Thursday, August 8, 2013

Keep It Fun! {5 Days of Field Trips}

Field trips are supposed to be fun. Educational fun, yes - but FUN! I have to admit that I've heard a line something like these from my kids a few times: "Mom! Stop making everything educational all the time!" or "We're on vacation. We shouldn't have to do school stuff." Oops. In my effort to take advantage of a great educational opportunity (especially while on vacation!) I have to be careful not to be a Buzz Killington and suck the fun out of the experience!
But honestly, if our family happens to be on vacation somewhere near an amazing museum or historical site, we are NOT going to skip seeing something really cool just because my kids fear there might be a pop quiz. (For the record, I do very little 'testing' in our homeschool.) The solution for us has been to keep it low-key, and we prefer to save anything that seems like a worksheet or a reading assignment for later, as much as possible. Even for the field trips we take that are local and designed to go with the curriculum, I've found that for my kids it usually works out better to just go and enjoy and worry about the scholarly application after we get home. If you're at the zoo or the aquarium, sometimes it's so much better to just focus on the animals, and fill in the worksheet at home.

Any place we visit that has educational/field trip possibilities, I pick up brochures or maps or any other info I see that is free. If it's a planned trip, I check the website for anything helpful there. Most museums, science centers, national and state parks, and many other destinations have a section on their websites titled something like "For Teachers" or "Education". Information found in those sections is useful for planning the trip, and much of it can be used from home before or after your trip - or even if you don't visit the place at all! The National Parks Junior Ranger program has many activities that can be completed from home, for example. Almost every National Parks website I checked had a "For Teachers" section, and every section included something about planning a field trip. There are curriculum suggestions and lesson plans as well. Of course, they are written with classrooms in mind, so not all the lesson plan activities will work for homeschool families, and not all the field trip planning tips will be useful if you are visiting with just your family. 

I checked the website for Monocacy National Battlefield, which is a Civil War battlefield park not far from us and found their suggestions to Plan a Field Trip included suggestions of where to begin and in what order to best view the park. It also outlined the guided tour options available for groups and what ages they're appropriate for. They also offer two lesson plans and guidelines for the appropriate grade levels and how much classroom time they would take. Information about the Junior Ranger program, including the downloadable Junior Ranger booklet, is found on the "For Kids" page. That page also has links to other sections of the website that explain how archaeologists are studying Monocacy and what kinds of things they can discover. When we visited Monocacy, it was a family day trip. We picked up the Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor Center, and Kennady worked on some of those activities as we went through the Visitor Center. My hubby and I did our best to read the majority of the information with the exhibits, but the kids were naturally more interested in the interactive displays. After the Visitor Center, we went outside to see the battlefield itself and walked on one of the trails. When we went home, the Junior Ranger booklet and the maps and brochures I'd picked up went into a folder with our history curriculum, and later on during our study of the Civil War we referred to those things and to our memories of that day's trip, as well as other similar visits to Civil War sites in our area.

We've made similar "see it now - study it later" local field trips to Harpers Ferry, Gettysburg, the Chesapeake & Ohio CanalFort McHenryCatoctin Mountain, and Historic St Mary's City.



We've taken the same approach to educational opportunities while on vacation. Especially on vacation, I believe in just enjoying the experience as it happens, and using the photos and brochures and websites to spark the memories and discussion when we're at home and it fits with our curriculum.

In the summer of 2009, we had a family vacation in upstate New York, not very far from Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. When we got home and started our new school year, we kicked it off with a unit study about baseball. So even though the tour of the Hall of Fame was just for fun, we turned it into a field trip after the fact. (I also discovered that the Baseball Hall of Fame has some great materials you can download for your lesson plans on the Curriculum page

We visited the Florida Everglades on another vacation, had a little fun with the Junior Ranger program when we were there, and then had some great memories to talk about when our history text included a lesson about the Everglades and its place in American history. 

It's one thing to read about an historical event in a book, and quite another to see the place where it happened, or view a re-enactment.  You can see the words on the page, but when you see the place, the photographs, the artwork, or the artifacts... it's a different perspective. Even if it's not something that ties into your current history study, it's fun to be able to say, "Remember when we were on vacation and we stopped at ------? That's where this event happened!"  Pull up the pictures on your computer (or out of your scrapbook, if you're a more faithful scrapbooker than I am!) for the reminder.
How do you keep the fun factor in your field trips? Leave a comment and let me know! Stop by for a cup of coffee and more discussion about field trips during the 5 Days Blog Hop, and be sure to visit the other Schoolhouse Crew members and their 5 Days topics. Just click on the banner below to return to our Blog Hop Home!
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