Are you one of those homeschoolers? You know, the kind that watch dolphins at the zoo and call it school?
Do field trips have a place in a classical curriculum? I think so. Classical home schools spend plenty of time on memory work and mastery of the basic subjects in order to have the foundation to later study more advanced topics. If you only read recipes and never get in the kitchen to actually cook, could you call yourself a chef? How do you make that outside-of-the-books time really count?
Nothing will put the kabosh (urban dictionary: a termination) on the whole idea like a bad field trip. As with the rest of homeschooling, it’s going to take some planning on your part. Look around at museums, zoos, historical societies within driving distance. Even in small towns you can find history and science that you can get out and really see. The first thing to do is decide what your objective is. Then go online and look at current and future exhibits. That will usually bring you to a corporate sponsor page or a page where the exhibit is presently or was previously. Even if you decide that maybe this one isn’t worth taking an afternoon to see, you’ll have the links which will include plenty of pictures and info that you can use during your history class at home. Most traveling exhibits require a timed ticket for entrance. I try to get tickets for afternoon hours. The idea behind the afternoon is that you are still working in the morning. Get Latin and math done before you leave. Or plan for a scheduled day off. I usually pick a Wednesday or Thursday. I don’t want to end the week being annoyed that it’s Friday and I’m behind for Monday.
I realize that not everyone is within 15 minutes of a museum. Back in the day, I had four kids all under the age of 10. We lived at least an hour away, so we had to take the whole day off. We’d leave the house at 10am. Upon arrival, we would make a beeline from the coat check straight to food. After feeding and watering, my youngest was okay with sitting in the stroller and my target audience was ready to see something. My strategy was to pack all I could into the 2 1/2 hours we had. That actually is the right amount of time. The old adage Always leave them wanting more is true.
If nothing matches your syllabus you can still prep the kids anyway for the trip. We haven’t done an American history year in a long time. If there was a good opportunity I would still take them to Washington, DC.
A word about free museum days: Budgets are tight with only one income. If it is the only way you are getting out there, then just prepare for both crowds and the fact that hardly any museums are actually all “free” on “free” days. Verify that you will see what you are planning.
Getting there on time
Back to timed tickets -They are actually a plus for you as a educator. It means there won’t be mobs of people in the front blocking your kids from seeing it all. In fact, try to get there a little early and sometimes you can get in at the tail end of the last time slot. That five minutes puts you ahead of the new crowd. The gallery attendants are more likely to have a extra minute for your questions. Staying behind the crowd will accomplish the same thing.
Check your coats. Just do it. If you are members it’s probably free. If not, trust me – it is worth it. Even if you have a stroller, you don’t need it stuffed with coats. Hit the bathrooms next. What to bring? Drawstring backpacks are perfect for all ages of kids and adults. I like mine to bring a small blank notebook and a pencil or two. I have a couple artist type kids, and they will often sketch something they have seen. On the other hand, I have a pencil-phobic kid as well. I usually write notes for him. The idea is that this is no less a school day than any other. If you take your writing assignments from your content (science or history) than you can get something out of this trip as well. Even a pictorial shot with your cell phone will jog memories at home later. I don’t require written work after every trip, but it is nice for you and the kids to have a record.
Let’s go in!
I like to have the kids tell me at least one specific thing they want to see or ask a question about. Try to get them to pick different things. If this exhibit is applicable to your studies this year, you’ll be amazed at the connections that your kids make without prompting. Don’t be afraid to let your kids ask questions (or not). Museum folks love this stuff – they don’t work there for the money. Members nights are actually great for this (and don’t cut into the school day), but if you happen upon a slow day and a friendly face, maybe your kids will really get inspired by someone who has chosen to spend their work life exploring the subject on display.
Bringing work with? No. Just don’t. High school kids can catch up at night. There is no point in bringing them with if they sit on a bench reading their math book.
That was fun!
Afterwards I like to find a table or bench and discuss what we’ve seen before we leave. Often kids will think up questions, and this way we still have access to the experts. If time allows, we will just browse and that either ends up with us planning a return trip or we realize that we’ve covered everything offered right now. The Field Museum says it best: As educators, we inspire wonder and understanding. Isn’t that homeschooling in a nutshell?
Jen N. – Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog: www.recreationalscholar.wordpress.com