Travel Tips! A Guide for Smoother Field Trips

Suggestions for making your next field trip successful, rather than stressful.

By Ann Whittemore

Kids on a field trip

There is nothing quite as wonderful as a field trip that goes off without a hitch. The kids are excited and motivated, they have just experienced something new, and you are currently considered the best teacher in the world (for that day at least). But truthfully, field trips can be frustrating, stressful, and exhausting. They take a lot of planning and may not always turn out as you expect. These tips and suggestions may not solve every issue, but they should make your field trips more pleasant. I also added a few trip ideas to get your field-trip creativity flowing.

Plan Ahead

  • Objective: Your trip should have a clear objective. Know why you are taking the excursion, and what the learning outcome should be. Make sure your field trip connects to your classroom content.
  • Destination: Begin by generating a list of ideas. Check for free days and school specials at museums, theaters, farms, and galleries. This keeps your cost down while building your teaching presence in the community. Accessing your community is a great way to build community relationships that have potential for growth. Once you have narrowed down your destination ideas, make phone calls. A short phone conversation with pertinent questions can alleviate much frustration. 
  • Chaperones: Start contacting parents, family members, and even older siblings to act as chaperones. You can also contact a neighboring high school. Most upper graders need to complete community service before graduating, and helping out with a school field trip can be beneficial for both parties.
  • Behavior: With people, places, and hopefully transportation in place, prep your kids with a discussion of what you expect from them. I personally hand out behavior contracts for each student to sign before participating in the outing. To make my point clear, I assign one parent volunteer as escort for any children who disrupt learning while on the trip. Even the idea that they can be taken back to school is enough to ensure cooperative behavior.
  • Handouts: I also like to be sure that the class understands the purpose of the trip by handing out a list of field trip objectives. Just like the objective for a lesson, trip objectives keep kids and chaperones focused on meeting a specific learning task while they are out in the community. In the past, I have made worksheets or had learners take their science journals along. This makes participation active and provides a way for you to assess the lesson once you have returned to school.

Trip Ideas

  • Visit a Museum

If you’re studying ancient civilizations, a specific artist, Native Americans, or art techniques, a trip to your local art museum is a perfect fit. Much of human culture is transmitted through arts and crafts. Actually seeing artifacts is much more memorable than viewing a picture in a text book. Regardless of why I’m taking my budding art enthusiasts to the art museum, I like to come prepared.

I suggest making a scavenger-hunt-style worksheet targeting specific items you want your class to see. Under each item listed on the sheet, provide space for your hunters to jot down specific information about the piece.

Drawing journals are another great way to experience art. Have each child bring a pencil and a notebook. They can then study and draw the various pieces you’ve chosen. Make sure to have them take note of style, tone, and technique found in the piece they are drawing. These ideas work as well with natural history museums as they do with art museums. If you are taking a curator-led tour, plan ahead by having learners think of one or two thoughtful questions to ask. It’s great to let them take the lead in the learning process.

  • Tour a Water Treatment Plant 

The water cycle and our environment are two topics often taught in lower grades. Take a trip to your local water treatment plant to see how water is filtered, stored, and moved. This can be a two-part trip where you first take a tour of a water facility, and then finish with a trip to a local creek, slough, or watershed region. The kids should first have a good idea of the process they will be exploring and what they should look for. Science journals are great for reinforcing what they learn. Also, if at all possible, use digital cameras to have the class capture what they see throughout the day. As a culminating project, they can create a PowerPoint with their photos. Other ideas for the pictures include creating a poster or an expository book, showing the water cycle process. With each picture, make sure students have a written description of the process.

  • Wander Around a Natural Habitat

Any time you take a trek through a wetland, beach, forest, or estuary, you are trekking through an animal’s habitat. As a culminating trip after a unit on animal habitats, take a trip to a local natural area. Plan to have your class use this field trip for a research project. Prior to taking the trip, small groups research the habitat, including the types of animals, insects, and plants they expect to see. Then they create a list of items their group will search for while they are there. On the day of the trip, learners bring the lists and worksheets they have created and begin to explore the habitat. Have an adult supervise each group. Ideally, the adult will have a digital camera. They can assist learners on their hunt while photographing things they see on the trip. Back at school, these images can be used to develop displays.

An additional idea is to incorporate history into your habitat field trip. Have learners research who previously lived on the land, how they survived, and what types of houses they constructed. When you explore the local environment, learners can examine how native tribes used the land and what types of evidence they might find as remnants of that group. This would be a great time to invite an anthropology professor or grad student from a local university to come along and explain how social scientists know what they do about Native Americans.

  • Explore a College Campus

There is no better way to encourage higher education than to have learners visit a university or community college. These trips usually take less planning because most institutions for higher education are prepared for school tours. Many of these institutions have outreach coordinators who give tours regularly. A tromp through the dorms, a snack at the dining commons, a quiet observation in a lecture hall, and just seeing all the interesting aspects of college life, can be a perfect inspiration. Make this a big buddy trip by pairing up with a local high school. Two groups of students benefit from the trip, and you have built-in chaperones. 

Wherever you decide to go, remember planning is the key to a low-stress, successful field trip.