Field trips that cost virtually nothing

When I was growing up in Chicago, Illinois my favorite place in the world was Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. I was lucky that my parents took me there frequently, and our school went there on field trips. Chicago Museum of Science and Industry

Going somewhere in the real world is one of the best ways to help a student learn. It brings every academic subject to life, and motivates the student to do more. This continues into adulthood. It's why college students do internships, and professionals go to conferences. It's why schools have field trips--if they have the budget.

These days most schools don't have the budget. But this morning I woke up with an idea that I'm going to start implementing right away. It's fun, cheap, and easy to do.

Suppose that once a month each teacher picked a local event or place of interest--a museum or a place to do a nature hike, a historical site or even a concert or a play. The teacher then contacts the parents of his/her students, and invites them to come along. Oh yeah, and bring your kids!

This type of informal outing would have benefits for parents, students, and teachers:

  • The parents of different students would get to know each other, network, and offer mutual support
  • Parents, students, and teachers would build stronger relationships with each other
  • Students would get to experience a lot of local resources that they may not have known about
  • Parents would share an awesome experience with their kids, and this might lead to interesting conversations at dinner
  • Everybody learns!

This activity would circumvent the usual budgetary and bureaucratic constraints. There would be no need for permission slips or a school bus. The trip wouldn't take any time away from classroom instruction, and would ultimately improve the quality of that instruction.

Are you with me? Then join the revolution. You don't have to be a teacher to organize something like this. A student could do it just as easily.

You're probably thinking of all the reasons this wouldn't work. I've already thought of them. It will work.

The biggest objection is that many parents won't take their kids on these field trips, for whatever reason. That's true, and we'll probably never have complete equality, but I think we can get pretty close. A child may have another adult in his/her life who is willing to step up. Some parents who are initially reluctant might change their mind as more people find out about this. Other parents may volunteer to chaperone an extra child or two.

Some families may not have the means to buy a museum ticket, or the transportation to get there. These are surmountable obstacles. Fundraising has been done before, and this project wouldn't require a lot of funds. When the word gets out about how cool this project is, people will donate. Art galleries and theaters will offer discounts and free tickets. City governments might even spring for a few free bus passes.

We can do this!

If you believe in this idea, spread the word and make it happen. Whether you're a teacher, a student, or you have kids in school, organize a small trip to a place you love, and invite a few others to come along. It's OK to start small. It's ok to go slow.

I know how I'm starting. On Friday I watched 42 sixth graders drop their jaws in wonder as the Space Shuttle Endeavor flew over Los Angeles. On October 30, the shuttle will be on display at the California Science Center.  That gives me more than a month to start inviting parents to come with me (and bring the kids!) to see the Endeavor up close.

If you're a teacher, you may be tempted to think of this as just one more chore for a busy teacher to do. And you're absolutely right. But come on, this is easy stuff, and it's going to be a lot more fun than most of the outside things you have to do.

This is going to start a revolution. I picture teachers competing with one another to get parents to attend their overlapping events. I see kids choosing from a rich variety of learning activities every weekend. I hear them talking with their families about science, literature and history during dinner. I envision explosive growth in public support for parks, concert halls, and other cultural resources.

Are you in?

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