Plan the Perfect Field Trip: 5 Key Steps
Got a genius idea for a field trip? Here’s how to take it from an idea to a memorable experience for your students.
Much like applying for a grant, you need to know where a trip fits into your curriculum to get approval from your school’s principal or administrator. Maybe a visit to Salem, Massachusetts is a good companion to your unit on The Crucible, or an afternoon at a planetarium is the perfect illustration for your lesson on constellations, but take it one step further. What special knowledge can a student get out of visiting these places that couldn’t come from a textbook? What vocabulary or key concepts can be covered? And what activities can you include to make sure real learning is taking place?
Outline those questions for yourself and for your administrators to expedite the approval process and have a great learning experience once on the trip.
Then, explore your destination a little more specifically.
Do your research
Even if you have an idea of what you’d like students to learn, a facility might already have activities in place or special features you and your students can take advantage of. Be sure to do research online to see if there are any upcoming demonstrations or events, as well as to find reservation information, costs (or group discounts!), and policies for the place you’re visiting. You might also consider visiting a location first to scout out ideas for activities, good areas for group learning sessions or even lunch spots and restroom locations.
After getting a yes from the school (which you should obtain before mentioning the trip to students and parents), a typical checklist for each student might include a signed permission slip, student medical information and/or insurance information, emergency contacts, and drop off/pick-up plans (if the trip ends at a different time than the end of the school day). You should also have a backup plan for kids who opt out of the trip. Once you have all the information, prepare copies for your school’s main office, with your contact information and a final attendance list.
At this stage in the process, you may start putting together a plan for transportation, an idea of what expenses will be and a list of chaperones or supervisors you may need.
Prep your students
It’s difficult for young students to get the most out of experiences if they don’t know what to expect or how it fits into what they’re learning. To truly maximize a field trip, it is important to prepare your students for the field trip with all the materials they need (from warm clothing to snacks and water) as well as expectations for what they can expect to see and a means of processing it all.
Prep your students to learn during the experience by:
- Introducing the field trip in terms of curriculum. If you’re studying modern art and visiting the MOMA, outline what students can expect to see by using what they already know. List a few notable artists they might be familiar with, pass out brochures with photos of art they’ve only seen in textbooks or watch a video about the history of the museum to spark students’ curiosity and familiarize them with what they will see on the field trip.
- Setting a plan for learning. A scavenger hunt, essay questions or list of activities to complete can help ensure that students fully engage with what they’re seeing and experiencing. A trip to a botanical garden, for example, might call for an up-close description of a plant from each of the listed species students have studied.
- Giving to-pack lists. Students should know in advance how much money they’ll need, if they should have snacks or a packed lunch, whether to bring a camera or notebook, and/or whether special clothing is required. They should also know about expectations for their behavior. For example, staying with a buddy, not touching anything in a museum, spending certain amounts of time in certain areas, etc.
Plan a post-trip lesson
Once your students have visited a new place, collected notes or materials, and hopefully had fun, have a discussion while it’s all still fresh. What’s the significance of what they saw in the context of what they’re learning in the classroom? Did their points of view change after seeing things in real life? Consider having kids rate the trip as well to advise future planning.
And finally, pat yourself on the back for giving your students an adventure they’ll remember. Organizing a field trip is a process with a lot of steps, but the learning opportunities and fun are well worth the effort.
Additional Resources for Planning the Perfect Field Trip
- The Albany Institute has many great prep tips for a museum visit — from reproductions you can pass out to your students to tips on reading museum labels.
- The Smithsonian National Zoological Park provides helpful tips to plan a field trip to the zoo.
- TeacherVision has printable checklists for all your travel planning needs. The site also provides post-trip evaluation forms and activity suggestions for different types of locations.
- And finally, can’t swing a travel budget? Eduscapes can help you facilitate a “virtual’ field trip to destinations like the Roman Open Air Museum, the Met, and Colonial Williamsburg.