While it’s hard to dispute the educational value of field trips, the logistical challenges of out-of-classroom excursions are enough to make even savvy educators cringe. But don’t let the challenges stop you from hitting the road with your students. These tips and tricks can make field trips more enjoyable (and educational!) for everyone.
1 | Start early. It can take weeks to receive all the necessary approvals for a field trip. You need administrative approval and transportation. You need time to collect money—and time to submit that money so your school can cut a check. Begin planning your field trip at least six weeks in advance of your departure date. The bigger the trip, the bigger your head start needs to be. Overnight, out-of-state, or overseas trips may need to be planned a whole year in advance.
2 | Think small, contained, and low-key, says Wendy Weiner, founder and principal of Conservatory Prep Senior High, a 7–12 school located in Davie, Florida. Trips to large, public places and those that mix students from several schools offer a multitude of distractions and potential pitfalls. Small-group activities keep kids engaged and busy. Ask a local Boy Scout, Girl Scout, or 4-H club for assistance. These groups regularly plan kid-friendly outings around merit badges or other learning activities, and the places that cater to these clubs (such as camps and museums) are ideal for school groups.
3 | Look for action. Kids love to be hands-on. And the best field trips give students a chance to touch, feel, and try something new. “My students love the Indian Festival [and Pow-Wow] at Stone Mountain,” says Jennifer Bennifield, a sixth-grade teacher and field trip coordinator at Kendrick Middle School in Jonesboro, Georgia. "The Native Americans put on demonstrations, show the kids different tools and rituals, and the kids have a chance to buy artifacts and tools.”
4 | Keep costs down by planning the trip yourself. Timing your trip for off-season may also help lower costs. If you’re traveling out of state, find out if you qualify for tax-exempt status in that state. In addition, fundraisers can help defray costs, and consider having families pay in installments, rather than requiring a lump-sum payment. Also, don’t be afraid to seek outside support. “If a student can’t go due to financial need, we start hunting money down,” says Traci McKee, an eighth-grade teacher at Kernodle Middle School in Greensboro, North Carolina. Consider asking private donors and local companies for support.
5 | Prescreen the site. If possible, visit your proposed site before scheduling a trip. Pay attention to the environment. Is there anything that might upset your students? Having that information in advance will help you create contingency plans. Find out if the site can accommodate students with special needs. “I highly recommend notifying the establishment of any medical needs or allergies,” says Lisa Kemp, a seventh-grade special education teacher who has traveled with People to People Ambassador Programs.
6 | Go to the right source. When McKee and Rebecca Furrow, a fellow eighth-grade teacher at Kernodle Middle School, wanted to take a group of students to Disney World, they started making phone calls. “We’d done field trips in the past, but nothing to this extent or distance,” Furrow says. They contacted the Disney Youth Education Series, which connected them with specialists who helped them plan and schedule their lodging, financing, and activities.
7 | Prep students and parents. “The most important thing you can do to make a field trip a successful experience is to educate kids about where they’re going, what they can expect, and what the expectations are for them,” Kemp says.
Discuss the trip, showing students online pictures or videos. Talk through common situations: You’ll probably get excited when we get to the museum, but keep your hands to yourself. Stay with the group.
Make sure kids know what they are expected to do as well. If they’ll be looking for answers to questions or doing a scavenger hunt, hand out questions and lists in advance.
If parents are chaperoning, be clear about expectations. “I give parents tasks,” says Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher Really Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College). “Can you contact the place where we’re going? Can you carry snacks? If a parent has a skill that’s related to the trip, I’ll invite them along and have them talk to the class before we go.” Also, have parent chaperones refer all discipline problems to you or another teacher.
8 | Bring emergency info. Accidents happen. Kriegel prints a list of emergency contacts and medical info, and brings it along. “That way, if something happens, I don’t need to call the school to get information,” he says.
9 | Keep it moving. “We have learned that the busier we keep our students, the less trouble they get into,” McKee says. Divide students into manageable groups, and make sure each group has adequate adult supervision. Then have the groups rotate through certain exhibits or activities. The constant motion will keep your students occupied—and out of trouble!
10 | Use travel time wisely. “I don’t believe in kids sitting on the bus or subway and doing nothing,” Kriegel says. “I have all my students bring a journal, a pencil, and a book. It gives them something to do and it lays the groundwork for behavior in public.”
Travel time can also be used to talk about what students will be seeing, or what they have seen. “At the end of the day, we have students talk about something they learned and their favorite part of the day,” says Kemp, who seizes those opportunities to further students’ knowledge.
Image: Illustration by Linda Helton