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Just about everyone has a field trip memory.
Field trips are the memorable highlights of the school experience for many children. Not every field trip is amazing, but they are distinct from the ordinary course of school. They have the potential to provide all students with experiences that stick with them.
Field trips may also inspire continued learning and can bring what is taught in the classroom to life. A visit to the birthplace of a hero or inventor might provide a child with the inspiration to read, draw, write or create.
Field trips can:
Research about the frequency and impact of field trips is scant, in part because they are thoroughly local and vary massively. A rare study of impact was featured in Education Next, which examined trends and impact at an art museaum in Arkansas. The author found evidence that field trips are in decline. Fewer students are getting fewer experiences outside the classroom.
And that was beforebefore COVID-19.
The pandemic disrupted long-standing field trip traditions, to the mixed emotions of educators. Organizing a field trip is joyful work, but also stressful and difficult. Many schools repeat the same field trips year after year because repetition helps teachers work out the kinks. Where are the bathrooms? How much time does it take to get from here to there? What are the places where students might get lost, or distracted?
A field trip can be as simple as taking a group of students out on the school grounds for a nature lesson or as adventurous as a visit to a historical site in another state (though the issues of governing law tend to add complexity). Schools can also contact mobile science labs or groups and individuals who bring history to life in multimedia, live-action presentations. Whether it is a trip to the local zoo, a planetarium, or just a nature walk, children learn about the world and how to interact with others when they leave the classroom environment.
Rather than simply studying about proper nutrition, students can visit a farm and see first-hand how fruits and vegetables are grown and livestock is raised. California’s Farm to School Program connects schools with local farms in an effort to provide educational opportunities related to health and nutrition and with the objective of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias.
Field trips can often be costly. They require adult supervision, transportation, and advance planning, issues that are addressed in the state Education Code. Most school boards have set policies that govern field trips. It can be helpful to ask your school district office for a link to the board policies about them.
Institutions typically charge a fee for field trip visits, but not always. For example, the Chabot Space & Science Center has a contractual arrangement with the Oakland Unified School District that provides free admission for school classes. Of course, donations from parent associations, fund-raisers and support from community organizations can help make field trips accessible to all students.
Neither the state nor the Federal government provides funding specifically for field trips. In California, school districts have the power to allocate funding through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). If you want funding for a field trip for your school, ask your principal first, then speak with your district office and your school board representatives. You might get lucky and find that some money has already been set aside.
Because old-school style field trips are costly and complex, schools have come up with some creative alternatives. One option is for the field trip to come to the kids, for example as an assembly. Some community organizations, such as museums, are set up to provide speakers at school sites. If an actual trip is out of reach, there are also online field trips that offer a high-tech alternative to loading everyone on the bus. Admittedly, these experiences seemed cooler before the pandemic!
Field trips are not part of the normal conduct of school, and that's why they can have extraordinary impact, if thoughtfully implemented.
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