Field trips are an amazing tool to help your children remember the lessons they learn in books.
The hands-on learning facilitated by field trips increases your children’s lesson retention by almost 85%, according to studies.
Well-organized, hands-on experiences stick in children’s brains, often better than any other method of learning.
Your children will remember the “what” and “why” of these lessons throughout their lives.
How do you get started planning your next … or your first … field trip?
Keep these 6 simple tips in mind:
1. Coordinate with Your Curriculum.
Museums, concerts, botanical gardens, theme parks … you can turn almost any local venue into a field trip.
Look ahead in your children’s curriculum. What subjects will your children study next month? In two months?
Brainstorm venues that correspond to each lesson. For instance:
- Art museum to inspire your next art project, history lesson, or research paper
- Orchestra concert (many orchestras host free dress rehearsals or inexpensive daytime concerts) for studying music
- Botanical garden for studying plants or practicing drawing scientific diagrams
- Theme park to experience gravity and centrifugal force (beware of high prices and the potential for motion sickness)
Once you have your list, narrow it down to the most feasible options.
2. Compare Calendars.
Visit during the week. Weekend crowds slow you down and add unnecessary anxiety.
Keep in mind: many people say to avoid planning your trip on Friday, because that way you have at least one school day before the weekend to recap your field trip and cement any lessons you learned while there. Personally, I always liked having them on Fridays as a fun way to cap off the week. But if you have a specific follow-up project for your kids to do while it’s still fresh in their mind, Thursday is a better day.
Always ask about discounts.
Museums usually offer discounted rates for annual passes or large groups. Many also offer discounts for members of other organizations, such as AAA.
The Science Museum of Minnesota offers discounted family memberships for homeschool families who are registered with the state. They also offer special field trip pricing, free educator guides for exhibits, classes, and learning labs for homeschool families.
At one time, we belonged to a well-known children’s museum in Indianapolis that did the same thing – and we lived hundreds of miles away. But my oldest son was in college by then, and it was on our route to see him. So we made enough trips to have our membership pay for itself.
In addition to annual passes and group rates, many museums – and other educational venues – host “Homeschool Days” with free or reduced admission and extra educational opportunities.
The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles schedules four Homeschool Days each year. On these days, homeschool families can visit the museum for free.
The National Building Museum in Washington D.C. also hosts designated Homeschool Days. These days feature hands-on educational activities. The museum also hosts School Group Programs for larger groups. These programs are perfect for homeschool co-ops or homeschool groups.
Many Washington D.C. museums (such as the Smithsonian) and other venues are free (but good luck finding nearby parking…your best bet is to park a ways away and take the metro if you want to avoid parking headaches).
The Cincinnati Museum Center hosts hands-on homeschool classes every Monday. Classes are divided by age so your children can learn age-appropriate lessons.
Consult the museum’s calendar of events.
Museums often host special events, especially when opening a new exhibit.
Your children will learn more if the artist talks with them and answers their questions than if they stand and look at the art on their own.
3. Foster Your Children’s Excitement.
The calendar of events also tells you which exhibits will be on display when you visit. Use this information to prepare your children for your upcoming trip.
Teach them about the subject matter ahead of time by:
- Assigning a mini-research paper about the featured artist
- Creating a scavenger hunt of animals (zoo) or plants (botanical garden) for your children to complete
- Reading a historical fiction book together about the featured scientist or architect
Also, teach them observational skills by:
- Asking them to write down all the things they notice about a particular household object in 5 minutes
- Asking them to write down as many questions as they can think of about another household object
- Going outside and asking them to write down what they smell, feel, and hear
These exercises will teach your children how to notice and record details during your field trip.
4. Prepare for Your Excursion.
Looking at ancient artifacts may keep your interest for a while, but your 2nd grader might need a bit more motivation and direction to last more than 10 minutes.
The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in the Atlanta area offers free downloadable resources, including scavenger hunts, study sheets, and coloring sheets.
Use theirs as a template, or create your own.
Bring these scavenger hunts, study sheets, and coloring sheets with you on your field trip to help guide and direct your children’s focus.
Brainstorm ways to capture your children’s imagination.
Engaging their imagination will help them apply what they see and learn.
Before you go, jot down a list of questions to ask your children during your visit. For example:
- How long do you think it took the Indians to make dinner using a mortar and pestle to grind corn into flour?
- How many brush strokes do you think it took to paint that woman’s face?
- Why did the artist decide to use that color of blue for the water? How does that color make you feel?
- How do you think the inventor felt when his airplane worked for the first time?
- Would you like to wear those clothes for a day?
Prepare water, snacks, and lunch the day before.
Put an extra set of clothes in the car – just in case. Make sure you have extra paper, pencils, and crayons for taking notes and drawing pictures. Also, double check you have any allergy medicine or other medication you might need.
5. During Your Visit, Utilize the Available Resources.
Most museum curators love talking about exhibits.
If you don’t know that much about art, don’t worry. Take your kids to an art museum, find a curator, and ask if your children can ask them a few questions.
If you children are shy, practice asking questions in the car on the way so they’re prepared.
Some museums have more formal teaching times as well.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston teaches homeschool classes from September through June. Each class lasts 1½ hours and includes an art-making activity.
If you can, schedule an interview with someone at the site, such as a zookeeper or art collector.
As you explore, remember: It’s not about seeing every exhibit; it’s about learning and immersing your children in the experience. If you have to go back another day to finish, that’s fine.
6. After Your Visit, Reinforce Each Lesson.
The day after your field trip, set aside time in the morning for your children to journal. These journal entries can include pictures, maps, diagrams, sentences, or bullet point lists – whatever you think is appropriate for the age and skill level of your children.
Try one of these prompts, or create your own:
- Describe the five things you liked most and why.
- Write about your impressions of the day. Write as quickly and accurately as possible for 10 minutes.
If your children are older, assign a research paper or presentation about one of their favorite topics.
With a little planning and some creative follow-up, your children will remember and cherish these hands-on learning opportunities.
So are you ready to take that field trip to the zoo… or to your own backyard?
Take Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 3: Land Animals of the Sixth Day, and its companion Notebooking Journal or Junior Notebooking Journal with you for the journey. Your children will get a lot more out of the experience.
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