by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
Check out the website ahead of time so you have some idea what you’ll see at your destination and to pin down the hours the site is open. Do this far enough in advance that you can do a little preparatory learning with the kids, if that’s warranted. Some places offer guided tours, so evaluate if that would be beneficial (and a good fit with your kids ages and interest level) and plan accordingly.
Check to see if tickets or passes are offered at a reduced rate if purchased in advance. Is there a homeschool discount? If you live in Mn, children’s admission will be deductible on your state income taxes under the education subtraction, so you’ll want to get a receipt for admission that itemizes each admission rate (if the receipt doesn’t itemize each admission, grab a flyer that lists the admission rates for kids and adults and attach it to your receipt for record keeping) and be sure to get a receipt for any parking fees, too. Some locations offer little classes on certain days. If that’s something that would be of interest to your family, schedule accordingly. If there’s no homeschool discount, but there IS a group discount, invite a couple other homeschool families to go on the same day and go as a group. Sometimes groups of 10 are given a discount or a tour of their own.
Make sure you know if you’ll be inside or outside for this field trip (historical sites, sculpture gardens etc can have outdoor components) and dress everyone for the weather. If the website has a map of the attraction, you can begin planning what displays and areas are most important to you on this trip. Is there a travelling exhibit only available for a limited time? Is there a demonstration or show at a certain time that you should plan to attend?
The very best time for field trips is during the first few weeks of the public school year or right after public school holiday breaks- you won’t be competing with school groups as they are busy getting everyone settled back into the school routine. At the very end of the school year, you should find little competition at sites, also. During the school year, you’ll have most sites largely to yourselves if you arrive right away when they open and get out by 11am, or arrive about 2pm when the school groups are busy getting everyone back to school to head home at the end of the day. During school breaks between terms and for holidays you should also find field trip destinations less congested. If you do end up competing with several large school groups during your field trip, try to stay well ahead or behind them, if possible. They tend to be herded en masse through the site, though some groups are just released into the space for an allotted period of time.
When you arrive get a map (actually, get one for each child to put in their portfolio file) and spend a couple minutes marking off your priority sites. Or bring your map from your planning stage. You want to be able to budget your time so you are able to spend enough time with your target exhibits for some thoughtful interaction with the kids. You don’t want the kids to run from place to place barely looking at things. You can probably accomplish this step standing outside the restrooms while the kids make a potty stop after you’ve arrived. If your destination is a museum, see my article on “museum seek & find”.
A day or 2 after your tip go over your map or itinerary with the kids and talk about what you saw or did. Ask each child to share something they remember or learned from each stop on your visit. The kids can make notes on their map of the site. Encourage the kids to chat about their visit with their other parent or grandparents. When we tell someone about an experience, the memory of it becomes stronger. Older students can journal about the trip or create a brief oral presentation with a few pictures or items to share and make their telling a more formal oral report. Younger children might enjoy drawing pictures of what they saw or creating their own works of art in the style of a piece they saw at the museum.
Far off destinations:
If you’ll be travelling away from home- be sure to spend ample time scoping out possible field trip stops on your trip. Research these locations and their offerings so you can make the most of your time there. You might be driving right past a historical marker at a roadside rest, or you might have a lengthy layover on a flight. Attractions might be in your destination city or stops along the drive to an out of town wedding or family reunion. If time allows, you’ll want to make the most of these opportunities.
Wherever you explore, even a trip to their gift shop can be a learning experience and certainly more interesting than just reading a guide book. If you purchase coloring books, guides, maps or DVDs in the gift shop to use for study later, those materials are also deductible on your Mn income tax under the education credit/subtraction. Have the kids put together a short presentation to talk about their trip and what they saw, and they can share this experience with friends and family, their scout or 4H troop, or just the family for some public speaking experience. Make your field trips all that they can be!