Fun Field Trip Funding Ideas
Whether it's a lack of funds or lack of time, check out these great ideas for getting creative with field trips.
By Christen Amico
Exciting, well-planned field trips are always a great way to enhance any curriculum. However, the cost, research, and preparation for these trips can be mentally exhausting and financially draining. With budgets dwindling, class sizes increasing, and fuel costs soaring, many teachers have stepped back from planning school excursions. As teachers, we know how beneficial a hands-on museum or civil war re-enactment can be, but the high costs and extra effort often deter these trips from taking place. Here are some field trips ideas and alternatives to complement any classroom curriculum while also meeting the demands of a typical teacher with limited (or no) funds for trips.
Do the Transportation Two-Step!
Often the most expensive part of planning a field trip is figuring out how to get all the children safely to their destination. Because of high fuel costs, typical school bus transportation services can be very pricey. Bus services now have endless fees for exceeding a certain number of miles or have a minimum number of hours you must pay for. Here are some ways to save money on transportation:
- Try to take the city bus (call ahead). Some cities, like Portland, Oregon even offer a "class pass" specifically designed for field trips. Cities like Los Angeles offer free city buses to 12 educational destinations.
- Arrange for parent drivers (more paperwork involved, but could be worth it).
- Have students meet at destination and only take the bus back to school.
- Find a bus scholarship program, such as the one offered by the LA County Museum of Art, which offers one free bus to each low income school in the area.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Every city and community has a plethora of learning opportunities right around the corner. Instead of planning high-cost, all-day field trips to fancy museums, try a smaller, but just as exciting, trip to a place close to school. Often these places will be free for students (since few teachers think of them) and less crowded. As an extra bonus, if the location is within walking distance from school, then you will also save the transportation fees and headaches of kids singing loudly on the bus:
- City hall
- Police or fire station
- Grocery Store (yes! this is a great one)
- Veterinary hospital or office
- Art center
- Community theatre
- City library
- News station
- College campus
These field trip ideas are simple and plentiful, yet many children may have never experienced them. Simple trips to local government places are great ways to learn about laws and citizenship. Grocery stores are often excited to have children come and learn about different fruits and vegetables. Doctors, dentists and other business professionals are often willing to give tours and speeches about their profession, as it means free advertising for them. As adults, we think the field trip experience has to be grand. However, sometimes the smaller, more intimate experiences are more meaningful.
Field Trips on Wheels
Instead of paying the high cost of buses and losing those precious instructional minutes, pay for a field trip to come to you. In response to the decline in field trips, many museums and businesses have developed mini-exhibits that will travel to school sites, for "in-school field trips". Similar to a school assembly, many of these schools on wheels have extensive trailers, artifacts and even live animals to provide an enriching learning experience without the need for permission slips and brown sack lunches. To save even more money, collaborate with other teachers and grade levels since many businesses will offer a discount for additional hours spent at a site. Here is a list of some great traveling field trip programs:
- California: Aquarium of the Pacific
- Massachusetts: Discovery Museums
- Ohio: Guyette Farms
- New York: American Museum of Natural History
- Colorado: Color Me Mine Art Studio
Although this is just a small sampling of a few national programs, many locations have docents and artifacts that are willing and able to travel—just ask!
Grant Me the Money
Just because you, the teacher, can't afford the cost of the field trip, doesn't mean that someone else isn't willing to pay for it. There are countless grant opportunities for teachers to apply for the field of their dreams. The largest field trip grant is Target's Field Trip Grant which will pay for $800 worth of field trip expenses (bus included). Teacher's First and Donorschoose.org provide other field trip grant opportunities for teachers as well. However, the application process (and the unfortunate risk of denial) may be too overwhelming for some teachers. Therefore, another great way is to simply ask the parents of your students. You never know what connections they may have to the world. If you have a parent who is a college professor or city official, then booking field trips should be a breeze. If the money just isn't there, and your heart is set on taking your little Einsteins to a world-renowned museum, then look for specific dates when admission fees are waived. Most large museums (click here for a list of ones in Los Angeles), aquariums, such as the Shedd aquarium in Illinois, and other educational places will offer at least a handful of dates for free. Be careful they are usually not convenient dates, and they may require the teacher to be trained before the class may attend.
Whether you are cutting costs on transportation, or planning for a fee-free day, teachers have a bountiful assortment of money and time-saving options for high-interest, meaningful field trip.
Learning Resources to Accompany Your Field Trip:
Fourth grade learners will be amazed at how much they can learn about California by using Google Earth to learn about climate, land forms and history with this great virtual field trip.
No matter the type or cost of the trip, we can all use some tips on how to make sure the children get the most out of the trip. Read this great article on how to plan and prepare for a wonderful school field trip.
If you happen to teach near Central Park, here is a great lesson plan for you to use. If you aren't near Central Park, the lesson can be modified for almost any park or outdoor learning area. It is always a great idea for older students to have a handout or activity to complete while on the field trip.