Do you remember going on field trips when you were in school? Did you enjoy them? Did you learn anything from them? Looking back, I am not sure how teachers expected us to learn much on a field trip when a bunch of other crazy kids surrounded us.
I distinctly remember two field trips from when I was a kid. (I am sure there were more, it’s just that these two still stand out to me.) When I was probably in the 3rd grade, our class walked a couple of blocks from the school to a classmate’s house to learn about snakes. Our classmate’s father raised snakes in his basement. I don’t recall whether he raised them for zoos or pet stores, but the basement was full of snake habitats. And we were there for feeding time. We also got to touch the snakes. Although that field trip made a definite impression on me, it did not convert me into a snake fan!
The other incredible field trip I remember happened in 6th grade. My teacher that year was an opera fan, and he took us to a full evening performance of an opera! And we prepared for that field trip for weeks. We studied the libretto to understand the storyline and listened to the music to help us prepare for the event. We dressed in our Sunday best, rode to downtown Chicago in a school bus, mingled with the well-dressed crowd in the lobby, and then viewed an amazing performance of the opera “Rigoletto.” One of the things that made that field trip so memorable was that our teacher treated us like grownups, not just a bunch of school kids.
So, if done correctly, field trips can be incredible learning tools! Keep reading to learn how to make the most out of your field trips!
What is a Field Trip, Anyhow?
Okay, so there are field trips, and then there are FIELD TRIPS! So, first, we have those field trips that are sometimes spur-of-the-moment field trips. It’s a lovely day, too pleasant to sit inside, so let’s take a trip to the nature center, call it a science field trip, and count it as a school day.
And then there are those field trips that we plan with purpose, which are supposed to supplement what we are studying and add to learning and understanding. These field trips take thought and planning to make them work well and be effective.
According to several dictionary entries, a field trip is a visit away from the traditional educational setting to learn about or observe something or gain firsthand knowledge about something specific. Field trips can also provide cultural experiences to which many kids may not have regular access.
I found it interesting that several of the dictionary entries I read used the following words: observe, learn, study, gain knowledge. The idea here is that field trips are supposed to be teaching tools.
So, What Is the Purpose of a Field Trip?
Since the definition of a field trip relates to gaining knowledge, learning, observing, or studying, the purpose of a field trip should be to enhance what our children are learning. From an educator’s perspective, we want to find ways to add to their learning experiences, to find “hands-on” ways to build on the textbook knowledge. As homeschooling parents, we are always looking for creative ways to expand our children’s knowledge and experience.
Your child’s perspective, however, may be completely different! They probably see a field trip as a way to get out of doing schoolwork. Ah, if only they could see behind the field trip fun façade and realize the devious and sinister elements at work behind the scenes in our “homeschool Mom” mode!
Someday, in some far distant future, our kids will (hopefully) understand that all of life is a learning experience, including field trips! But until then, part of our jobs as homeschooling parents is to prepare them to learn, to teach them how to learn from all of life’s experiences.
How to Get the Most out of your Field Trips
A good field trip involves planning and preparation. And some field trips will take more planning and prep than others! But, to get the most out of your field trips, always do at least some planning! (And by planning, I mean more than just what you will do for lunch – although that is an essential part of the plan!) So, I have five steps for you as you think through the field trip planning process. And I even came up with alliteration for these five steps to help you remember them all!
#1 – Purpose for your Field Trip
Always have some purpose in mind as you plan your field trips. A stated purpose gives you direction as you plan. It provides a reason for your actions. Hey, it’s okay if your objective is just to go out and enjoy nature. Or provide physical exercise and enhance physical activity as you visit a new park or playground. If your state home school laws require reporting, field trip plans with stated purposes and objectives may help satisfy state requirements.
So, state your purpose. How will this field trip and its experiences enhance your kids’ education and learning experiences? Remember, purpose drives planning.
#2 – Plan your Field Trip
Now that you have a purpose, what’s the plan? Planning is the foundation for anything that happens – events, programs, education, even field trips! Time to do some planning – remember, the planning should connect with your purpose.
Say you are going to the museum. Where do you go first? What section of the museum aligns best with your purpose? Plan to visit that section first while your kids are still full of energy and excitement.
A couple of years ago, my granddaughter (and the rest of her family) visited because she wanted to go to a major museum and see their weather exhibit. So, we went to that exhibit first. She spent as much time there as she wanted, asked all the questions she wanted to ask, and participated in the live demonstrations. After she finished with EVERYTHING in the weather exhibit, we explored other parts of the museum. And we saved the most fun water play area for the end of the visit – when they were tired of “museum” stuff.
So, plan your visit strategy. What else should you plan?
- Lunch and snacks
- Travel route
- Day and time
- How much $$
- Back-up plan (bad weather, someone sick, car breakdown, etc.)
#3 – Prepare for your Field Trip
Preparation always helps things work better. You wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to leave that day for a 2-week trip, would you? At least, I don’t think you would! You would make sure, at least, that you did your laundry, so you had clean clothes to take along!
So, to make your field trips more valuable, do some advance prep! Here are some things to consider:
What do you want your kids to focus on?
In case you forgot, museums are enormous – so much to see and do! Where will you start? Check out the exhibits online and decide what to focus on first. Which parts of the museum correlate most with what your kids are studying in school?
Which zoo animals are they studying in science? Try to visit those parts of the zoo first.
Study the online maps to know where to park and how to get to your focus areas.
What will you do to prioritize their focus?
Do you know what you want your kids to learn from your field trip? Sure, you want them to have a good time, but are you hoping for more? What can you do to keep them focused on what you want them to learn?
What do you need to take with you?
Make a list and check it twice! (Not that you are trying to be Santa Claus or anything. Sorry – my mind works in strange ways sometimes!) But lists are good things to have! Think through your day, make a list of what you will probably need, and get it ready ahead of time.
Do you have the maps, addresses, or guides you need?
Map out your route before you get started. I live in a very urban area – we often map out our routes to see what the traffic is like on our usual roads to locations. When we went to a church closer to the city, we always checked our route for blocked traffic before leaving the house! Yes, on Sunday mornings!
What about location maps or guides? Can you get those when you enter? Do you need to download them in advance?
#4 – Participation during the Field Trip
The more we are involved with something, the more we will remember it. When our kids interact with learning in different ways, using various methods, they will learn more. So, how do you do that on a field trip? We have them look at exhibits and also read signs and explanations. But how else can we involve them and increase their learning? Here are some ideas:
- Take advantage of knowledgeable docents, guides, tours, and demonstrations. Use the free resources available at your field trip location.
- Sometimes museums and other locations have prepared worksheets available for school groups or other children. Ask at the front desk; see if they have anything. (Or, better yet, call in advance and ask.)
- Plan a scavenger hunt for your kids. You can get a good idea of what you will see from the location’s website. Make up a scavenger hunt for your kids. Be sure to include both easy and hard-to-find items or information. You could even have your kids work in teams together, pairing older kids with younger ones.
- Use cameras. Have a list of items for your kids to photograph. Or combine photos with a scavenger hunt. The funniest animal, the most colorful bird, the scariest snake – Use categories and pictures and have them prepare a slideshow for everyone when they get home.
- Create question and answer worksheets for them to complete as they proceed through the field trip. (Don’t forget to include clipboards and pens/pencils.)
#5 – Post-Field Trip Follow-Up
So, you had a great field trip day. What’s the plan for cementing the knowledge/experience gained from your field trip? Look back at your field trip purpose. How do you complete that purpose? Was the field trip experience enough, or do you want your kids to review what they learned or expand on it? How can you do that? Check out these possibilities:
- Diagrams or Illustrations
- Scrapbook page/pages
- Worksheets/Questions to Answer
Do you think this is a lot of work just for a field trip? Hey, if you are going to all the effort of taking a field trip, you might as well make it worthwhile! You probably already do a lot of this thinking anyhow. Am I saying that you need to do this for every trip to the local nature center? No! But any major expedition requires planning!
If you give your kids something to do or focus on during a field trip, they may not get “bored” as quickly. Example: A few years ago, I took my youngest to an area botanic garden. We had been there before; I love walking through the different parts of the park, but my son? Not so much. So, I handed him my old digital camera and told him to take pictures of every bridge he could see. That gave him something specific to do and kept his boredom at bay for a while longer. So, I want you to remember this: Planning, Preparation, and Participation. If you focus on these three key things, your kids will get more value from your field trips, and your adventures will go more smoothly.
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