As summer days stretch ahead, and you're looking for something different to do to keep learning alive, why not take a cue from teachers and organize a family field trip? A field trip can be a one-off activity or you can plan a series of outings as part of a summer-long project. For example, a visit to a recycling center can be part of an ecology-themed series of trips and discussions.
Of course, field trips should be funwho wants to be stuck in a hot car, away from friends, unless the payoff is enjoyable? But you can also use them to create awareness or generate interest in new areas. And, you won't have to travel far. If you think outside the usual box, you'll quickly see that your own neighborhood is full of places worth exploring. Here are some ideas to get you started:
A clock repair shop. Besides the obvious "how to tell time" lesson, this trip can be a look at how machines work. Check out and compare analog and digital clocks, cuckoo and grandfather clocks, wristwatches and quaint pocket watches. Call in advance to see if it would be possible to glimpse the inner workings of a clock under repair. seeing the gears and springs, weights and pendulums, will take some of the mystery out of the way time is measured.
Farm or ranch store. Visiting a farm supply company can teach kids a lot about raising animals and growing food. In a feed store, identify horse, cow, and small animal food and talk about the differences in texture, smell, size, and color. Check out the seeds and fertilizer for a quick lesson on growing. Then of course there's the heavy equipment. Ask an employee if you can take a seat on a tractor. Point out how large a tractor tire is compared to those on your car.
Grocery store. It may seem an odd choice but how often have you really looked at the way food is marketed, displayed, and sold? Talk about how the store is organized. Why are sale items placed on the ends of each aisle? Ask the manager (ahead of time is best) if you can go behind the scenes. Your child may be astonished to see the large freezers, the commercial baking ovens, or the loading dock where the trucks park. (Just be aware of your child's sensitivities if you visit the butcher!)
Post office. Before your trip, encourage your child to write a letter (younger children can draw a picture) to Grandma, a friend, or a far away relative. Take it along. If you have packages to mail, bring them along and see how their weight determines the cost. Or, mail several letters to different locations and ask the receiver to notify your child when the letter arrives. Back home, make a chart that shows how many days it took each letter to arrive.
Television station. Anchor desks and television cameras will certainly grab a child's attention. Children can learn how the news is broadcast and what types of jobs there are in the biz. If the station covers the weather, see if it's possible to meet the meteorologist. Ask her to show you the weather map and explain how she predicts the weather.
Plant nursery. Take along a plant hook to help you identify different plants, trees, flowers, and shrubs. If you schedule a tour in advance, a horticulturist can provide tips on how to plan a children's garden. Once home, you can put your child's new knowledge to work by planting a small garden to tend all summer long.
Local stream or lake. You'll have tons of fun exploring what lives in and around a stream, pond, or lake. Check under rocks and along the water's edge. You may even be able to capture some tadpoles to take home. (But be sure to set them free once they become frogs!) Nature field trips are a great way to introduce your child to the world of ecology. Encourage your child to draw pictures of what he saw or write about the experience.
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Lynne Ticknor, M.A., is a certified parent educator for the Parent Encouragement Program.