Class Action: the joy of field trips

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 3:22pm

My son loves going on school field trips but I feel like many of them are a waste of time. School fees are so expensive, surely they would be better off spending less money on "fun days" and more time working on lessons?

School field trips are more than just "fun days". Of course, that may well be how your son sees them - but that is part of the point. Lessons that have a basis in a real-life experience are easier for children to relate to and grasp.

Directly taught lessons may take several repeats before all the children grasp the objective. When sharing an experience, all the children are learning from it at their own levels.

Children also get more excited about something they see happening in front of them, and can be inspired to share what they know and ask more questions.

Field trips can add depth to any learning experience if chosen carefully and supported with classroom activities. Many lesson objectives can be incorporated into activities in the classroom, based around what a class has experienced on a field trip.

At the beginning of new units, a field trip can become a jumping-off point for questions. Not all families take their children on the same outings, so a field trip evens out experience levels, giving all the children the same base from which to share.

In the middle of a unit, a field trip can give your son the chance to put his knowledge into action and show what he knows. Many children enjoy looking at animals and asking what they are. If your son has been studying that unit, he may be able to identify a black panther, and tell you that it is sleeping because it is nocturnal, and that it hunts smaller creatures, and so on. Suddenly, his understanding becomes useful.

Explaining things and using the vocabulary the class has been working on can help to reinforce it. Many times the discussions around field trips consolidate and advance the specific vocabulary children have seen in books and in class. You may not always have time for a relevant trip to the zoo or Ocean Park at the time your son is studying sea creatures or rainforests. So this is an excellent way for him to put his knowledge into action.

At the end of a unit, a field trip can serve as an assessment tool. Most classes will do at least one writing activity after a day out. This gives the children time to talk about what they saw. The teacher can help them to understand what a "recount" is, as they talk about the time order of events. They can talk about how they felt getting ready and then going, doing and returning.

During the writing activity, the children are often so excited to be sharing their part of the experience that they won't feel the burden of "schoolwork". The teacher will have a chance to see how their writing is improving when they are not even thinking about writing. The teacher will also see how they are explaining the events of the day and what background they are sharing about what they saw.

An insect safari at a local farm may give your son the chance to share his knowledge about metamorphosis, and how both butterflies and cicadas experience it. His teacher may then see that he has more knowledge than had been previously shared in class.

Field trips around the time of tests in your son's school may well be the basis for the test. Don't simply dismiss them as fun days. Join in if you can. Point out the details of what you are sharing with him and let him talk about them as much as he can. Extend his vocabulary when you see he is stuck for a word he has only heard a few times. Then use that word later in other situations to help him really get it into his head. Written assessments are much more exciting when they are based on an experience.

"Fun days" can be at the beginning, middle or end of a unit, but be assured that they are chosen to enhance and extend the children's learning. They are exhausting for teachers as well, so they are not just easy days out of the classroom. They may well be a great way to make your son an excited learner.

Kris Gienger teaches at an international primary school