When my son was a tween, I coordinated a field trip to an agri-tourism farm for our home school group. When it came time to do some pumpkin activities with the kids, the farmer asked the kids to line up and take turns. Instead of forming a long, snaking column, with only one child at its head, our children stood in a compact row, side-by-side, so everyone could see the action.
I noticed an expression of momentary befuddlement on our docent’s face. Nevertheless, she worked with this arrangement, and I had one of those home-educating epiphanies. Looking at our crazy quilt of kids, ranging in age from toddlers to teens, I realized that we weren’t like the busload of 30 fourth graders our guide was used to leading. It’s these kinds of obvious and subtle differences in a home schooling group that require special consideration when coordinating a field trip.
Where does your group want to go? Think local. Between time constraints and cranky kids, you’ll do best to find opportunities within a half-hour drive. And living in the province of Alberta, there’s plenty from which to choose, year-round!
Who’s going? This aspect probably will have the most influence on your group’s choice of destination. Many home-educating families come with babies or preschoolers as well as older children. Be aware that museums and other traditional venues often plan tours divided by age or grade levels. Check with the education coordinators of these programs for recommendations that are broad enough for your group’s age range or ask about separate tours for the younger or older students.
Suggest to the docents to ‘teach up’ to the older children, knowing that the kindergarten or primary grade-aged kids will glean what they can from the experience. Remember, parents will be there to supervise, explain tour aspects and lend a hand to their own children.
What do you want to do once you get there? Not having to get back in time to catch the school bus affords home school groups the luxury to make a day of any trip. A few important questions to ask include on-site lunch or nearby picnic options, how long your group may linger after your tour, where to park and whether the location is stroller-friendly. Sometimes, a docent-led tour isn’t what your group wants or needs at all. Those educational activities are generally well-scripted and run on a certain time clock. A self-guided stroll lends itself to a home-educated kid’s curiosity and a toddler’s pace. And with a little thought and preparation on the part of the parents, their children can enjoy a customized field trip sure to meet their learning styles.
The majority of the attractions that your group will consider are open to the public. Never feel like you can’t visit a certain venue just because it doesn’t offer educational tours per se. If there’s a place the kids want to check out, just call and tell them you’re coming with a group of home-educating families. Nowadays, home schoolers are big business. Most times, the establishment will be happy to host your tour, especially during their slow times.
How should you prepare? Avail yourself of any pre-trip educational opportunities offered by museums, centres and historical societies. Museums of all types often have self-guided as well as docent-led tours. Some are designed to follow signage or a map; others provide audio narration. Nature centres provide field guides of local plants and fauna.
Plan ahead. Have an agenda already in place. Share with your child what to expect once you arrive. Discuss the importance of staying together and what to do if a child becomes separated from the group. (A cell phone may or may not be allowed in certain venues.) Many parents pack a field trip or travel bag for their outings, complete with sweaters, hats, hand wipes, sunscreen, snacks, crayons, pencils, paper, a First-Aid kit, some cash, an extra pair of socks and/or shoes. And don’t forget your camera!
Consider your family as ambassadors of home schoolers. Everyone needs to be at their best. If your child misbehaves or gets too tired, be respectful and willing to leave. Remember, the broader boundaries of home may not be appropriate in a museum. If the sign reads, “Do Not Touch,” respect it. Whether you’re touring a farm or attending the theatre, dress accordingly. If you sign up, you need to show up for a field trip. Often price, including a discount, is based on the number of children who actually attend. Understand the expectations and rules of the venue. But make sure they, too, understand the needs, interests and diversity of your families. We are quite a different school of fish.
Susan home educated her son for 12 years through high school graduation. She lives near the Mid-Atlantic Ocean and is on permanent creative sabbatical.
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