How to Plan a Family Field Trip

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Taking a field trip is the perfect way to make learning fun and get out of any ruts you may be in!  When the whole family goes, it provides a valuable memory for everyone that you will all discuss for years to come.  And with some careful planning, children can learn so much more than they would spending the day in a classroom!

When we first started homeschooling, we stuck close to home for our field trips.  Now we have branched out into day trips around our region and have added field trip stops to our family vacations and other travels (travel hockey family here!).  Sometimes, we make an entire trip a field trip!  An extra bonus is the boys LOVE counting these trips toward their school attendance record.

Check out all the different types of field trips you can take and read the seven tips to help you get the most out of the experience.

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Types of Field Trips

Free: Field trips do not have to cost a lot of money.  It could be as simple as going for a hike where you can all learn about trees, plants, animals, rocks, and how to read a map.  Many parks have a visitor center to help you learn more and get the most out of the experience.  A nature walk on a beach can also count!  Or you could pick a historic neighborhood in your area and do a google search for a printable walking tour. I was surprised to see how many I found for our area!  Some local farms may also be free to visit.

Walking tour through a park that used to be a lake in the early 1900s.

You can also make your grocery shopping trip into a learning experience.  If doing all of your grocery shopping with your children sounds daunting, give each child a list of a few things you may need to cook a special dish or meal and center the trip around that task.

If you have a group, you can contact a local fire station or grocery store about giving you a behind the scenes tour.  You may also have some free museums in your area.  Government funded museums in state capitals and our nation’s capital are often free.

Paid: Field trips can get expensive, but if you have some place you want to go that is a little pricey and you are a homeschooler, see if they have a homeschool discount.  Some will allow this any time they are open. Other places have special homeschool days that are discounted and have special demonstrations set up for everyone.  Note: you will likely have to show some documentation that you homeschool.  I keep a print out from our state showing the information about our homeschool in my purse at all times to get discounts.

Children stacking logs to build a cabin at a living history museum.
Learning to build a house at a homeschool day at a local living history museum.

Ideas for paid field trips include science, art, nature and history museums, including living history museums, aquariums, and zoos.  Colonial Williamsburg offers several discounted days near the end of winter dedicated to homeschoolers.  Tours of historic cities and boat tours of natural waterways are also fun!  You can also search for factory tours in your area and places you visit.  We just did a chocolate factory tour!  Attending plays is another great field trip.

Tables, racks, and machines in a small chocolate factory.
Tour of a chocolate factory.
Boy standing in front of stage on family field trip to see Mary Poppins.
Seeing Mary Poppins the musical.

What Do Your Children Like to Do?

To make sure your field trip is an enjoyable experience, you need to make sure that everyone is interested in what you will be learning about.  Many children are interested in a variety of subjects and should be exposed to this variety.  But sometimes, you just know that one child is not going to be into a particular experience!  Last year, I wanted to take Big Fish to the Museum of the Alphabet near us (which is amazing by the way!), but I knew that language and history were not favorites of my then 8 year old.  So we waited until he was at summer camp with the Cub Scouts and then we went. And now that he is older and has lot more history knowledge built up (thanks to the Magic Tree House series), I think he would enjoy it, too.

Boy standing in an old jail cell outside with a jailer in costume next to him.
Little Fish loves anything to do with jails and security so we made sure to visit the Old Jail on a trip to St. Augustine.

What are Your Children’s Learning Styles?

Another big consideration for us is whether the information is presented in a way that matches our boys’ learning styles. I have one auditory learner and one hands-on learner so I scan a place’s website beforehand with this thought in mind.  Both of the boys enjoy hands-on experiences so this is pretty much a must.  I know my auditory learner will also take the time to read short pieces of information and listen to short lectures because he likes to ‘collect’ facts.  And both of them love visual demonstrations.

Many places do a great job of presenting to all learning styles, but thinking through this ahead of time will allow you to make the best experience possible.  If you are not sure what your child’s learning style is check out What is Your Child’s Learning Style?

How Long Do You Want to Spend on Your Field Trip?

A third consideration is how long our children will attend on a particular field trip.  Obviously, as children get older they can attend longer, but even as adults, our brains get overloaded.  I find about two to three hours to be the maximum amount of time we can all attend and then we need a long break such as lunch or mid-afternoon snack.  Or sometimes, we just plan to spend two-three hours somewhere and then be done.

If there is a movie at a particular museum, I often will save the movie until later in the day to use as a mental break.  Although, sometimes starting with a movie provides good background knowledge for us to enjoy the museum better.  An outside walking tour can be a good break after spending awhile with museum exhibits.

Back of a statue overlooking a vista at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Driving/walking tour of Gettysburg National Military Park.

Special Considerations

If you have a child with any kind of special needs such as anxiety disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, autism, or mobility challenges, you know you have extra considerations to consider ahead of time.  My sensitive child can not do loud noises so that means science demonstrations with a loud bang can be a problem as can large open spaces full of crowds.  So we try to avoid crowds and go when places are not too busy.  Mid-late afternoon on weekdays can be great at museums after the school field trips leave!  Websites often contain helpful information or you can call places to learn more about the accommodations you may need.  I often just ask at the ticket desk if there are any exhibits that involve loud noises so I know to avoid or prepare for those.

Learn Before You Go

We often read or listen to related books and/or watch videos ahead of time to get the most out of a field trip.  These resources may be specific to a particular location and/or historical event or time period.  For example, before going to Gettysburg, we read What Was the Battle of Gettysburg and listened to I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg on the way there.  (Audible can be a great way to do this if you are driving a few hours or more on your field trips.) I can tell a big difference in our children’s engagement with a museum when we have learned about it ahead of time and when we haven’t.

Books about Betsy Ross, the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin
Library books for prepping for our trip to Philadelphia.

If you are going to visit a science museum where you can learn about many topics, you may want to pick a few specific subjects to pay special attention to while you are there.  You can look at their different exhibits online and then get books or watch videos that relate to one or two of those subjects.  When you get there, start with those exhibits and then see the rest of the museum as time and interest allows.

Bring Home a Small Souvenir

I am always prepared to buy a small souvenir for the boys when we go on a field trip.  This helps them remember the visit when we get home and keeps the learning process alive.  It must be related to the place we visited, though, not just some little doo-dad.  Big Fish loves to collect high quality coloring books, such as this, which he learns a lot from while he colors.

Journal About the Trip

Writing about the experience or drawing a picture afterward is a great way to put one’s thoughts together about what was learned.  I keep this activity pretty ‘light’ for my boys because I want them to have really positive memories associated with our field trips and they don’t always see writing about an experience as a positive activity-ha!  We do often discuss what they learn on the way home and I encourage them to verbally share their experiences with others.  You could also recreate something you saw on the field trip such as a piece of art or a science experiment.

So where will you take your next field trip?  What has been your favorite field trip so far?  Have I missed any tips you think are important?  Comment below!

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