School trips, as we all know, are a wonderful thing. They create memories, expand our children's worlds and get them out of the stifling claustrophobia of the classroom.
But there's a time, and there's a place. And time is the most important part of the equation, because some places are just too far away, just too busy and just too stressful – which all adds up to a total waste of time.
As a father of three children, aged nine, seven and four, I've seen the two eldest have the adventures of their young lives on school trips, either to the woods or a museum.
But my youngest is just too young – at least for what he did for his most recent day out.
To put this in context: he has just turned four. He can't read, or write so right now – just one month into his reception year – I want his teachers to focus on building those essential blocks of learning so that he can actually appreciate the other non-essential stuff that's being thrust on him with increasing frequency. Yes, the class trip.
Now, he's fine when such a trip involves nipping across to the local park and looking under some leaves for bugs, but he was absolutely not fine when we went to London's Science Museum. In fact, not only was he not fine, but neither were his most of his classmates, and neither was I, as one of the parent-volunteers who accompanied his class of hyperactive four-year-olds on this outing.
It was more like a scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles than anything that could have achieved anything remotely positive or educational.
Let me explain why.
Stage 1: 9.30am – 11.20am
We left the classroom promptly, with each adult assigned four children to keep safe on what was about to be an expedition right up there with the conquest of Everest. We ushered this snake of excitedly chattering little 'uns across a busy road to the nearest bus stop - only to find two other classes of 25 kids-a-piece already waiting.
The first bus came, and the first arrivals got on. Ten minutes later, another bus arrived and the second party embarked. Finally, another bus with enough space for our mob pulled up so we encouraged, cajoled, carried and dragged our charges to the upper deck.
After 45 minutes, the bus came to a sudden halt, and the driver announced it was terminating there and we'd have to get off and get another bus. So we did. Another wait, another bus, another embarkation, until we reached our next liaison – another bus stop to catch another bus to take us to the Science Museum. Check everyone's got their packed lunches, then off.
'Anyone need a drink?' the teacher asked the children.
'Me!' I meekly piped up.
Stage 2: 11.20am-11.35am
The most perilous part of the exercise: negotiating two busy road crossings to get to the museum. Sounds simple? Not when it seems the entire school population of London has also decided to get a bit of class trip action.
The place was mobbed with every shape and size of teenager – all self-obsessed and oblivious to the world around them, let alone steering clear of little people. We were knocked and bumped and jostled, to the point where I had to shout at a teacher from another school to get his kids under control.
Stage 3: 11.35am-11.45am
Finally, we arrived inside. By now, the kids were so desperate for the toilet after their marathon journey, that we spent the next 10 minutes sorting out their 'comfort'. I took charge of the boys; the mums the girls.
Some of the boys did stand-up wees; the others went into the cubicles, where one subsequently locked the door but then couldn't unlock it to get out, forcing Yours Truly to climb over the stall and release him. Then it was hand-washing and fly-securing and finally back to the rest of the group.
Stage 4: 11.45am-12.10pm
Playtime in the special room for little 'uns. Water features, musical instruments that made farting noises, foam building blocks and slides. They were in their element. But, sadly, over far too soon, because then it was time for lunch.
Stage 5: 12.10pm-12.40pm
Lunch time, so we all pile into a special hall for school parties to sit around where they dived into their packed lunches. Our party were as good as gold, but then I noticed an older kid from a different school taunting one of our girls, making her cry.
'Oi, you. In the blue jumper. NO!' I shouted.
His teacher came over: 'What appears to be the problem.'
'Your child is the problem. Get him under control,' I replied.
With that resolved, it was time for the clear-up. I emptied my son's plastic bag and collected all the half-eaten bananas, yogurt pots and carrot sticks and then, guess what, it was time for the toilet again.
Stage 6: 12.40pm-1.05pm
A wander around the ground floor of the museum, looking at the first production line, old steam engines and space rockets and modules.
'Can we climb on them?' said one of my charges.
'Afraid not. They're very expensive and very special.'
And so, fun thwarted.
Stage 7: 1.05pm-3pm
Time to leave. Negotiate the crowds, negotiate the crossings, wait for the bus. Wishing I had a thousand eyes in the front and back of my head so I could keep tabs on all my mini-responsibilities.
And then at last, onto a packed bus, suffering the withering looks of office workers for the interminable amount of time it takes us to get everyone on. And then worse, the tut-tutting disapproval of a man with a briefcase as I ask him to stop hogging two seats so the by-now knackered kiddies could park their little behinds.
An hour later, we were at our liaison stop to get the next bus, and by now the tiredness was starting to show.
One little boy burst into tears. 'I want my Mummy,' he said.
'I'm afraid I'll have to do,' I replied, and picked him up to give him a cuddle.
Then I spotted one of the naughtier kids giving my son a Chinese burn.
'Oi, you...NO!' I shouted at him, aware but indifferent to the head-shaking You Can't Talk To Other People's Children Like That disapproval of the class teacher.
Once on the bus, my son had had enough and crawled onto my lap and promptly fell fast asleep.
Then one of his classmates, spotting a comfy rest-place opportunity – like a cat spotting someone who hates cats in a living room – decided she wanted a piece of the cuddling action, too, and promptly snuggled up under my free arm.
I was trapped – and children sense an opportunity like that. With me pinned down and out of action, one of the girls started kicking the seat of the passenger in front of her; three of the boys started having a Foot Fight with each other, to see who could kick the others' shins the hardest.
And by now, the will to nag had completely left me, so I closed my eyes and pretended I was asleep, too!
Stage 7: 3pm
As we traipsed off the bus, we looked like soldiers coming back from a combat zone. Beaten, weary and battle-hardened.
'Who's brilliant idea was it to take kids this young on a four-hour round trip to the Science Museum?' I piped up.
'It's part of the curriculum,' I was told.
A curriculum, no doubt, devised by some twisted bureaucrat who doesn't have kids.
'Never again,' I said.
Except, there's a trip to the neighbouring Natural History Museum in a couple of weeks' time.
I guess I'd better wash and iron my flak jacket then.
What age do you think is the right age to go on school trips?
What have been disasters and successes for your children?
Does your child's school even organise trips? Let us know...