Think back to your school years. Among the memories of friends, sports, and unforgettable teachers, there are likely several memories of class trips taken to museums, parks, historical monuments, and local community landmarks. At the time, you probably looked at field trips as a chance to skip class and hang out with friends. But those field trips were also about so much more!
Traditionally, field trips were designed to enhance what children are being taught in the classroom. The goal was to let students see, touch, and experience things that would otherwise just be a line in a textbook or a picture on a classroom wall.
Due to budget constraints in most major school districts, the number of field trips has slowly decreased despite the documented advantages of school trips, and the numbers prove it. The Field Museum in Chicago once welcomed more than 300,000 students inside its walls each year. More recently, that number has dropped to 200,000. The American Association of School Administrators reported that more than half of schools had to cancel field trips during the 2010-11 school year.
Besides a drop in the available funding, many of today’s younger teachers wrongly view field trips as something they can use as a reward for academic achievement, not something that enhances knowledge. The lack of funding and change in teacher mindset means many schools no longer emphasize the importance of field trips. But just because budgets are tight and students can’t travel as easily as they did in the past doesn’t mean children need to lose these hands-on experiences.
Why are field trips good for students?
One study found that incorporating field trips into a school’s educational curriculum directly impacts a child’s academic performance. The U.S. Travel Association study found that 59% of students who attend field trips have higher grades than their peers. It also discovered that one of the biggest advantages of field trips was that they contribute to higher graduation rates and can also result in a higher earning potential during adulthood. In addition to the academic and professional benefits of field trips, one of the study’s most important findings was that 89% of those surveyed believed that the field trips they took in school made them more inquisitive and engaged in the world around them.
There are four primary reasons why field trips are important:
A notable study conducted out of New York University found that students who went on science-based field trips scored better on their state-level achievement exams. Ideally, field trips reinforce principles and ideas students learn in the classroom. To ensure field trips effectively complement classroom instruction, teachers can offer pre-trip instruction and activities, as well as design follow up instruction and assignments that use the information students received on the trip.
The educational value of field trips can also be found in the less-conventional learning methods that trips beyond the classroom promote. Many children are largely visual learners, which means they are more likely to retain information and understand concepts when they come face-to-face with them. Engaging in visual and hands-on learning methods through field trips can also build confidence for students who struggle to engage and learn in a traditional classroom environment. School trips offer them more freedom to learn without as many constraints or expectations.
Learning is about more than memorizing facts and retaining information. In fact, when a classroom is built around memorization of facts, engagement with the material is often lost. When teachers employ traditional memorization strategies, students can come away from the class remembering facts but having no idea why they’re important or how they’ll be used down the road. For example, a student may memorize a series of mathematical formulas, but if they don’t understand how to apply the formulas, their knowledge of the formulas will be irrelevant and quickly lost.
Field trips also allow students to engage with topics and materials in a way that makes them up close and relevant. For example, if a class takes a trip to the National Air & Space Museum, they can engage with the history of science and space exploration in the U.S. They can also get a practical look at the laws of physics and how those principles have informed more than a century of flight. Besides getting context for the principles and facts they’re learning in school, students also see firsthand how the things they’re learning now may be relevant to their future career field.
During your education, you probably visited a historical site, such as a home, a battlefield or perhaps a town like Colonial Williamsburg. The purpose of field trips like these is to draw students into the experiences others have had. When a student visits the site of a horrific Civil War battle, the war no longer becomes just a paragraph on a textbook page. It quickly becomes a real-life, terrible experience that drives home the serious issues surrounding that war. When students visit a historic property, they can often engage in activities like farm chores, animal care and cooking that they might not do at home. This is called historical empathy, and it can have a direct and important impact on how a child grows up to view the world and their place in it.
The importance of field trips in education is also found in how trips challenge children to think “outside the box.” Looking at a painting and thinking about the scene being depicted is helps teach children to think critically. Even asking simple questions like, “What’s happening in the painting?” and, “What was the artist trying to accomplish?” can spark thoughts and conversations with long-lasting implications. Teaching students to observe what’s around them is an important part of developing critical thinking. Even a children’s museum — where interactive and imaginative play are encouraged — is designed to help children exercise their minds and develop the skills to solve problems and think critically about what they see and hear.
Field trips benefit students academically, but there’s more to them than simply complementing a textbook unit on marine life or a history unit on the Civil Rights era. A field trip allows students and teachers to get out of the formal context of the classroom and cultivate shared experiences. Shared experiences lead to better rapport between teachers and students, as well as a deeper bond among classmates.
When students feel a shared bond with classmates, they are more comfortable exchanging information and helping each other learn as the school year progresses. They can also form deep and lasting friendships that exceed one specific classroom or school year.
Although field trips may be stressful for some teachers — moving a group of excited, eager children from Point A to Point B is never easy — it’s also an important opportunity for teachers to interact with and observe their students in a more relaxed setting. Teachers can learn more about how a child thinks about the world around them and how they learn, providing valuable information that can benefit their classroom instruction later on.
Field trips aren’t restricted to teachers and students — although we certainly encourage them! Field trips are also excursions parents can take with their children. The reasons for why students should go on field trips go far beyond a classroom education. Here are some of our favorite ideas for your next educational adventure.
The educational applications of a day spent in nature are endless, especially for city kids! Kids can see firsthand what biodiversity looks like and develop a familiarity with the plants in their area of the world. Most botanical gardens offer educational tours and programs guided by trained professionals, which can be developed to go along with various science topics and curriculums. Another great thing about botanical gardens is that they change with the seasons, providing a fresh new destination every few months.
There’s nothing quite like the experience of seeing a live production, especially a retelling of a classic book that students have been reading in school. Attending a live production is an excellent way to engage students in Shakespeare and other playwrights in their literature curriculum. Timing this to coincide with local productions of the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” can also generate some holiday excitement on top of an educational experience. While younger children may not be familiar with Shakespeare or Dickens, attending the theater still complements a language arts program, teaching them about the arts and literature, as well as offering new and different cultural experiences.
If you want to avoid crowds in some of the more popular destinations, check your area for nature preserves or parks with trails. Even a local reservoir can provide students with a firsthand look at the topic of water conservation, as well as an up-close look at the local wildlife. If you live near the coast, consider a trip to the beach or bay to discuss conservation and natural resources on a larger scale.
Museums and planetariums let children view science, artifacts and art in an up-close and personal way. Art museums encourage critical thinking skills, as well as inspire creativity. Science- and history-based museums complement several topics of study. Many museums offer tours and special features online so you can explore their collections from home. For example, the Boston Children’s Museum offers a virtual walk-thru of all three floors of its exhibits. The Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History offers a self-guided virtual experience for children to view some of the museum’s most interesting exhibits, including the skeletons located in the museum’s Bone Hall.
Looking for ways to supplement at-home learning? Consider a virtual trip to some of the larger zoos across the country, such as the Cincinnati Zoo or the San Diego Zoo. Without even having to put on their shoes, children can get to know many animals, such as giraffes, rhinos and panda bears. Virtual zoo field trips often provide a closer look than you’d ever get standing outside an animal enclosure in person at the zoo.
Have an older child who isn’t entertained by videos of cute animals? Yellowstone National Park offers virtual tours, including an Old Faithful Live Stream and interactive maps that allow you to get up close and personal with the Mud Volcano and Mammoth Hot Springs. Many planetariums, museums and other educational destinations also offer various interactive online offerings.
Field trips aren’t just for older students — the benefits of field trips in early childhood can’t be underestimated. Field trips with preschool-aged students can have significant and long-lasting benefits on a child’s academic performance and personal wellbeing. However, it may be better to skip the science museum and historical sites. Instead, opt for destinations that will teach and reinforce the social skills preschoolers are rapidly developing. Some of our favorite ideas for preschool field trips include:
Yes, it seems like these are just “fun” places — and they are — but remember that children learn through play. Offering them new play experiences teaches them new things about the world around them. It’s also a great tool for teaching social skills such as using indoor voices, sharing with friends and learning about community helpers.
When we’re talking about the importance of field trips in early childhood education, there are always many questions about how teachers can keep small children safe during these outings. Safety should always be the number one priority on any teacher’s mind when coordinating a field trip. A lot of planning goes into each trip to ensure there are enough chaperones to keep a watchful eye on children and the itinerary is carefully structured to avoid any lapses that would allow children time to wander off.
A successful field trip often requires a partnership between parents and teachers. Teachers rely on parents to volunteer their time as chaperones, as well as offer assistance sending their child with the appropriate necessities for a trip, which include seasonally appropriate clothing, sunscreen, and lunch, if needed. Parents can also support teachers during the planning process by turning in the appropriate permission slips, payments, and other items needed to finalize plans. It may seem like a small thing, but by meeting deadlines and following instructions, parents can ensure that their child has a fun, safe experience each and every time