by Katie Julius

With a very active, hands-on “little learner,” field trips are an essential part of our school year. Planning comes naturally to me, so I enjoy this process. I know it doesn’t for everyone, so I hope the information shared below will help even the most disheartened “non-planners” plan enjoyable field trips for their family!

Deciding Where to Go
There are several factors to consider when planning where to take a field trip. The most important of these is the topics you are studying. While many field trip opportunities have great learning experiences, it’s always better when it’s tied in to what we are already teaching. The subjects that lend themselves well to field trips are usually history and science.

This year, we are studying land animals and plan to visit various zoos, animal sanctuaries, and other facilities that house the particular type of animal we are learning about. We are also learning about Native Americans and plan to visit a local Pow Wow this fall.

Another thing to consider is the age of your learners. Some locations are suited for kids of all ages. Other locations (arranged tours especially) have age suggestions or limitations, so keep that in mind when planning a trip.

How long you will be in the car is also very important. My daughter, who is six, asks, “how much longer?” after just 20 minutes in the car. If a location is far away and you have young ones, think about bringing activities for them to do in the car. You could also make it an overnight or weekend trip and visit several sites in the area. This is what we did on our trip to Monterey Bay since it’s a five-hour drive from Southern California.

Cost is the final factor to keep in mind when determining where to go. While many locations offer discounts or homeschool days at a reduced cost, trips to zoos, museums, or aquariums can add up if you have a large family. Fortunately, there are usually a lot of free options in your community, especially for the younger crowd. In kindergarten, my daughter learned about our community helpers through visits to our local police station, fire department, donut shop, municipal airport, and grocery store. All of these locations arranged a tour for us and our friends free of charge!

Determining the type of field trip you want to take is usually the easy part, but finding an actual location that fits your budget and is also near you can sometimes be a challenge. A Google search is usually a great starting point. Enter your topic and city and “field trip” and you can often find some options. Another great resource is other families, even if they are not homeschoolers. Ask them for their recommendations of places to visit appropriate for the age of your children. They can usually offer you suggestions and tips based on their experience when visiting.

When to Go?
Once you’ve determined where you want to go, the next step is deciding when to go. As I mentioned earlier, coordinating a field trip with what you are learning from your chosen curriculum will enhance the material for your kids. We all know that even if we plan the year out, we don’t always get to where we planned when we planned, so this isn’t always possible. There is a lot more flexibility when visiting local locations as a regular customer (zoo, museum, etc.). However, tours usually take some advance planning. Although many locations can set up a tour with minimal notice (a week or two), there are some places that are extremely popular and require booking at least several months in advance.

Once great resource that I use in finding field trips is SoCal Field Trips. Jilleen’s website is a wealth of information with all sorts of recommendations of places to visit in the Southern California area on almost any topic.

As homeschoolers, our schedules are typically more flexible, so consider taking field trips when school is in session, especially to far away destinations (be sure to check school schedules for the location you’re headed as well!). If the place you are planning to visit is a hot-spot for public school field trips, the best time of day to go may be in the afternoon once those groups have completed their tours and are eating lunch before heading back to school. This is true of our beloved Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach – visit after lunch during the school year for the least crowded experience.

Grab a Friend or Two!
Some field trips may require a minimum number to participate; generally tours that are paid for or places with group discounts. But even if you’re just headed to a museum or park, it’s always more fun with friends! If you don’t already have a group of friends who homeschool to go with you, use CHEA’s Homeschool Directory to get connected.

Share with us in the comments below where your family plans to visit for a field trip this school year.

When not serving at CHEA’s Editor, Katie Julius is busy planning field trips and excursions for her soon-to-be first graders and her co-op group.