Have you ever wondered why we take students on field trips? One of the things that sets progressive schools apart from more traditional schools is an emphasis on learning through a variety of entry points, and field trips are one of the most effective ways to reach every student. When they are planned well, field trips can shape a study and are often one of the experiences that each child remembers from year to year. They are also a way to bring in different voices and give teachers and parents a chance to demonstrate a passion for learning.
Field trips can play a variety of roles in a curriculum. Many teachers start a study with a field trip to engage students and bring excitement to the subject. A field trip early in a study can spark ideas and questions and often guides the students’ learning. As the study unfolds, a teacher may plan a second visit to the same place but with very different intentions. Students can go deeper into their learning and reflect on how much they have grown in their understanding when they revisit the same place. When planning a trip, teachers collaborate with educators at museums and cultural institutions to customize their visit for the students and then plan post-trip activities for when they return to the classroom, making the incorporation of field trips an integral part of the curriculum. In all of this, students usually have a lot of fun, too!
One of the most amazing things to watch as a teacher is how field trips bring out the many types of learners in a classroom. Museums and other sites outside the classroom provide sensory experiences, bringing the material students read about in books to life. Some children learn best through social interactions, and the group dynamic on field trips becomes an entry point for them. Others learn best through hands-on experiences and reflect this learning in artwork or other projects. For many children, getting out of the classroom and into a place where they can practice their observation and questioning skills ignites their imagination, and they develop an interest and delve deeper into the subject matter than they would otherwise.
On field trips, students also have the opportunity to see teaches as students. Teachers may lead some trips, but at times they work with other educators and take on the role of a student in the group. This is a great way to show children that adults are lifelong learners, too. Even on trips that are teacher-led, often the children’s questions will inspire a teacher to explore a subject in a different way and then bring that learning back to the classroom with new activities. Field trips are a valuable way for students to collaborate with their teachers by engaging in discussions, generating follow-up ideas to sharing responsibilities.
In progressive schools, learning is an organic, evolving process that encourages exploration and discovery. By stepping out into an ever-changing world, teachers can observe their students as they are exposed to new ideas and then shape the curriculum and classroom learning to be engaging and rich. Often a measure of the success of a field trip is visible back in the classroom through the journal entries, project ideas and artwork that children produce in response. Next time your child goes on a field trip, be sure to talk about it after school that day and let them be the teachers!