Ah! Field trips! Last year I saw the founding documents of our country. Like most Americans, I read about them, learned who wrote them and why, and have understood their importance. Actually looking at them, even through glass in room with low-lighting, gave me an appreciation for the work behind these documents. When I looked at the original documents I saw the smudges, a correction, and a stain. Now they came alive to me.
The Importance of Field Trips
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Most of us who homeschool know that experience has a greater impact than only reading about procedures or facts. Our children can read the steps to divide fractions every day. But it’s not until those steps are put in practice, experienced, that they will know and remember how to perform the process. The same is true of science, history, literature, art, and all other topics.
This is the importance of field trips. The opportunity to see, touch, and witness makes learning a reality. Like my experience with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, we are able to allow our children to gain a better understand and more learning opportunities with field trips.
A trip to Washington D.C. isn’t necessary for good and fun learning opportunities. Let’s take a look at what’s closer to home.
For those who live in or near a state capitol, a trip to the seat of state government is a good option. Often a personal tour can be arranged through your state representative. Our family was escorted to the floor of the state legislature and able to sit to watch several votes being taken. Our legislature introduced us, which means our names are recorded in the minutes of that day’s proceedings.
Don’t stop there. Look around. Near or on the capitol grounds, more historic museums and buildings may be found. For example, Sutter’s Fort stands within a block of the capitol building of California or in Austin, the capitol of Texas, a few blocks away visitors can find the first German school in Texas.
Don’t live near the state capitol? County and city governments have similar buildings, which can often be accessed easier. Again, contact your representative on the county board for information and tours. It’s easier for young people to take an active part in local government by speaking before governing boards and presenting concerns.
Nearly every county or town has a historical society. The folks who donate their time are knowledgeable and enjoy talking to anyone about history. So much local history ties into state and national history. Many major historical events started at a little-known town.
Let me tell you about Gonzales, Texas. Unless you live or lived in Texas, you probably don’t know this little Central Texas town. It's called the “Lexington of Texas.” The Texas revolution began here; a skirmish that led to the Battle of the Alamo. (Learn more about Gonzales, Texas.) A short field trip to the county courthouse revealed all of this wonderful information to me.
Art appreciation is a topic many of us aren’t sure how to teach. We know it’s more than looking at pictures in books and reading biographies of artists. After a docent-led museum tour, you and your children may want to delve into the artist, the type of art, the history and culture of the time of the piece. Larger museums may have special exhibits of major artists with self-led tours.
Small art museums feature local artist, some of whom you may even know. Ask the museum staff about times when the artist may be available for a chat. Our local museum, which houses more than art, occasionally offers art classes given by the exhibiting artist.
We are all aware of some of the standard local field trips such as the fire department or grocery store. You may be thinking what I often thought, “That’s wonderful for younger kids. But I also have teens.” Be creative. When contacting a business or agency, let the person in charge of guests know the age range. Often they can provide different experiences for the various age groups.
Our local fire department arranged for a tour of the training center. They showed us how they rescue people from a multi-story burning building. It was a fascinating trip for all of us. It only took a quick question when arranging the visit.
An annual trip for our family was the county fair. The fair offered free admission for schools, including homeschools, during the morning hours. All of the exhibits, except the rides, were open. It’s amazing the types of displays. Most county fairs have agriculture displays including both plants and animals. The 4-H clubs usually have displays of cooking, art, and hobbies. You never know what a kiddo might see that sparks an interest.
Where can you find local field trip opportunity? Start with a local newspaper. A daily paper may have weekend opportunities listed in the Thursday or Friday issue. Sometimes events are listed a month in advance.
Chambers of commerce not only have lists of businesses, which often provide tours or classes but also local attractions. annual events, and clubs. With these lists, you can look for opportunities based on what you plan for the upcoming school year.
Don’t overlook members of your church fellowship. A rocket scientist, yes, really a rocket scientist, was able to show my children rocket launch pads, how they build the rockets, and gave us VIP passes for a space shuttle landing. Calling his employer would not have garnered these opportunities.
Sometimes interesting adventures can present themselves by taking the lesser known road. One particular highway we traveled often soon became boring. My kids hollered from the rear of the van, “Let’s take that road.” I did what any adventure-seeking mom would do, I turned down the road.
We enjoyed a less-hurried journey on the two-lane road. While admiring the tall trees, my son saw a small crevice parallel to the road. I found a safe place to pull off and we went exploring. During our exploration, we found two medallions in the rock sides, one of each side. On further inspection, we learned these were markers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to measure the movement of the rocks.
We were standing in an earthquake fault!
Yes, we went home and looked up the UDGS, earthquake faults, and the area where we found it. Take a chance on the road less traveled for interesting learning experiences.
Don’t make every trip out of the house a field trip. Sometimes it as important to just go somewhere for the enjoyment of the place and people. My children taught me this lesson.
I was raised in a traveling family. My dad always made sure we learned as much as possible about the areas we visited and had experiences we couldn’t get at home. I loved it (still do). When we piled in the car for a visit to another area, even when planning to visit family or friends, I planned learning opportunities.
While loading our van for a trip to visit family, one of my sons said to me, “Mom, can this please not be a field trip?” I realized in my zeal and enjoyment I was ruining travel for my kids. Not every trip out of town or to the grocery store needs to be a field trip.
You can provide learning opportunities through field trips in the neighborhood, a nearby town, or on a day trip within your county. With a little creativity and planning, the entire family can enjoy the experiences.