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Back OUT of School: Start Your Year with a Fantastic Field Trip

August 5, 2019

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of By Design Science grades 1-8

In elementary school, the end of each school year was marked by a big all-grade field trip to which the entire grade looked forward all year. Whether we visited the zoo in kindergarten, a nearby historical village in second grade, or a ropes course in fifth grade, it seemed that the end of the school year was prime time for out-of-classroom excursions.

But what about flipping the script and hosting a field trip as the school year begins?

Although the beginning of the school year may seem “too soon” for a field trip, recall that cold temperatures and bad weather may soon put a damper on travel. Furthermore, the idea that we need to wait and save a field trip to give students a “reward” after spending time in the classroom gives the wrong connotation, according to educator Dan Wyrick.

“For me, field trips are not extracurricular,” he says. “Rather, they are an integral part of my instructional program, and students are given an academic grade for their participation and completion of the field trip.”

Wyrick states that a field trip can be used not only as a wrap-up to the students’ study of the content (the typical approach and the idea behind the “too soon” philosophy discussed previously) but also as an introduction to the topic. “Both ways work, and both ways have advantages,” he says. Seen in this light, the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to launch a unit with a field trip!

For many teachers and administrators, the logistics of the field trip process are the most stressful. The following tips, from Wyrick and other educators, cover the often-forgotten aspects of the field trip.

Often-forgotten ideas for a successful field trip:

  • Written confirmation
    • Keep a record of your communications and the names of people you talk to, and when you receive your confirmation, put it in a file to take on the trip.
  • Pre-visit trip
    •  Wyrick recommends visiting the site four to six weeks before the trip to meet staff and get ideas for educational materials. Without prior knowledge of the site, teachers can’t adequately prepare.
  • Appropriate clothing
    • Closed-toed, supportive shoes will prevent sore feet and guard against any so-called “flip-flop fails.” And no matter the forecast, students may want to bring a light jacket, especially for trips to indoor locations that might be chilly due to air conditioning.
  • Emergency information  
    • When you’re making that file with written confirmation to take with you on the trip, add emergency contact information for students, the district, and even nearby hospitals.
  • A driver package
    • As with emergency info, no matter if you’re going down the street or across the state, create a chaperone packet with maps, phone numbers, and any other relevant information.
  • Name labels
    • Most sites request that students and chaperones have name labels, sometimes labels that are specifically provided by the site. Even if they aren’t required, make your own labels, including first names only, your name, and the school’s name.
  • (Assigned) partners
    • The partner or buddy system isn’t a bad idea to provide an easy way to keep track of stragglers. Just make sure to assign partners before arrival to avoid on-site chaos (and make sure no one is left behind in the bathroom at school).
  • A plan for those who stay behind
    • Although you certainly want to avoid inadvertently “forgetting” students, you may have students who, for medical, financial, or other reasons, don’t join the class. Don’t leave without clear expectations for how they will spend the day and who will supervise them.
  • Emergency bracelets
    • This is a seldom-considered but quick and practical tip. Multiple vendors will cheaply personalize rubber bracelets, or teachers can use a simple Sharpie to write an emergency phone number on the bracelet. If kids get lost or need help, the info is easily accessible.
  • Bathrooms!
    • Know where bathrooms are and plan time to make stops at them, both throughout the day and during travel if necessary.
  • A tip or donation
    • If the site visit is free, Wyrick usually leaves $1–$3 per person, depending on whether the site provides guides or educational programs.
  • A thank-you note
    • Have students write a note or create a post-visit project to be shared with site staff; it creates continuity of learning, connects the trip to the classroom, and is a nice touch.

Where will you take your students on a “back-to-school field trip”?