Field trips are one of the most fun parts of homeschooling. My kids always prefer going places with their friends, and traveling with a group lets us take advantage of special discounts and programs.
Finding a location to visit is the easy part -- museums, historical sites, businesses and recreation facilities are usually eager to have homeschoolers visit during their slow times.
It's not hard to lead a field trip, but there are a few pitfalls you can avoid if you plan things right. Here are some rules to follow to make your field trip fun and educational for everybody.
Rule Number One: Do it your way.
When you invest your time and energy in planning a field trip, you are a volunteer. Your only reward is an experience that you and your kids will enjoy. (Although, be sure to see Rule Number Five.) So if other people offer opinions or ask for special favors, be polite, but don't feel obligated to do anything that will make your job harder or take away from your own good time. Just remember, it's important to make homeschooling activities work for you and your kids.
Rule Number Two: Work with a group, or put together your own.
If you're thinking about organizing an activity for an established homeschool group, find out if they have any guidelines you should follow. But if those guidelines don't work for you (see Rule Number One), you can also get a group together on your own and do it your way. Ask other homeschooling families whose kids are around the same age and have the same interests. In my experience, people are usually happy to join in an activity when someone else is doing the legwork!
Rule Number Three: Weigh all the options.
Sometimes it's easier -- or even cheaper -- to pay individually rather than arrange a group visit, even if you have several families going together. Or, you may be able to tag along with another school group so you can take advantage of the same discounts and special programming.
Bonus Tip: Even if you're not going as an "official" school group field trip, contact the venue and ask about the best time to go, to avoid other school groups.
Rule Number Four: Find a place that will work with you.
Many places are used to homeschool visits. But if not, you may have to work with them on some issues that are different from a regular school group. That could include:
- Separate cars: Is there parking available, is there a fee, and can you get a reduced rate?
- Multiple ages: Some places are more willing to work with multi-age groups than others.
- Younger siblings: If younger siblings may be along, ask if the place you're visiting can accommodate them. (They may have alternate suggestions for keeping them entertained.)
- Parent participation: Homeschool groups typically have more parent chaperones than the average school group. Make sure the venue can handle the extra people, whether as participants or observers.
- Background expected: Public school fourth graders may be learning state history, but the kids in your homeschool group may not. If you're requesting a particular school program, be sure it's suitable for your group (or see if it can be adapted for you).
- Payment: School group visits are usually paid for with a voucher or school check. Find out how the facility can accept payment from your group -- particularly whether you need to collect all funds beforehand. The easiest arrangement for you, if the place is willing, is to let each family pay when they get there. (Also see Rule Number Five.)
Rule Number Five: Be clear about details.
Let everyone going know what to expect, and you'll have more time to enjoy your field trip. Here are some details to think about:
- Costs: Let the families who are interested in your field trip know about all expected costs (including lunch options). If you need to collect funds in advance, let them know how much and how they can make payments to you. Be firm about deadlines and clear about whether refunds are available. You don't want to be stuck paying for families who don't show.
Bonus tip: Some places give organizers or chaperones free admission. There's nothing wrong with using those free passes yourself. But if you decide to charge other families extra to cover the cost of your family's admission, it's probably best to inform them when you collect their money, to avoid misunderstandings later.
- Meeting time: If your group needs to be admitted at a certain time, give yourself a cushion. One frequent field trip planner I know always asked participants to gather half an hour earlier than the actual start time, to allow for the slowpokes. But don't feel obligated to wait for latecomers. There's no reason you should miss your own trip waiting for them at the gate.
- Supervising children: Tell parents about any rules for students at your destination, and make sure every child will have someone to watch them. You want to be free to focus on your own family. Don't forget Rule Number One -- you're there to have fun too! Lay out the expectations beforehand and your trip will be memorable for everyone.