Easy Tips for Successful, Stress Free Field Trips

Photo by Jon Sullivan

I plan a lot of field trips for various homeschool groups. I do this because I want my children to have opportunities to experience, see, explore, and learn. Planning field trips and tours allows me to give them these experiences at a more affordable price or with greater depth. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about setting up successful field trips.

  • Never be afraid to ask a company or organization for a field trip or tour. The worst that can happen is that they say no. Most businesses will want to keep you, the potential customer, happy. I’ve had many places tell me that no one has ever asked and they have gone on to design something for us. You may end up with a behind the scenes tour or just a group discount, but you won’t have anything if you don’t take the initiative.
  • Be flexible and work with the business or organization. They are doing a favor for you, so be willing to work with them to meet both your needs and theirs.
  • Be organized. The key to a successful field trip is to be organized. Nothing brings a field trip down faster than a disorganized organizer. Consider setting up a spreadsheet to keep track of participants, amounts, fees, and payments.
  • Do your prep work. Ask the business for all pertinent information up front: minimum and maximum numbers they are willing to do the tour with, age ranges, prices for all ages, the length of the tour, what the tour will involve, etc.
  • Set the date, and then have people sign up. This may seem backwards to some. However, it is almost always impossible to find a date that works for everyone, especially with a diverse group of homeschoolers. Feel free to take into consideration others’ schedules, but plan for something that works for you. If people are available and are interested, they will sign up.
  • Call to confirm numbers. Many businesses will ask how many people are coming, which is something you won’t know until people sign up. Explain that you would like to provide firm numbers and would therefore like to set up a date and have people sign up. Then give a separate date, well in advance of the tour date, that you will call back with those firm numbers. Follow through.
  • Collect payment in advance. People are less likely to flake on an event if they have already paid for it. You want to show the business that you appreciate their time and willingness to cooperate. Having a large number of no-shows is not only unprofessional, it can cost you money. There may be a minimum number that needs to be met in order to reach the group rate. If you haven’t already collected payment from everyone, you may be left footing the bill.
  • Charge something. Free field trips are fantasti,c and many businesses will give them. However, consider charging something to give people an incentive to show up if you think no shows may be an issue. You can use that money to provide an additional activity or snack for participants or consider donating it to the organization. Many non-profit groups who give free tours and presentations can really use donations.

Field trips can be a great way to learn about various topics, including our communities. With some simple planning, you can easily set up successful, stress free field trips.

Driveway Painting

When we were pendulum painting, some of the paint went off of the paper onto the driveway. After looking at it for a few days, I decided there was really only one thing taht made any sense – paint the driveway! My kids loved the suggestion, and we set to work watering down some more tempera paint (washable so it isn’t permanent). It was nice, messy fun and watching the different techniques was a blast. My one year old decided that her belly button was feeling left out and promptly remedied that. After cleaning up our painting supplies outside, the kids piled into the bathtub to get cleaned up, giving me some downtime as I sat there supervising and knitting some of their holiday gifts.

Pendulum Painting

Lovely weather at the end of Septmeber had us spending a lot of time outside. We decided to improvise with a couple of saw horses, an extra board, some string, a water bottle out of the recycling bin, and watered down tempera paint. Walla! Pendulum painting!

Seed Bombs

Tsuchi dango (Earth dumplings) were invented in the 1950s by a Japanese farmer named Masanobu Fukuoka as a way to store seeds for next season’s crops. These seed balls could be planted without tilling and resulted in stronger plants, as the seeds were protected by the balls during germination. Today seed bombs are used to regenerate land after natural disasters and by geurilla gardners to add plant life to urban areas.

We made seed bombs with some of our friends this summer. It was simple and messy and fun. I purchased a big bag of region appropriate seeds. Then we pulled out a bunch of shredded paper. Plastic containers were perfect for the kids to mix the seeds, paper, and water and then shake until they were all mixed. They formed the balls with their hands and carried them home in repurposed egg cartons.

Composition Notebooks

Though our unschooling family doesn’t go back to school, we do hit up the back to school sales in order to stock up on various supplies. Composition books, surprisingly, have been one of the most sought after supplies. My children do all sorts of things in their composition books and go through numerous ones each year.

There has been no need for me to sit down with them and explain how to write properly. They are quite capable of learning how to write without tedious instruction from someone else’s agenda. I’m sometimes asked how to spell certain words, but unless they want to show me something in their notebooks, I stay out of it.

Free Range Learning

Free Range Learning: How Home-Schooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon: Book Cover

If I could only recommend one book about homeschooling to someone, it would be Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. There is something for everyone in this book, whether a homeschooling veteran or someone who is contemplating whether or not to homeschool their children. While the book is unschooling-lite, families of all styles will find value in the book. Free Range Learning is not merely about homeschooling; it’s about the way people learn and interact with others, about what we take from life, and about what we make of life.

Weldon’s eloquent writing is backed by numerous studies and research. The book is not a fluff read. Readers will want to take their time, pondering and digesting the information, whether the information presented is new to them or something they have long believed. With numerous personal anecdotes from homeschooling families of all styles and experiences allowing glimpses into the lives of homeschoolers, the bulk of the book relies on sound research. While I would reccomend the book to anyone with even a passing interest in homeschooling, I would not reccomend it to anyone not open to homeschooling unless they are willing to challenge their current assumptions.

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything promises to be a valuable research for new homeschoolers everywhere for many years to come.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided by the author.

LEGO Crayons

Crayons can be recycled into almost any shape. I used the LEGO Minifigure Ice Cube Tray to make these little recycled crayons for my LEGO loving children. I have a lot more put away for when we need a gift for a little friend.

While working with melted wax may be something for aparent to do, even little ones can help make these by stripping the crayons, sorting them, and breaking them up.

The School Bus Comes Early

Photo by Laurel Russwurm

The school bus comes early. At 6:30 AM, my children and I waved to the kids as they rode away on the bus. The buses began driving past our house again last week, and while we usually aren’t up to watch the early buses, we were today because we wanted to watch the sunrise and listen to the quiet of the day. Last week we were out at 11:30 PM to watch the stars.

Our schedule, or more appropriately pattern, usually isn’t quite so varied in such a short time. We typically fall into patterns, just as many families do. We encourage our children to listen to their bodies, which tend to get tired around the same time of day for a while before shifting to a new pattern. However, as unschoolers, we reserve a flexibility to our days that many families are not allotted. We can stay up late or get up early as we choose. And while we aren’t totally without any schedule, having appointments or attending field trips or activities which interest our family, for the most part, we are able to choose when we do those things and if it fits our needs.

And here I hear the cry from parents claiming  that we are setting our children up for failure when they are grown. Someday, our children will have to follow a schedule, get up at the same time everyday, and trudge to work like the rest of America. If it was mandated that adults be at jobs at a certain time, with no choice in the matter, they might have a point. However, I would argue that just because a person may have to be at work at 8 AM 15 years from now, it’s no reason to impose that schedule on a 5 year old.

There is no guarantee what hours my children might keep as adults. Perhaps they will choose to work a late shift, and yet no one claims that I should keep them up all night in order to acclimate them to such a schedule. Chances are that the position they choose will have some flexibility. Homeschoolers are more likely to be their own bosses, are more likely to go on to higher education and receive advanced degrees, and are more likely to be self-guided in these efforts.

As a mother staying with my children, my schedule does not dictate an adherence to a rigid schedule. My schedule prior to having children, working in a university setting, allowed flexibility with my hours, as does the job my husband currently has. Regardless, our choice of vocations is intrinsically tied to our hours, and we can therefore choose whether a position fits or not. It’s a choice not given to children on the way to school, whose waking and sleeping hours are not a reflection of what their bodies are telling them or what they are learning, but are dictated by a government based solely upon their age.

So, we wave to the kids on the bus and wish them a wonderful day, as we go on about our lives on our own schedule, whatever that may be to fit our needs. While those parents advocating strict adherence to schedules shake their heads at my apparent lack of structure, I smile, knowing my children, in their earnest quest for learning, are doing, and will do, quite fine in life.

The Unsocialized Homeschooler

You’ve heard about those people who homeschool their children…the ones who keep their children locked up in the basement at all hours of the day, removed from the dangers of other people and radical thoughts. You can tell these kids from the normal ones, the ones who attend public school, be their great lack of social skills, inability to work with people unlike themselves, and long jean skirts. The pale skin from lack of sunlight is another dead give-away.

Photo by Jason Meredith

We are homeschoolers. In fact, we are unschoolers.  Over the years we have met a lot of homeschooling families, and yet, I’ve yet to meet the stereotypical homeschooling family. Even in the Bible Belt, where we are currently located, with the great amount of religious homeschoolers (not to be confused with homeschoolers who are religious), I have yet to meet the stereotypical unsocialized homeschooler. I’m sure there are some out there, somewhere, just as there are many unsocialized public schooled children. I just haven’t met them yet.

And yet, for some reason, this myth continues to crop up. Most recently, it was given as a reason to utilize public school on a local AP board. Some of the parents wanted their children to socialize with others, to be exposed to different ethnicities and beliefs, and to learn how to deal with the world around them. Apparently, their solution is to box a bunch of 5 year olds from their neighborhood, a mostly homogenous make-up of white, middle class, Christian children up in a classroom with a single adult to oversee the scenario.

Public school is a valid option and is what works well for many families, but let’s be honest. If your reason for sending your child to school is so that s/he will experience the real world, you are misguided. The real world has a mix of religious and political beliefs. It has a mix of cultures and ethnicities. It has a mix of ages. No where else in the real world will you find 30 people working in the same room soley because their age and neighborhood dictates it.

My kids, while admittedly pale and freckled due to genetics, live in the real world everyday. They talk to people regardless of age, as age is not a defining factor to them. They have experiences with people of different beliefs and thoughts. They learn from others who have previous experience in various topics. When it comes to learning about how to behave in society, they aren’t learning from 30 other kids who have no more experience than they have.

The Write Start

Jennifer Hallisy, a pediatric occupational therapist, has written a wonderful resource for parents and early childhood educators entitled The Write Start. In an age of e-mail and texting, the focus on writing has shifted. However, encouraging our children to write gives them a freedom of expression not found elsewhere.

I wasn’t certain what to expect when I began reading the book. The fact that it was written by an OT gave me hope, but I prepared myself for an instructional guide of how to teach your child. Instead, I found a fantastic resource and was delighted with many of her projects.

The Write Start: A Guide to Nurturing Writing at Every Stage, from Scribbling to Forming Letters and Writing Stories

Hallisy speaks of the importance of play in a developing child and how it affects current and future writing skills. While I could disagree with her statement of the right way to write, her execution of supporting children as they explore both writing and themselves is unquestionable. Throughout the book, she shares wonderful ways to support children in their writing adventures, gives insight into child development as it pertains to writing, and shares numerous fun activities and ways to incorporate writing into your home and lives to support the budding writer in your family.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy was provided by Shambala Publications.