for Maia's teachers to be aware that she cannot easily hear the direction of traffic, that windy weather makes hearing tricky and that she would sleep through a fire alarm.”

Selina, mum to a deaf child, recommends packing a torch for your child for night time trips to the toilet and to help your child feel a little more secure.

Your child may be using technology their friends haven’t seen them use before. Or perhaps their friends have never been with your child when they have taken their hearing technology off at bedtime. It can be helpful to prepare your child for talking to their friends about some of these scenarios. You may like to practise some questions their friends might ask them and to help your child respond positively, sharing their deaf identity. Zain’s story about building a positive deaf identity may provide inspiration.

Ask how your child feels about the school trip

Your child might be worried about something you (and we) haven’t even thought of. The best way to find out is to ask them. If your child is reluctant to talk, you might like to tell them about school trips that were memorable for you and ask them about what they’re excited about for the trip. Try to choose a time when your child is happy and relaxed. We recommend checking in with them multiple times in the run up to the event.