As an educator, I’m always looking for fun places to take my students that lend themselves to exploring our educational objectives. Places that don’t hurt parents’ pocketbooks are even better! Well, here is one such idea in the “free fun field trips near me” category that accomplished both of those objectives.
If you’re anywhere near the coast, the beach is an excellent place to take your students. For those on the west coast, the beach is accessible nearly year-around. If you’re on the east coast, you’ll want to make sure you take your students during the warmer months and avoid winter altogether. Ha ha.
Since I live on the west coast, the beach was a perfect option for a free fun fieldtrip near me. During our third-grade unit on the ocean, naturally, we had to go visit! So, as every teacher does, permission slips were passed out, the due date was discussed, and we awaited the return of those little orange slips that let us take our students on a grand adventure.
While waiting for the return of all permission slips, we taught about the ocean’s ecosystem, read books on ocean animals, created diagrams of tidepools, and wrote journals about prior ocean experiences. The unit was as hands-on as we could get it, and the students were excited to go to the ocean where there was sure to be more hands-on activities for them to enjoy.
To ensure participation of all students on fieldtrip day, we took a survey and discovered who loved, liked, or disliked the beach. In completing this survey, we learned that one student had serious misgivings about our trip. She had nearly drowned a year prior while at the beach with her parents. For this student, we made sure to place her in a group with a friend and an adult she trusted to be sure she felt safe and secure the whole time. She would also be allowed to observe the tidepools from a farther distance, if needed, and could supplement the planned experience with time at the ocean science center.
When the week prior to beach day finally arrived, we were missing 25% of our permission slips. Some students mentioned forgetting to tell their parent or guardian. Others pulled crumpled pieces of paper out of their backpacks with no signature at all. One student tried to sign it for her parents right in front of me! Right about then, I really wished I had a permission slip app! Imagine the hassle of collecting permission slips, gone forever! Having the ability to instantly connect and communicate with parents regarding an upcoming fieldtrip would have saved me a lot of headaches – and follow-up phone calls – in order to make sure all students could go on the trip.
Beach day itself went incredibly well. We had a teacher, a teacher’s aide, and four parents to serve as chaperones. With the class divided up into groups of four or five students per adult, we ensured a safe and enjoyable trip for all.
Upon arriving to the beach, we split up into pre-arranged groups and separated to accomplish different activities. We had a total of five stations: lifeguard instruction, beach combing, tidepool exploration, bird watching, and sandcastle building. Each activity lasted around twenty to twenty-five minutes. For beach combing, tidepool, and bird watching stations, the students were instructed to use their science journals and record what they discovered. They were encouraged to write out and draw their observations.
Our culminating activity after lunch was a whole class visit to the ocean science center located near the boardwalk. Having pre-arranged our trip with the docent, we were enthusiastically greeted and welcomed in. Note: There was a small fee for this activity. This part of the trip could be optional if you want to keep the entire fieldtrip free. Many science centers do have grants and discounts available, however, so be sure to ask for current educational deals and discounts when booking your trip.
The ocean science center tour lasted two hours and included an engaging presentation by the docent, a kid-friendly video on the ocean, and time for students to explore touch tank exhibits and aquariums up close. There were several other touch exhibits as well, including baleen from a Baleen whale, an assortment of shells, and items from the ocean such as seaweed. Prior to leaving, the students were given fifteen minutes to sit and reflect, using their journals to record a one to three things they learned from the center. Students who finished early illustrated their written piece.
The students had a wonderful time incorporating everything they learned in the classroom into a real-world experience at the ocean. Even our student who began the trip hesitant due to prior experiences was able to interact confidently in her small group. Each student also had takeaways they were able to use later, incorporating them into small speeches for our mini science fair.
This was one of the best free fun field trips near me and I know we’ll be returning with students for years to come. And next time, for a hassle-free pre-trip experience, I’ll be sure to use the permission slip app! Permission slips and money collection are both, by far, the most frustrating parts of any fieldtrip I run. I have yet to experience a trip where I didn’t have to place follow-up phone calls with several of my students’ parents to ask where their slip or money was. I’m so grateful an app like this exists and I’ll be sure to start incorporating it into my trips from here on out. With all the technology we use in our classrooms, it’s about time we have this wonderful resource, too!
I have been both the supervising teacher and a field trip chaperone for other teachers. All of these experiences have given me a clear idea of what I want in a chaperone as a teacher and what I want from a teacher as a chaperone.
One of the most valuable lessons that I learned was these students with both mild and significant disabilities were no different than my other students. They thrive when real learning takes place. They enjoy the intrinsic value of education. Overwhelmingly, they need significant experiences outside of the walls of the classroom just like every other school-aged child.
One of the major concerns in the world of education right now is how to engage students in the new normal of remote learning. In over eight years of teaching, I have never experienced anything like what we are facing today.