What Makes a Field Trip?



"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." ~ Frank Llyod Wright


I have lasting memories of many field trip my from elementary school career. Montreal, Quebec City, Niagara Falls, the Welland Canal, Fort Henry, Casa Loma and Pond Mills were just a few that pop to mind. We loved them all and never wanted to miss them. They were great fun, but learned a lot, even if we didn't realize it at the time. I'm beginning to feel that field trips today have changed and I'm at a loss to understand how this has happened. 

I look back on what I learned on those trips and I'm thankful for all my teachers that took the time to find learning experiences that also were a great deal of fun. The history lessons in Montreal, Quebec City and Fort Henry meant nothing when we read about them in the textbook, but came to life when we experienced them in real life. Learning about aquatic life and environmental issues weren't the same until we went to Pond Mills and got dirty. Literally. So this week as I see and read about all the different year end field trips happening I'm wondering if the field trip as I knew it is gone?

There are a few reasons why I have this question floating around in my head. In my elementary school days it would have been unfathomable for anyone to not want to go on a field trip unless they were deathly ill. Today I see many students opt out of trips with their parents blessing. As I mentioned earlier there wasn't a field trip that I experienced in elementary school that I didn't learn something and remember to this day. Many, but certainly not all field trips today seem to based solely on the fun factor. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just that I struggle with the idea of a field trip without direct links to the curriculum and/or experiential learning.

I'm not for a minute saying that all field trips that teachers have planned recently are of no value. In fact, there have been some great trips in my school this year. I'm just beginning to see a trend that there are fewer and fewer field trips of the quality I remember from my elementary school career. Are you seeing the same thing?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on field trips and your experiences, both good and bad.


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  • Aviva

    David, I've been thinking a lot about your blog post since I read it yesterday. I definitely see this trend too, and I hate to say, but I'm also a part of it. This year has been a different one for me, as I moved from a school with students and parents in a higher socio-economic bracket to one with the opposite. I had lots of plans for field trips that really focused on learning and curriculum expectations, but the problem was that my students couldn't afford them (and there are only so many subsidies available through the office). After connecting with one place, I managed to get an expensive trip for free, but even the cost of the bus ($3) was problematic for some students. I did pay money out of pocket for this trip.

    Come year end, my students have been involved in both kinds of field trips. We've done some Play Day type ones with reading buddies and Skype buddies. Does this kind of trip bother me? Somewhat. Yes, there are curriculum expectations, but the ties are less than some other trips, and they're really more "fun excursions." That being said, for many of my students, these are experiences that they wouldn't have otherwise. Having opportunities to participate in some of these fun activities, connect with other students and socialize in a more unstructured way, and talk and listen lots throughout the day (LOTS of oral language) is important. Would this be true for all students? Maybe not. If children already have lots of these types of experiences, maybe field trips need to focus on different skills and different experiences.

    That being said, we also have the more academic kinds of trips. Thanks to my previous vice principal, I've also arranged a walking trip to the Community Gardens, and students are going to help with planting, learn more about planting, and participate in some very meaningful conversations. I love that the gardens is in our area and free to go to. This will be a very meaningful experience for my students and align with some of our classroom learning (as we did lots of planting as well).

    I've been doing a lot of thinking about field trips this year, and depending on the students, I think that these trips may be the key to closing the achievement gap. Yes, we need more of the trips that you speak of in your post, but if the money was there, I wonder if some more of them might happen. (I blogged about these thoughts before: http://adunsiger.com/2015/04/08/calling-ms-frizzle/). I'm curious to hear what others think.

    Thanks for inspiring almost a mini-blog post of my own. :)

  • David

    Hi Aviva and thanks for sharing your thoughts on field trips!

    You touch on some very good points. The socio-economics of your school plays a big part in the kinds of field trips or excursions you can provide for students. Getting together with buddies is always a lot of fun too! The social skills the kids learn when they are out with each other are just as important as the history or environmental issues they are learning about. Thanks for sharing your previous post about field trips, I'll have to go read it now :-)