Field Trips in Homeschool Communities

Field Trips in Homeschool Communities

homeschool kids on a field trip at children's museum

Field Trips in Homeschool Communities

Katherine Swing

Homeschool Parent and Teacher

 

The landscape of education has most assuredly changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. While homeschooling had already been seeing an upward trend, the sudden experience of virtual or remote learning in the spring of 2020 made many families take a serious look at their options going into the fall. Polls were showing that around 47% of families were intending to homeschool in some form or fashion for the 2020-2021 school year, with 40% of that number stating that they would likely remain homeschooling families even after the pandemic restrictions were eased. While there is much uncertainty about what education will look like in the future, one thing is clear – homeschooling is no longer an insignificant piece of the pie.

Families dipping their toes into homeschooling for the first time will find, much to their relief and pleasure, that the various enrichment activities that they had become accustomed to in the sphere of public education are still available to homeschooling communities. Musical performance ensembles practice, perform, and compete. Sports teams are still able to come together and face off against each other. Many clubs permit homeschooled students to attend. Students interested in debate can prepare their arguments and organize tournaments. And yes – field trips still take place.

The term “field trips” in homeschool communities cover a wide range of activities in a wide range of structures. Frequently, families will designate one day a week for educational outings, such as visits to museums, art galleries, symphonic performances, even state parks. These “off-campus” days are often referred to as field trips, and rightly so. It is just a very small class size! Field trips can happen any time of the day, any day of the week, and are no less educational or beneficial because they occur within a family setting.

Yet it is very common for homeschooling families to come together to shoulder the load. Homeschool co-ops are numerous. Most towns will have a generalized homeschool co-op where parents will lead and students can choose from a wide variety of focused classes, running the gamut of robotics to marine biology. Larger towns and urban areas will offer even more options, with homeschool co-ops separating somewhat into their particular educational philosophies of the families. There should truly never be any fear regarding social activities within homeschool families – for many reasons, one of which being the sheer amount of activities and classes for which the families come together!

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Where the eleven-year-old goes, so does the five-year-old sister and the fifteen-year-old brother, while a baby tags along in a stroller or sling. This needs to be considered when choosing where to go on a field trip, but it is a positive thing more than it is a hurdle.
Field trips happen in these larger homeschool communities as well, and they will be more akin to the field trips organized by public schools. A parent or group of parents will typically communicate with the other families to see if there is interest. Often, the answer is a resounding YES! But sometimes there simply is not enough interest in a particular location, event, or activity, and that’s okay. Sometimes, there is loads of interest, but you know that your own children just simply would not be a good fit for that particular experience. While parents know that it is good and healthy to push our children in directions that they might not have necessarily chosen for themselves but come to find great enjoyment and benefit from, the truth is that not every field trip is a good fit for every child. It is definitely one of the positives of homeschooling that those sorts of individualized decisions can be made. The easily overwhelmed child is not forced into situations that create emotional tailspinning – and they are not left out and isolated as they might have been in public school by choosing to stay behind.

This level of parent determination does, however, make planning field trips in a homeschool setting different than in a public school setting. Instead of all of the fifth grade classes heading to the museum, now the question has been lobbed to a wide number of families – and it won’t just be their eleven-year-olds attending! While sometimes it is asked that only children of a certain age attend, that does make it difficult to have much participation in the field trip. The typical homeschool family has one parent working and one parent teaching a wide age range of children, and often caring for the youngest siblings that have not yet started lessons. Where the eleven-year-old goes, so does the five-year-old sister and the fifteen-year-old brother, while a baby tags along in a stroller or sling. This needs to be considered when choosing where to go on a field trip, but it is a positive thing more than it is a hurdle. There are always big kids available to keep an eye on the little kids, and they learn responsibility and empathy in that way. The little kids will be surrounded by peer role models and will learn much from the topic discussions of the older children.

It does, however, make it hard to determine how many children will be in attendance. Typically, the cost-per-student of field trips decreases as the size of the group attending increases. For the public school teacher, that size is known, give or take a few students, right at the onset of the planning. For the homeschooling parent, you will likely be expressing interest in a field trip or even signing up your children to attend, without knowing for certain what the exact cost will be from the range the organizing parent was given! Firm deadlines for stating attendance are set, and early, to avoid cost jumps.

All of this can, imaginably, get messy. When confirmation of attendance is given in email threads or Facebook group comments, things can slip through the cracks. When payment is rendered to the organizing parent in a combination of cash given during a co-op robotics class, a string of Venmos, “here’s half of what I owe for my kids now and I’ll give you the rest the day of”, and going out to lunch with a parent and they buy you lunch “to cover the cost of the field trip” – it gets chaotic, to say the least. As cumbersome as they are, there are definite perks to the public school permission slip system. An online payment system is the way that more and more homeschool communities are headed.

With these systems, an electronic waiver is sent directly to the parent’s phone, without the parent having to download an app or even set up an account. The organizing parent can see on their end at a glance which families are planning on attending, how many children will be with that family, and whether or not they have paid. Payment is handled securely through these systems as well, via credit card. Of course, there is always the option for a parent to pay with cash in hand, and that can be notified on the electronic waiver. They express their interest in a field trip to get the ball rolling, a permission slip is sent, a head count is made, payment is rendered, and there are no chains of email replies or comment threads to sift through. As homeschool communities grow, it is increasingly difficult to juggle the logistics of a field trip without them!

As the day of the field trip approaches, more plans will be made regarding transportation and meals, if they’ll be necessary. There are no big yellow buses in homeschool. Carpooling is king here, and although organizing the carpools can be a bit of an affair, reimbursements for gas is typically handled on the personal level and is very simple. Meals are typically handled on the personal level as well. The cost of a sack lunch does not need to be added to the cost of the field trip itself, as it would be in a public school setting, as each homeschooling parent will usually handle the lunches for their own children. This takes out the problem that can arise during full-day public school field trips of managing sack lunches that are cost-effective, healthy, and mindful of various allergies and food sensitivities.

There is no need for homeschooling parents to fret about field trips – about whether they are available to homeschooled children, or about how to go about participating in one! Homeschool communities have organized large group field trips for decades on end, and with the increasing interest in homeschooling and the new digital tools available, participating in one is just as simple as it would be in public school. Perhaps even more so!

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