Free field trips for classrooms do exist. With budget cuts that many schools have undergone and families that are struggling to make ends meet, it is still important to provide students an opportunity to learn through different experiences. These experiences can be provided through free field trips. Prior to setting up a free field trip for your classroom, it is important to talk with your school principal. Some school districts will approve of field trips that include bussing, while other will not. This will help you determine which field trips you can take your students on.
There are many examples of free field trips for your classroom, but I will be focusing on parks, art museums, national wildlife refuges, local and state historical museums, and within the community.
One free field trip that you can take your class to is a local park. A majority of local and state parks will cost your class and you nothing. This will make the field trip free; the only cost to the school would be transportation. If transportation is not available, look at parks that your students and you can walk to. Regardless if you are going to a local park or a state park, there are so many things that your students can do:
- Nature study (plants, birds, insects, other wildlife)
- Discuss ways to take care of the Earth
- Clean up the park
- Have a classroom picnic, party, celebration, etc
- Complete a scavenger hunt
- Use items to make crafts (i.e leaves, pine cones, etc.)
- If your park has a tennis court, basketball court, etc., take needed items for your students to participate in these activities
In addition to these free activities, you should see if there is a conservation group that you can contact. Many state conservation groups will have activities that are available to the public, including classrooms. These activities are usually free as well.
Another free field trip idea for classrooms to visit is art museums. Art museums can be a great way to teach students about history, different cultures, and fine arts (i.e. different artists, art styles, etc.). It is important to collaborate with your school’s art teacher. See if there is a way to have students connect with what they are learning during their art class with what they will see at the art museum. This allows students to see connections between what they are learning at school and discovering at the art museum. Art museums can be located in larger cities, suburbs, as well as at some colleges. Make sure to contact the museum to see if they provide free tours and activities at their museum. It is also important to visit the art museum prior to the field trip to see which activities and lessons you can tie into the field trip as well as if there are exhibits that may not be appropriate for your students. This way you know in advance what to expect and what to avoid.
National Wildlife Refuge
The national wildlife refuge is another great place to visit as a free field trip. Not only can it provide an opportunity for students to become actively involved outdoors (i.e. scavenger hunts, walking trails that are near the national wildlife refuge, etc.), but many national wildlife refuge locations will provide hands-on indoor activities, exhibits, and even films. It is important to contact your local national wildlife refuge to see what they offer to schools. Some national wildlife refuge centers have a free auto tour where your students can have a bus ride through a specific trail to see different wildlife (i.e. bison, deer, elk, different bird species, etc.). Regardless of which activities you choose for your class to do during the field trip, it is important to set up the field trip date with staff as soon as possible. By doing this, it will guarantee that the national wildlife refuge will not be crowded. Many national wildlife refuge sites will be busy during the fall and spring, but don’t count out taking your class during the winter season; they usually have fun activities for classrooms all year round.
Local and State Historical Museums
Another great option for a free field trip is to take your students to your local and state historical museums. You can tie this type of field trip into a social studies lesson about your community, state, etc. It’s amazing what types of things your students will learn. It is important to contact your historical museum to see when it would be a great time to bring your class (to make sure you go when it’s less crowded) as well as to see if they will be having special events for schools. Students can learn a lot about their state and town’s history in an unique way.
Community Field Trips
A majority of field trips within the community are free to schools. Sometimes we forget about these hidden gems. Community field trips can be taken to the following locations:
- Fire station
- Police station
- City hall
- Public library
- Grocery stores
- Small businesses (i.e. photography studios, clothing stores, boutiques, bakeries, pet stores, etc.)
- Bank or credit union
- Restaurants (sit down, fast food, ice cream shop, etc.)
- Movie Theater
- Recreational Center
It is important to remember that the options that are available to schools will vary on the size of their community. If you are looking for additional field trips, contact parents, ask children which types of jobs they are interested in, or use social media to ask for recommendations. Many community businesses and sites are excited about sharing information about their career and experiences with students.
There are even more free field trips for your classrooms to visit, but these five will help you get started. Regardless of which one you choose, make sure that you have your students write a thank you note to the business or community site that your classroom visits. It might open more doors and opportunities for future field trips and activities.
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.