Back-to-school season is in full swing and if today’s students are anything like we were, they’re already counting down the days until their first field trip of the year! For teachers, a field trip is a great opportunity to expose their students to new experiences that broaden their horizons, reinforce classroom lessons, empower students with different learning types, and gives parent chaperones an opportunity to connect with their child and teacher in a unique setting and participate in their education. For mischievous students, it’s a chance to get away from the desk and classroom, gossip, flirt, and get into some funny business (was that just me…?)
To help school group program managers, teachers, and parents get the most out of this year’s field trips, we consulted with our attraction designers to understand what elements make these exceptional activities the successful educational expeditions they are meant to be.
As with many parent/child interactions, setting expectations is key to intended outcomes, and Senior Creative Designer Dave Cooperstein echoes that a good field trip needs to have a framework.
“Why are we going there? What’s the relevance to the lessons that we are studying in school? What are we going to see, and what are you hoping we take away from the experience?” he says.
Without that framework, students can perceive a field trip as just a way to get out of the classroom, and not really understand the purpose of what they’re experiencing. Architect Renee Fronabarger echoes that teacher prep for field trips is really important to get the students in the mindset of being active participants in the experience. She recommends, “have them think about questions that can be engaging to be asked while on the field trip.”
Are you a teacher and not sure where to start? Many field trip destinations, like the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, have online resources to help teachers pick the right field trip for their students and prepare for the experience.
Keep it Small
We all have memories of waiting in line for the drinking fountain in elementary school, shouting “save some for the whales,” only for the bell to ring and we sprint to class, thirsty and cursing Dylan for taking forever. In a field trip setting, it’s key to keep group sizes small, so docents/facilitators can give students appropriate attention, and all students get to experience the activity and ask their questions. Architectural Designer Dan Schumer remembers an effective field trip where, “the kids were in small groups with a chaperone and went on a scavenger hunt.”
Renee reinforces that, “the smaller the groups, the better.”
Creative Writer AD Gladu goes in-depth on this topic:
“Children have a strong sense of justice. Not only is it instinctive, but our education system reinforces it early with lessons such as put the caps back on the markers so everyone can use them and raise your hand to speak so everyone gets a turn.
A successful field trip is one where everyone can participate equally in the activity. If there is a fun wheel to turn at the water table and only half the class gets to turn it, the other half will deeply feel the injustice of the situation. For some children, this small moment can become fixed in their mind and completely ruin their day. Teachers may get emails from frustrated parents who were told stories about their child’s terrible, awful, no good field trip, and they may decide not to return there next year because it isn’t worth the headache.”
Many of us lament how much our children may love YouTube, Twitch, or streaming programming, even if it’s educational, but it’s often the colorful, fun host or protagonist that makes it relatable and so engaging for them. For successful field trips, it’s no different.
“I think you need a really exciting, fun host,” says Dave. “They spend all their days in the classroom with the same teachers. Having a host, docent, or volunteer who is friendly, engaging, exciting, funny, and who knows how to hold the students’ attention is key to making a field trip memorable.”
“My daughter likes leaders/speakers who are fun and engaging,” says Renee. “She has good memories of field trips where the person who was touring them around was cool and exciting, and said that their group was one-of-a-kind and special. These hosts might also say you’re the very first group who has ever done/experienced this. These kinds of statements make the kids really feel special.
This may come as a shock to some readers, but children have a lot of energy, and they like to move around. Students also have different learning styles, and not everyone absorbs information just by listening to it. In fact, Dan Schumer notes that these kinds of sedentary field trips – where students have to sit still and listen to a lecture or watch a film – get reviews from his children like, “it was so boring,” “it took forever,” and, “all we could do was sit there and be quiet.” Landscape Architect Dan O’Neill emphasizes that field trips, “need to have some feature that is a fun way for kids to engage, interact, and burn off energy.”
Renee even notes, “the field trips my daughter likes the most are ones with physical activity.”
“I think a successful, enriching field trip needs to engage the students beyond just observation,” says Dave. “Making them active participants in the on-site lessons is key to them taking away something valuable from the experience. Whether it’s a simple scavenger hunt, a team-based game, or more elaborate role playing, finding ways to engage the students will make the field trip much more successful for everyone.”
Now that you’ve explored some of the success elements of these experiences, it’s time to create your field trip bucket list! Whether you’re seeking to inspire students, as Dan O’Neill recommends; getting, “outside, where they get to team up with friends and explore to find the answers,” as Designer / Art Director Maura Murphy-Pusateri loves; or simply seeking something unique and special to make the experience memorable, Dave and Renee’s top recommendations, scroll down to find some fantastic field trip destinations for your growing learner. For more great insights and tips on field trips, enjoy our 2015 Destinology, Escaping to Education: Taking the Room out of Classroom.
- The Great Outdoors: “My niece and nephew have gone on some amazing field trips where they went camping and whitewater rafting. These aren’t only cool and fun, but they allow them to learn values and life lessons,” says O’Neill. Several YMCA’s and state parks offer camping field trips, while numerous rafting outfitters like Whitewater Excitement are ready to take students out on the river.
- 6th Grade Camping Trip: “On these, it was really about a shared experience… getting to live and play together for multiple days, away from their parents, and seeing their teachers someplace other than in their classroom. The host of activities, from rock climbing, to kayaking, to cooking their own meals really provided them with a unique bonding experience that many of them had not shared with their classmates before,” says Dave. If you’re in the New England area, check out River Valley Ranch.
- Outdoor Play Area: “My daughter’s favorite field trip of all time was a team-bonding outdoor play area, with trust falls, high ropes course, and scaling a wall as a team. I think she likes the idea of something exactly opposite of what she would encounter during a normal school day. She likes to get out of the classroom, somewhere like a nature reserve,” says Renee. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is a very popular nature reserve in the Southern California region, while Go Ape might just be the top-rated high ropes course in the Greater Chicago area.
- Classic Field Trips: “History Museums that combine art and facts, or science centers that are hands-on,” says Maura. The Michigan Science Center has limitless objects to get your hands on, and museums across the country are finding new ways to make their collections even more engaging.
- Missouri: Being based in St. Louis, PGAV’s designers’ children have gotten to enjoy most, if not all, of the great local field trip destinations. From the Saint Louis Zoo to the Saint Louis Science Center, the Missouri Department of Conservation to the St. Louis Symphony, our designers recommend these great attractions if you find yourself in the great state of Missouri!
- Challenger Learning Center: “This was one of my daughter’s most memorable field trips in elementary school. It had most, or all, of the elements mentioned above, including a really unique setting that is hard to find anywhere else. The whole class really had a fun time, and learned a lot of valuable lessons, simulating a space mission and what it takes to get astronauts into space successfully. They worked hard to collaborate as a team, because they all wanted the ‘mission’ to be successful. And some of them learned really valuable lessons when it didn’t go as planned,” says Dave.
- The Theater: “Visits to the theater are incredible field trips for pre-K-12. Seeing adults perform characters they love, like Charlotte and Wilbur, or grow to love, like Juliet and her Romeo, validates their own sense of play and gives voice to concepts both familiar and new,” says AD. Austin’s Paramount Theatre and Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center are now accepting reservations.
- PGAV Destinations: “When my daughter’s class visited PGAV, they were exposed to a wide range of professions, from architects to graphic designers, artists to industrial designers, and many more. They loved meeting the designers and learning about the design process behind some of their favorite attractions around the city and the world like the Saint Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Aquarium, the Cardinals Hall of Fame, the Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, and more. They were fascinated to see all of the tools that go into our design process, from the beautiful renderings and the technical drawings, to the elaborate physical models in the model shop, to experiencing our immersive 3D digital models on the giant screens in the HIVE (which was their single most-mentioned element of the field trip in the “Thank You” letters that they sent to PGAV). It was three hours that was unexpected, fun, educational, and highly memorable for the entire group of students,” says Dave.