How to Plan and Execute a Great Field Trip

By Susan A. Merkner


When it comes to successful field trips, it’s all about the planning.


From choosing a destination that’s educational yet fun, far enough away to be intriguing yet close enough for comfort, putting together a successful field trip can be challenging yet rewarding.


San Antonians have numerous options from which to choose when selecting a destination, as our annual field trip guide demonstrates. For advice from the experts - those who work closely with children and schedule regular excursions - Our Kids magazine turned to an informal group of teachers, PTA volunteers, Scout leaders and home schoolers to get their input on how to put together a memorable field trip.


Safety First

In February 2003, seven teens from Alberta, Canada, were killed in an avalanche during a school ski trip. A 5-year-old Winnipeg boy drowned in a swimming pool while on a school trip in June 2002.


In light of those incidents, the Canada Safety Council urges parents - on both sides of the border  to pay attention to their children’s safety on field trips. The council recommends that parents ask the following questions:


How does the school plan to ensure the children’s safety during the outing?


What are the potential hazards?


Have there been mishaps on similar trips, and how have they been addressed?


How many adults will be supervising? What are their qualifications?


What is expected of the children in terms of their behavior?


What is the educational value of the trip?


Trip Tips

Following are other suggestions for planning and executing a successful field trip:


When booking the destination, ask for a group rate or education discount. Confirm your group’s reservation shortly before departure.


Make a pre-trip visit to the site to get familiar with the location. Take digital photos to share with the students prior to their trip.


Arrange dependable, reliable transportation well ahead of time, whether it’s parents’ vehicles, or chartered or public buses.


Have all the children wear matching baseball caps, bucket hats or t-shirts. Buy plain hats or shirts, and have the kids decorate them ahead of time. Matching clothing makes the children easier to spot in a crowd and helps other visitors identify them as part of your group.


erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Young children should wear nametags with their first name and the name of their school or group.

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Establish ground rules with the students ahead of time and then enforce them. Discuss the trip’s educational objectives in a subtle manner.

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times"> Have a back-up plan in case of inclement weather.

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Obtain parents’ written permission and collect any fees ahead of time.  Offer clothing suggestions for the day of the trip and list anything the children will need to bring (sunscreen, snack, etc.)

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">At least one adult leader should bring extra cash and a cell phone in case of an emergency.

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Pack adequate drinks and snacks for all children and adults participating.

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erdana; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Bring an emergency kit containing first aid supplies, maps, phone numbers of contact persons, flashlights and other safety gear.

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Follow up after the trip. Ask the children what they liked best and what new things they learned. Have them write thank-you notes to the field trip site hosts, chaperones and others who helped with the visit.


Virtually There

At first glance, the idea of a virtual field trip, in which students “visit” an area while seated in front of their computers, seems contrary to the spirit of an outing.  But such excursions can serve several useful purposes.


An online field trip may help develop an interest in a topic and propel a youngster to want to visit the site in person. Virtual field trip sites also can be used as a follow-up after a real-time visit to reinforce what was seen on site. Online trips also are helpful for disabled students who may not be able to visit an area physically but can benefit from the computerized experience of the location.


Virtual field trips are especially common in the study of geology, with sites devoted to locations such as the Texas Hill Country and Big Bend National Park, but other topics and physical locations also are covered. Check out the Web sites sponsored by the University of Texas and Texas A&M University and other institutions of higher education for virtual field trips, and leave the car in the driveway.




Web sites - Free online service links groups with local businesses offering field trip opportunities. Destinations included for San Antonio are H-E-B, Petco, Sports Authority and Toys ‘R’ Us outlets. Newsletter suggests classroom activities and addresses issues such as character education. - Planning tips, sample trips, newsletter and more from Teri J. Brown, author of Day Tripping (Champion Press, 2003). Although aimed primarily at home schoolers and family field trips, information on the Web site and in the book is helpful to anyone making field trip arrangements. - Click on “field trips” for teacher-recommended excursions for grades K-6. Web site also features lesson plans, thematic units, downloadable classroom materials, tips from other teachers and newsletter. 


Digging Deeper 

For another interesting twist on field trip destinations, be sure to read  Learning Comes Alive at the Cemetery, which suggests educational activities such as gravestone rubbings, how to establish respectful “ground rules” and related resources that can make a cemetery visit an opportunity to discover fascinating facts about human history and society.


Susan A. Merkner is editor of Our Kids magazine, an experienced field-trip mom and former Girl Scout troop leader.