The Art of the Field Trip

It’s Throwback Thursday, so I thought I’d bring out this blog I wrote in 2012.  Note: This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I found it in the Drafts folder and realized I never actually hit the “Publish” button.  I’m just being cool and retro here.

I’m a Field Trip Wimp.   I would say field trips stress me out even more than glitter glue and Play Doh.   So while my kids have attended field trips over the years, they have been few, far between and inevitably planned by Someone Else.  I am not an event planner.  Just don’t have that gene.  Eight months as the Event Coordinator for a small church 25 years ago convinced me of that fact.  It wasn’t pretty.

At some point, however, I became determined to break the Field Trip Barrier, conquer the art of the educational excursion and get the kids as far away from that blasted X Box as possible.  I forced myself to do a few outings, and then a few more, and along the way I learned a few things.  And since I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in my peregrinandaphobia, I thought I would share:

Steps To The No Fail Successful Field Trip

1) Consider your kids first. The field trip is about them, not about you and your event planning abilities, nor is it even about the photos you can brag-post on social media after the fact.  Small children have short attention spans, need naps and frequent food breaks and will not actually remember the details of the trip when they get older.  They will remember if they had a good time and if Mom and/or Dad were happy.  So set your expectations at reasonable levels for the age and temperament of your kids.  The trip doesn’t have to last all day.  A couple of hours is fine.  If they are older, you can be more lavish.  But a 3 year old will enjoy the play structure at McDonalds about the same as any other place you take them, cost notwithstanding.  So save your money and your lengthy trips until they are old enough to appreciate them.

2) Check the weather before you go. Dress in layers, and bring a jacket no matter what the weatherman says.  You can always leave it in the car or in a locker.

3) Read up before you go.  Just a brief perusal of the website for the place you are visiting may provide a wealth of information that will help you feel more prepared, such as what kinds of bags or backpacks are allowable, what the weather is usually like, as well as directions.

4) Pack your lunch.  As a 15-year homeschooling veteran, this is actually the hardest part for me, because lunch-packing is not something I have a lot of practice with.  I get lunch-packing stage fright. What if I pack something that will get squished?  What if it’s inedible by the time it’s time to eat it?  Will I carry it around with me or leave it in the car?  What if I pack too little and everyone’s still hungry?  What if I pack too much and end up schlepping extra weight around all day, only to throw the wilted remains out when I get home?  The guilt!  The shame!  Seriously, the lunch-packing thing has actually talked me out of field trips a couple of times. More than a couple of times. But packing your lunch will save  you a lot of money, and seriously, it’s one meal.  You can eat a PBJ for one meal.  The point is the field trip, not the food.

Having driven in circles a few times around this road construction site en route to a field trip, we tried to convince the kids this was the Getty Museum.  They didn’t fall for it.

5) Sunscreen.  Do I need to be any clearer about that?  Even if it’s overcast.  Sunscreen.

6) Check a traffic website for any road closures that may occur.  This is not a must-do, but we have arrived at destinations a couple of times, only to find that the road we needed to turn on was closed for construction.  It’s usually not that hard to follow a detour, but it does take extra time and your stress level will be less if you know it’s coming.

Now that I have given you all kinds of boxes to check off and stress over, keep uppermost in your mind the thought that even if you fail in ALL of these areas, you can still have fun.  It may be more expensive that you wished (if you forgot the food and have to buy some), and you may do some unexpected exploring (if you forgot the directions), but honestly, even the worst disasters can be salvaged with the right attitude, which makes this point THE MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT TO A SUCCESSFUL FIELD TRIP.

Bringing An Adventurous Attitude:

When our oldest kids were 2 and 3, we decided to take a family outing to the L.A. Zoo on a Saturday.  By the time naps were done and diaper bags were packed, the afternoon was getting on, but it’s a quick jaunt up the freeway away from where we live, so we figured we could still have a good hour or two at the zoo, which was more than enough time for kids that age to visit.  We hopped in the car, buzzed down the freeway… and came to a standstill about 15 minutes away from our house.  Traffic jam on a Saturday?  Who knew?   It took us an hour and a half to do what should have been a 30 minute trip, and by the time we got to the zoo and saw that it closed in 45 minutes, it just didn’t seem worth it.  So we got back in the car, and my husband, who at that point had very little experience with spontaneity and had yet to be trained by my British sense of Making The Best Of Things, was intending to drive straight back home.  With some quick talking, I convinced him that we could still make it into an adventure, and the kids would never know it wasn’t according to plan.   So we drove west instead of south,  found ourselves in Santa Monica, bought some ice cream and found a park, and the kids had a great time.  They never knew what they had missed, and we both learned how easy it is to turn a day around with the right attitude.

The point is, the trip is about enjoying time together and having an adventure.  It doesn’t matter if the adventure varies a bit from the one you had in mind. Buying shoes in a drug store because a child forgot to put any on can be an adventure (yep, we did that.  She was so excited to go somewhere, she didn’t notice that her feet were bare).  Eating a burger in an old, local-landmark burger joint while Dad walks back to the side of the freeway and tries to recover the items that flew out of the trailer can be an adventure (the 10 year old is still talking about that one… and asking if we can go back there).  Packing up a campsite in one hour flat and racing home just ahead of a snowstorm in June can be an adventure.  In fact, all our best excursion stories come from the things that went wrong.

In the end, it all comes down to refusing to let a change in plans be considered a problem.  Flat tire? That’s an opportunity to meet new people.  Forgotten item?  A chance to explore a local shop.  It’s not a problem.  It’s simply a change in schedule.

Success on a field trip is not measured in adherence to a schedule you arbitrarily set from the comfort of your home before actually BEING in the location.  Success is measured by smiles, discoveries, and happy memories.

And after that’s covered, sure, by photos posted on social media.

kids at lego land 2004ish


Categories: Family, Field Trips, Homeschooling, Kids, Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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