Simple advice on taking successful trips out of your classroom.

It is human nature to be apprehensive of change or of things we’re unfamiliar with. And sometimes the thought of taking an entire classroom into the outdoors can seem down right frightening…(lions and tigers and bears, oh my!). With this simple guide you’ll be on your way to achieving a successful outing with your students! Whether you’re on a nature preserve trail, the school grounds, at a neighborhood park or on a nature field trip, you and your students can find a way to learn, experience and have fun.

Taking on the Field Trip

As with most aspects of life, the key to success when taking your classroom on a field trip is organization and communication:

Before Boarding the Bus: Relay all your expectations to students. What will they learn while they’re there, what rules will need to be followed, and what are the consequences for not meeting your expectations? Overview your agenda so there are no surprises. Be sure to discuss appropriate attire for the outdoors – prepare for the weather!

Relay all your expectations to other teachers and chaperones Make sure you communicate their role in the outing, give a debriefing if necessary, make sure everyone knows their individual objectives.

Have your students broken into groups and wearing name tags.

Agree on helpful hand signals If you use the “quiet fox” or “silent rabbit” hand signal to conjure up silence, make sure everyone knows and understands.

After Disembarking the Bus: Relax, have fun and learn something new!

Keeping Students’ Attention Without a Chalkboard

One major concern teachers have expressed about taking students out of the classroom is not being able to sustain every child’s attention. When you get outside, there are so many new things to see and some of them can be distracting. Learn how to use these “distractions” to your advantage.

Let the students “discover” the things they are interested in: If you’re exploring a neighborhood park and the students shout and gather around a lady bug, let them look close. Pose questions to encourage reflection on what they’ve found (“what do you think the lady bug eats, where did it come from, how did it grow up?”). If the students find something you are unfamiliar with, create a list! These can be your classroom’s future “research” topics.

Give the most easily distracted student a “special task”: Engage the student in the special task of holding or carrying the tools or instruments, inform him or her of a “little known fact” and let them teach the other students what they’ve learned, set them out to find a green beetle, a smooth rock, a spider’s web…

Bring tools or aids to help students investigate what they find: Put a few tricks up your sleeve by bringing magnifying glasses, color cards from the paint store (“who can match their color card with something in nature?”), field guides to birds, insects and flowers for students to research what they’ve seen in nature and a few baby food jars for catching and investigating insects. For older students, bring clipboards and worksheets to keep them engaged and searching. Or, just bring a blank sheet of paper and create tasks as you go (“draw something you see at your feet, journal the experience you had today”).

Engaging All the Senses With Young Children

We so often hear the phrase, “stop to smell the roses,” but don’t follow through. The classroom is full of interesting things and the outdoors can compliment and enhance your teachings by engaging all of your students’ senses.

Look for bright colors in nature: Many of the plants or animals you find are warning others, attracting pollinators or mates, camouflaging, or maybe producing chemical reactions (like the green of chlorophyll).

Feel the differences between textures: Are all rocks rough and hard? Some fur and feathers are soft, others are stiff (for flight) or sleek (for keeping water out). Feel out a special spot in the bark of a tree where you would hide a nut if you were a squirrel. Smell more than roses Scents in nature all serve a purpose. Some defend animals from predators (the musk of a skunk), others attract insects (flowers need pollinators). Smells can signal a process is occurring like the fragrance of rich soil that’s decomposition you smell!

Listen carefully, the animals are telling us something: Sit and listen for two minutes count silently on your fingers how many different sounds you hear. Many things that sound alike are not created by the same animal (or insect). Are you hearing a cricket’s wings rubbing, a toad’s throat bulging or a bird’s voice signing? Many birds have more than one call. Do you think they are warning others, attracting a mate or are they just happy to be alive?