Volunteering as part of a class – also called “service learning” – is an excellent way for students to learn about their world while making a positive impact.
Not only are they educational and influential, volunteer field trips are also exciting and accessible for all subjects and grade levels. Young students can help water plants in a community garden or visit with the elderly, while older students can do things like organize mailers for a public service campaign or haul archive boxes for a local museum.
No matter where you are and what you teach, a community service field trip is an excellent addition to your yearly calendar. And with plenty of resources out there, from volunteering databases to options for online field trip payments, it’s never been easier to organize one!
Why Volunteer Field Trips Are Great
Service learning has become very popular in the last few decades, though some question whether it’s effective. While you should always do your research to make sure that a volunteer opportunity genuinely serves the community, the fact is that service learning is very beneficial to the student and community.
Volunteering benefits students
Volunteering and other community-oriented work is excellent for young people, boosting their self-esteem and connecting them to larger values. Though not many young people choose to seek out opportunities to volunteer on their own, they’re much more likely to get involved and stay involved if they connect to a larger organization that facilitates volunteering.
That’s where schools and teachers can help! Organizing a field trip that gives students a hands-on chance to help their community is an excellent way to teach students the joys and benefits of volunteer work.
Volunteering teaches important lessons
Service-learning field trips help students apply classroom learning to real world situations, and vice versa.
Volunteer work requires lots of problem solving, creative thinking, and teamwork – all skills that translate easily to the classroom environment and beyond. Whether students are figuring out the fastest way to haul boxes out of a museum basement or determining how many people are needed to hold a ladder when repairing a roof, volunteer opportunities teach independence and flexible thinking in a way that many other lessons simply can’t.
When volunteering as part of a field trip, students also learn about the world beyond their classroom. Seeing the needs of others in their community and understanding how those needs developed helps students draw conclusions about large scale systems (such as homelessness or systemic poverty) they may not have previously understood.
Whether they are applying classroom knowledge about how pollution affects rivers or seeing how political trends affect the lives of individual citizens, they’ll get a firsthand perspective that can’t be replicated in the classroom.
Volunteering benefits the community
Volunteer organizations that host field trips and other youth groups are almost always well connected to their community and understand exactly how to best direct the energy and passion of young people. When you organize a volunteer field trip, you’re bringing helpful hands to somewhere they’re most needed!
After a volunteer field trip, you and your students can feel good about the work you’ve done to help others and improve the world around you. Most volunteer field trips have a visible impact – shelves cleared of boxes, a sagging fence repaired, a patch of wilderness cleaned up – that makes it all the more satisfying.
Educational Opportunities Within Volunteer Field Trips
Many teachers wonder whether students can learn relevant information by helping to paint a fence, plant trees, or seal envelopes. Short answer: yes! Volunteer field trips are easy to combine with classroom instruction, outside reading, and content standards.
Most organizations that help organize volunteer opportunities also have relevant educational materials. When you plan the field trip, speak with your liaison to see if they have suggested discussion topics, worksheets, or supplementary activities.
Here are some ways to incorporate learning objectives into a volunteer field trip:
Before the field trip
Research: Build students’ research skills by asking them to find information about the place you’ll be volunteering. What search terms might they use? What kind of sources are reliable? What official resources are available? Ask them to use their research skills to find directions to the location and determine what’s best to wear and bring.
Cause and effect: Help students contextualize the trip and understand larger systems at play. Why is this kind of volunteering necessary? What benefits do they expect their volunteer work to have? What could be done to prevent the need for this kind of volunteer work in the future?
Financial planning: Volunteer work costs money – and so do field trips! Ask students to come up with a budget for their field trip, taking into account payments made, travel costs, materials, and food. If possible, connect them to your online field trip payments system so they can use real world information.
Personal writing: All volunteer field trips require chaperones, as well as docents and organizers to help guide the students through their work. Develop emotional intelligence and communication skills by asking students to write thank-you notes they can bring on the field trip and give out at the end of the day.
During the field trip
Independent problem solving: It can be tempting for adults to ‘jump in’ when they notice students doing something unhelpful or inefficient – but make sure students are given the opportunity to figure things out for themselves.
Teamwork: Break students up into intentionally assigned small groups so that everyone gets a chance to shine and an opportunity to be a leader. Consider asking each group to identify roles, then rotate roles throughout the day.
Thoughtful questions: During the day, ask students questions that encourage them to be perceptive and observant. How do you think this trash got onto this hiking trail? Why do you think someone might visit a food bank? Ask questions of the docents and organizers as well, since they are experts!
Executive function & focus: Since most field trips last all day, it can be easy for students to get bored or lose track of what they’re doing. Provide written schedules, or have students make their own, so they can manage their time and look ahead to breaks. If possible, make it a “phone free field trip” to prevent distractions.
After the field trip
Imaginative vision: Ask students to think about a problem in the world that bothers them. What kind of volunteer operation can they envision that might address this problem? If they were in charge of a volunteering organization, what would they do?
Critical problem solving: Now that students have seen the problem and part of its solution themselves, challenge them to think about what more can be done. Are there larger systemic issues at play? Is volunteering a solution or more of a “band-aid”?
Innovation: Can students come up with an invention that would make the volunteering work they did any easier, like a trash-sensing robot or an envelope-scanning app? Why do they think that technology hasn’t been developed or used yet? How might they test a prototype to see whether it was effective?
Persuasive writing: Ask students to write an editorial for a local paper encouraging others to volunteer. How can they apply their firsthand experience to a clearer, more persuasive text? What do they think will help convince readers to volunteer?
Volunteer Field Trip Ideas By Subject
Whether you’re teaching in the humanities or the STEM fields, there’s a cool volunteer field trip that aligns with your core standards! Here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer at a local museum to help clean or organize
- Volunteer with a local nursing home to interview residents about their stories
- Volunteer to help restore a local historic home or landmark
- Volunteer at a local library to help shelve or cull books
- Volunteer to read books aloud to children
- Volunteer to help job seekers proofread letters and resumes
- Volunteer at a local farm
- Volunteer at a recycling or composting plant
- Volunteer to clean up a local outdoor area
- Volunteer to pack and stack boxes at a food bank or donation center
- Volunteer to help tutor younger students in math
- Volunteer to help measure and build disability access ramps
Music & the Arts
- Volunteer to paint a mural or help beautify a local space
- Volunteer to sing with hospital or nursing home residents
- Volunteer to decorate a hospital wing for a holiday
With so many opportunities for students’ personal growth and classroom relevance, make a volunteering field trip an addition to your school year today!
Those of us with young children are often too distracted to remember to change out of our pajama pants before bringing our kids to school. But ask us about that one class trip in kindergarten when we went to an aquarium and saw a real octopus? We perk right up, no coffee required.
How often does this happen? Your child tells you that they have a field trip coming up, so you ask them for the permission slip. They don’t have it. You ask again the next day, and it’s in their locker. You ask again, and they have it… crumpled at the bottom of their backpack, making it all but impossible to sign your name.
Grand Teton National Park is a place of natural beauty. The mountainous terrain has harsh, snow-filled winters. Its mild summers are offer visitors great views of wildflower and wildlife. Skiing, snowshoeing, biking, hiking, fishing, and rafting are all popular activities in the park. During my search for field trips in the winter of 2019-2020, I came across the programs at the national park.