There are numerous ways in which a field trip enriches a child’s education and learning experience. From the excitement of leaving school as a class, the in-depth information they will learn for the place you are visiting, to the strengthened sense of community with the shared adventure all makes the stress of planning a field trip worth it.
Field trips require a lot of preparation and organization from the teacher. There are logistics to figure out with buses or rideshares, paperwork and permission slips, and of course keeping everyone together and managing student behaviors. Finding ways to involve the students in planning for the field trip makes for a much more manageable experience for the teacher and the kids.
Here are some ideas for involving students in planning for a field trip.
Talking with Students
Even children as young as first grade are capable of helping plan a field trip. When you involve students in the planning of the trip, you are teaching responsibility and self-resilience. Talk with the students about what they have been learning and what kinds of places would have more information about the topic. Whether you go to the library, the zoo, or a museum, there are countless local businesses that will gladly welcome school groups.
Brainstorm with the class about where they would like to go. Through this process, you will also be able to learn more about what the group is passionate about and what they like to learn. Find ways to involve everyone so the entire class has a voice in the brainstorming session.
The next step in planning a field trip is to call or look online to find out if there is a cost for admissions and how much, the hours the business is open, and to call ahead and make sure they can take a group your size. Sometimes bigger groups need to schedule an appointment. This step may take more adult involvement, but don’t underestimate the children’s ability to help.
Talk with students about what information they are looking for. If you need to call ahead, let a student make the call! Have students write down a list of questions before making the call. You can even roleplay with the students about how they will introduce themselves and what they will say. Students will probably be nervous, so be sure to give lots of encouragement, this is a big step!
Talking with students and researching where to go will get them invested in their education and the process. They will be all the more motivated to go!
Get Those Release Forms
Once you have decided when and where you are going, it’s time to get organized. The next step would be to get permission for every child’s parent or guardian. I always liked to have the students write a letter to their parents explaining where they are going and why they think it’s important for them to go on the field trip.
It’s also important to get formal permission from parents with a consent and release form. I usually follow up with parents via a text message to the parent’s cell phone for permission with a release form that includes a free electronic signature. Even if students forget to return (or lose) their handwritten permission slip I can rest assured that parents have returned the forms and we are ready to go.
Make a Plan
The day before the big adventure, I usually sit down with students and talk about the plan. The purpose of involving the students is to practice giving responsibility within a safe environment. I have the students write out a plan of who they will be sitting with, where we will be going, and making a list of things they will need to bring along.
I also have the students think about how long this adventure will be and if they need to bring food or water with them. For many students, going more than a few hours without food can make for a hangry disaster, so bringing even a small snack is advisable. Once the students have written or typed up the plan, it’s time to move onto the next step.
How Will You Get There?
Depending on your school you might need to coordinate a bus or parent volunteers for rideshares. This step can be complicated but looking for ways students can be involved is important for having their full investment in the trip.
If you need to coordinate with your administration staff for a bus, think about ways the child could participate. Can the student make a phone call? Can the student walk a request form over to the office? If you are coordinating with parent volunteers, how could the student ask their parents if they want to come along? Even if this process is complicated and drawn out, keeping the students up to date with what’s happening will keep them invested.
Expectations and Behaviors
Today’s the day! It’s finally arrived. The day you all have been planning has come, but there are a few more things to consider. I always have a serious conversation with the class about expectations and acceptable behaviors while on the field trip. I try to involve the students as much as possible. Making it conversational and asking lots of questions will keep students engaged. Usually, kids like to talk about what NOT to do, which can be valuable. But remember, this is a fun adventure so also talk about what kind and courteous things students CAN do.
Try to think ahead and plan for scenarios that may be confusing or disorienting for students. For some students, they may have never had an experience like this before so it’s important to be empathetic to their situation. Leaving the school and breaking out of a routine can be stressful for some students, and that stress can come out in the form of bad behavior. You may need to have a 1 on 1 conversation with certain students or even request their parent or school staff member to come along if you need additional support.
What Did You Learn?
After you return from your exciting adventure, it’s important to debrief with the students about what they learned and how they thought everything went. This could be in the form of a large group conversation or having students write about their experience.
If you go on field trips often, it could be helpful to have a worksheet about the steps you took so students can repeat the process next time. Each time you take students out it gets easier and smoother, making the experience less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
Talking with students and researching where to go will get them invested in their education and the process. They will be all the more motivated to go! Writing letters to their parents (while getting a permission slip with the free electronic signature as a backup) will teach them responsibility and to follow through. Making a plan and finding rides will teach them valuable skills in communication. And setting expectations and recapping how the trip went will help engrain this experience into their lives and they will be excited to continue learning.
Going on field trips is such an enriching experience for students to deepen their education and teach them valuable life skills. And while it may be complicated and more work, it’s well worth the hassle to see the smiles and excitement on the children’s faces.
Permission slips are standard and required for high school field trips in the United States. Yet, what about high schools in other countries? As a teacher who has taught in Europe many years and in China for one year, I went on many field trips outside of the U.S. What do they do different and why?
The educator’s task to arrange a field trip, get all the parent permission slips, then deal with students outside of the classroom and school environment never crossed my mind doing my graduate work.
One thing that is rarely ever covered in new teacher training is how to do what many of us in the profession consider to be “the easy stuff”. Things like how to use the copier, how to set up a classroom, and how to create and send out a movie permission slip.