The Joneses are field-trip challenged.
We’re just not good at them. What I mean by that is…well, here’s a picture from a long-ago field trip. That’s my kid, the one halfway up the fence.
You can see that we have problems with the whole “stay with the group and be educated” kind of thing.
The trips we like best are ones that we do as a family. In fact, we just took one of the ultimate field trips in our area: we spent two days at Colonial Williamsburg. This “living museum” shows what life was like in this Virginia village circa 1774, complete with restored buildings and re-enactors in costume, demonstrating everyday life from the past. We had fun and even got educated a little bit, mostly due to these pretty valuable lessons we’ve learned over the years:
1. WAIT UNTIL THE KIDS ARE OLD ENOUGH. As parents, we are excited to open up the world to our children. This goes double for a history-dense place like Virginia. You can’t wait to rush the children off to these fantastic attractions.
Don’t do it yet.
It’s worth waiting until your child has both knowledge and stamina. After all, you can deal with bored, hungry little kids at home for a lot less expense and sweat. Wait until the kids are older, and then you can all enjoy the experience.
2. PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME. Before you whisk your kids off on an educational adventure, give them some background information. Darren gave the older kids a review of early American history, and I made sure that Ranger’s lessons took us up to the Revolutionary era. That way, they all had some context when we stepped onto a dusty Williamsburg street and had to wait for a horse-and-buggy to pass us.
3. DON’T TRY TO SEE EVERYTHING. Here’s the thing about kids and field trips: they won’t remember it all. Usually they’ll come back with only a few memories, one of which is the gift shop. So choose what looks most interesting and focus on that. Let go of the obligation to see it all. When people start getting tired, wrap things up. Better to have a small portion that you enjoy than a huge portion that you can’t digest.
4. ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE. This one depends a lot on how old your children are, what their personalities are, and the setting you’re in. But in the spirit of raising “free-range kids” as Amy wrote about, letting a child strike off on his or her own can enhance the adventure. After we’d spent several hours in the village of Williamsburg, Darren gave 15-year-old Bookgirl a map, made sure she had her phone, and told her to meet us back at the Visitors’ Center at a certain time. This solo excursion meant she had to take a bus to the stops she wanted, and she had to plan to be back at a bus stop to catch a shuttle back to the Center. She performed beautifully and thoroughly enjoyed the sights she saw all by herself.
4a. Curtail independence. 7-year-old Ranger assumes he, too, can navigate his way around anywhere at all. We spent far too much time figuring out where he’d drifted off to this time. So with Ranger, we talked a lot about safety and staying within sight of the adults (sometimes in a very intense tone of voice). When Ranger grows up, he’ll travel the world—probably because he’s just ended up on a new continent or something.
5. CLUB TOGETHER WITH OTHER FAMILY OR FRIENDS. While a big group can be unwieldy for those of us who aren’t good at field trips, sometimes it’s helpful to have extra adults to help with kids and split expenses. We “did” Williamsburg with Darren’s parents, which made logistics easier and the trip a lot more fun. Veteran homeschoolers themselves, Grandpa and Nana delighted in sharing the experience with their grandchildren. They also did their share of searching for the wandering Ranger.
6. STOP BY THE GIFT SHOP. The gift shop, with its ridiculously expensive knick-knacks, is the top-rated favorite tour stop for every single kid on a field trip. Don’t even bother to skip it. Let them choose a memento; they may end up treasuring it—and the trip it symbolizes—for the rest of their lives.
Above all, aim to bring home good memories. And if your child is the only one who climbs the fence…well, just be sure to snap a picture.
What are some of your favorite (or so-glad-it’s-over) field trip experiences?
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Sara Jones.