By Jessica Leavitt
When I taught kindergarten in public school, we were allowed five field trips per year. FIVE. Once I started homeschooling, I was determined to take field trips as often as possible. I even had the lofty goal of weekly field trips. “Field Trip Fridays!” I proclaimed to my children.
And then reality set in. It was the middle of winter. Most museums were closed. Our budget for field trips was … non-existent. Determined to make good on my promise, we set out in the cold for Fort Edgecomb. We listened to a history CD on the way, used Google Maps to navigate, learned about the history of the fort while we were there, and explored the geology and ecology around the fort. This was such a success, we visited Fort Popham on an even colder day! The fort was closed, but we explored all around, got too close to a seagull, saw a mink, and discussed the ecology of the salt marshes.
We learn so much on field trips that we don’t bother with formal schooling that day. I take the lead from my children and see what interests them while we are out. Then, in the next day or so, we head to one of our favorite libraries (we have several) and choose books to support their interests. Field trips are an excellent way to get to know your children better. On one field trip to an historical site, I was sure my son would be caught up in the history and battlements. No. It was the variety of rocks at the site. Off we went in search of books on rocks and minerals. My history lesson became a geology lesson. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing.
This year has been slightly different as far as field trip destinations. In March and April, we hiked at least 5 times a week. We looked up local land trusts and conservation groups and methodically worked our way through the list of trails near us. We hardly made a dent. (Side note, we did continue regular lessons on most hiking days.) Along the way, we learned about the history of the land through old cattle pounds, old foundations, brickyard remnants, forests turned to farmland turned back to forests, old wells, an old canal system – the list goes on and on! As we walk, we talk, and we observe and photograph and classify. We learn together. We talk about how different trees grow in different soil, and how fallen trees are mini ecosystems that are home to new plants, mushrooms, bugs, and small mammals. We talk about responsible foresting, being good land stewards, and how trees clean the air we breathe. We don’t read books on everything we discuss, but the lessons are being taught and reinforced, and retaught. All this is authentic, hands-on learning – the kind of learning that often requires a major effort in a formal school setting but comes so easily and naturally to our homeschool.
If you are hesitant about the educational benefit of field trips, don’t be! If you aren’t sure how to record your field trips, just keep it simple. Take photos, or have your child take the photos. Your child can write or tell you about the pictures when you get home, creating a record of the trip. Add in any missing highlights, follow up with a book or two, and you’re done! If you have older children, they can extend their research, write a compare and contrast paper, or write reviews online.
If you still aren’t sure how to get started, take a look at the Maine State Parks and Public Lands site: https://www.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/doc/parksearch/index.pl. You can also search for Maine land trusts here: https://www.mltn.org/trusts/. For information on museums, you can contact your local Chamber of Commerce or do a simple google search and contact the museum directly. The best and most important thing to do is to GET OUT THERE! Your children will thank you. I promise.
Practical notes: Pack waters and snacks and second breakfasts and have an audio book for the drive.
Jessica Leavitt is a former elementary teacher who now homeschools her two children. She enjoys camping and hiking with her family, loves children’s literature, and works from home part-time. Jessica supports the Early Learners group for Homeschoolers of Maine and believes in the importance of play for children of all ages.