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The Educational Power of School Field Trips

School field trips can be very educational for students. They allow them to learn in a way that they wouldn't in the classroom, and they can also help to make learning fun.

Unfortunately, many schools are eliminating field trips because of budget cuts. Teachers are under pressure to cover curriculum topics and find other ways to teach their students.

Educational Outings

Students who take part in developmental excursions, like trips to museums or live theater performances, learn how to observe the world around them, reflect on what they see and think critically about what they witness. Such skills can lead to more successful classroom learning and help children develop the story of their lives, how the world works and how they fit into that world.

Sadly, field trips have become less common as school districts struggle with budget constraints. In fact, the number of visitors to Chicago’s Field Museum dropped 30 percent between 2002 and 2007, and an American Association of School Administrators survey found that half of schools eliminated planned field trips during the 2010-11 school year. Fortunately, teachers and researchers alike agree that field trips are more than just entertainment.

Museum Visits

A student's learning isn't confined to the classroom, and nonacademic activities can fuel academic learning. This is often the case when students participate in field trips to museums and other cultural sites.

Researchers Jay Greene, Brian Kisida, and Daniel Bowen recently conducted a study of the educational significance of museum visits. They randomly assigned students to groups who took a guided tour and group that didn't, then measured their cognitive abilities before and after the field trip.

Educators are concerned that field trips distract from academic learning, cause extra work for teachers and chaperones, or increase costs for students (AMLE, 2019). However, these worries can be eased by carefully planning an excursion and helping students connect it to their curriculum. Moreover, not all expeditions have to be in-person; virtual programming may expand access for low-income students.

Interactive Nature Walks

An outdoor nature field trip allows students to explore the world around them through their senses in a natural setting. It provides children with a unique opportunity to learn in a joyful and interactive way and can make learning more engaging and meaningful.

For example, a class on a nature walk could take turns playing “I spy,” where each child has to look for something specific like leaves, water, or bark. Kids can also collect items for artistic inspiration, such as feathers and flower petals to use in a piece of art.

You can even practice mapping skills during a nature walk by having kids draw maps on their own or with a partner of the route they took. Other fun activities include a nature scavenger hunt, which is great for keeping children engaged and motivated.

Visits to Historical Sites

Visits to historical sites are a cornucopia of social history, art collections and heritage that offer students a chance to interact with history in ways not possible in a classroom. Historical outings also encourage teamwork and discussion, and can help students build critical thinking skills that will enable them to tackle other subjects in a deeper manner.

Check with the destination before your trip to find out what educational resources they have available and to make reservations. Many museums and historic destinations have educational staff who can help you plan a field trip that meets your specific curriculum goals.

One study found that museum trips led to significant gains in three key critical thinking behaviors: observational skill, historical empathy and tolerance. When planning a field trip, teachers can enhance learning by providing pre-trip instruction and follow up assignments that reinforce what the students have learned on their outing.

Exploration of Art Galleries

While more-affluent families may have the resources to take their children on culturally enriching trips, school trips can be vital for students from less-privileged communities. Indeed, in the face of budget cuts, many schools have eliminated field trip opportunities altogether, making it even more important for them to be reintroduced.

Rather than treating them as a one-off event, teachers can use the experience to anchor their students' learning in the curriculum. The best way to do this, as evidenced by Behrendt and Franklin's 2014 study, is to clearly communicate the trip's goals and benefits to students before the outing takes place.

Explore a vast array of artistic styles and movements while cultivating your own creativity! This virtual art museum tour is perfect for a variety of grades and abilities.