The school year is peppered with field trips, as teachers organize jaunts to local spots of interest. As the summer days stretch ahead, you'll surely be thinking of ways to fill time and have fun as a family. So why not take a cue from teachers and organize a field trip of your own? Whether you're looking for something different to do this Saturday, are itching for more inclusive family time, or just want to keep the learning bug alive in your child until September, field trips can fill the bill.
A field trip can be a one-off activity: taking in a puppet show at the local library, browsing the new craft exhibit at the children's museum, or taking a walking tour in a nearby city. Or, you can plan a summer-long project. For example, a visit to a recycling center can be part of an ecology-themed series of trips and discussions. (In fact, June is National Recycling Month.) Of course field trips should be fun — who wants to be taken away from friends having a blast back at home unless the payoff is enjoyable? But you can also use them to create awareness or generate interest in new areas. Has your son been bugging you to get a puppy? Visit an animal shelter to spur a deeper appreciation and interest in the welfare of animals.
Even better, you don't have to travel far to find a new place to explore. Think outside the usual box, and you'll quickly see that your own neighborhood, town, or city is full of field-trip ideas. Some to get you started:
- A clock-repair shop. These tend to be small, old-fashioned-looking, and fascinating, especially if you or your child loves mechanical stuff. You'll probably see a wide array of old and new clocks, watches, and unusual timepieces. Check out and compare analog clocks to digital clocks, grandfather clocks to cuckoo clocks, and wristwatches to quaint pocket watches. Besides the obvious how-to-tell-time lesson, a trip to a clock repair shop can be a lesson in how machines work. Call in advance to arrange a visit and ask if it would be possible to glimpse the inner workings of a clock under repair. Seeing the gears, 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 is a great way to teach children about the raising of animals and the growing of food. In a feed store, identify horse, cow, and small-animal food and talk about the differences in texture, smell, size, and color. Ask your child which human food is similar to the animal food she sees. Check out the seeds and fertilizer for a quick lesson on growing. A popular stop at the farm store is always the heavy equipment. Take a seat on a farm tractor or climb in a horse trailer (always ask first). Point out how large a tractor tire is compared to those on your car.
- Grocery store. It may seem odd at first; after all, your children have likely been to the supermarket with you on weekly runs since they were babies. But how often have they really looked at the way food is displayed, marketed, and sold? When the trip is not a chore but a voyage of discovery, you'll find there's a lot less whining about candy! Talk about how the store is laid out. Why are the cold foods always along the exterior walls? 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. Larger stores have their own bakery, butcher shop, pharmacy, and florist. Your child may be astonished to see the giant refrigerators that store food, the commercial baking ovens, or the loading dock where the food arrives on trucks. Just be aware of your child's sensitivities if you visit the butcher!
- Post office. You can check out different styles of stamps for sale, weigh envelopes on the scales provided, and ask a manager for a tour. Before your trip, encourage your child to write a letter (or draw a picture) to Grandma, a friend, or a faraway relative. Then mail it when you get to the post office. Children can learn how the mail is sorted and put on different trucks to be delivered across town or across the ocean. If you have packages to mail, bring them along and see how their weight helps determine 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. There are many things to see and do in these hives of activity. Satellite dishes, anchor desks and television cameras will certainly grab any child's attention. Children can learn how the news is broadcast and what types of jobs there are in television broadcasting. If the television station covers the weather, see if it's possible to meet the meteorologist. Ask her to show you the weather map and to explain how she predicts the weather. This discussion leads nicely into some home study on the types of clouds, how precipitation occurs, or how weather is different in other parts of the country.
- Plant nursery. Whether or not you have a green thumb, there's always plenty to learn at a nursery. You can take along a plant book (or an expert gardener if you know one!) to help you identify plants, trees, flowers and shrubs. Not only will you feel like you are spending time in the great outdoors, you'll enjoy the water gardens and pottery. 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 that your family can tend all summer.
- Local stream or lake. Locate a natural water source near your home, grab a bucket and net, and head out to see what you and your child can find. You'll have tons of fun exploring what lives in and around a stream. Check under rocks and along the water's edge. You may even be able to capture some tadpoles to take home and watch them turn into frogs. (But be sure to set them free afterwards!) Nature field trips are a great way to introduce your child to the world of ecology and wildlife conservation. Encourage your child to draw pictures of what he saw or write about the experience.