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Five Tips for Successful Field Trips

For special needs students, who often thrive on routine and consistency, field trips can be daunting.  However, they also represent an opportunity for engaging, motivating, authentic, and highly relevant learning experiences.  Students with special needs are definitely entitled to be exposed to the unique opportunities field trips provide, and teachers can take some preparatory steps for their students to ensure that these trips are productive and meet their students’ needs.

Prepare your students academically
    The best field trips are aligned with instruction.  Giving students a clear background on the trip and its purpose can help them to get more meaning from it and have a more easily comprehensible experience.  I’ve also found that multimedia exposure or taking a ‘virtual’ field trip before the actual event is a great way to help students make connections and get excited about their trip.  They have a chance to form questions to answer on the trip itself and can identify particular areas of interest for the trip itself.  Letting children know exactly what to expect can also help to alleviate feelings of anxiety over being in an unknown location.

Prepare your students socially
    Often, students who struggle behaviorally in the classroom will do great on a field trip… the novelty of the experience and the understanding that it is a unique and special opportunity can sometimes reign in problematic behaviors.  However, setting clear behavioral expectations and trying to model them off of class routines can sometimes help avoid the problems that still remain.  You can consider trying specific norms for field trip behavior, including set consequences or particular signals to gather or warn your students.

Decreased student to adult ratio = increased student success
    Having more adults around than usual can serve several purposes.  It can help provide information, reading help, and academic support to students with learning or cognitive impairments.  Extra adults can also provide comfort and stability to students with behavioral or social difficulties who may be upset or disoriented in a new or unusual setting like a field trip.  Finally, in the unforeseeable event of an emergency, extra adults can be invaluable.  Parent chaperones, school volunteers, and community workers can be great resources to tap and often enjoy trips just as much as the students.  It can also be great to involve parents in your classroom by taking them out of the classroom!

Do your homework
    Often, museums, monuments, parks, and educational centers have special programs or docents available with training in people with disabilities.  Calling ahead or checking websites can verify their availability and prepare your class for their program.  Sometimes, reservations are necessary for disability programming even if it is listed as an option, so check first to avoid disappointment!  Definitely be sure to check accessibility options for any of your students with physical disabilities as well.
    As a different kind of homework, for any field trip, make sure you have accurate and up-to-date emergency medical and contact information for your students (I always ask for a confirmation of information when I send home consent forms).  Also, make sure you bring any personal supplies (comfort objects or medical necessities) that your students require while you are away from school.  Some districts may have requirements that if medication is to be administered away from school, a nurse or parent must be present to take care of it.  Additionally, make cards or tags for your students that have the school name and phone number on it in case they get separated (though obviously

Follow up!
    All learning experiences are enhanced by going above and beyond the experience itself.  Having students create a presentation or summative product to synthesize the experience can make it more real for them as well as highlight specific details from the experience that meant the most for them.  Field trips can also seed ideas for research projects, book reports, web quests, and countless other ideas.

In New York City, the field trip opportunities are essentially endless, and often free to public school students.  You may find that your community offers similarly varied and affordable options, and the time spent out of the classroom leads to such excellent use of time IN the classroom that it justifies the headache and stress that sometimes accompanies field trips! 

The best trip I ever took with my students was to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to tour the Ancient Egypt.  The looks on their faces as they interacted with priceless artifacts from eons ago was incredible enough to justify the number of times I heard myself utter, “keep your hands to yourself/don’t touch anything!”  What’s the most incredible trip you’ve ever taken with your students, and how did you prepare them for it?  Please share your comments and suggestions here!


Donna Guthrie

Another way to enhance a field trip is to visit virtually. MEET ME AT THE CORNER (www.meetmeatthecorner.org) has over 70 virtual field trips for kids ages 7-12. Visit the site and click on to the episode that will fit your lesson plans. The site offers a Learning Corner of extended activities and questions for a follow-up learning experience. The site is free and kids are encouraged to submit their own videos.

Alyssa Zelkowitz

Thanks for the advice, Donna!

Virtual field trips are certainly a great way to visit far-away locations, prepare kids, or follow up. I will check it out!


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