Home Education Magazine
March-April 1999 - Articles
A Successful Field Trip is Just Four "P's" Away
Beth Ann Erickson
The letter came early one fall: "Local Home-School field trip to DAC in two weeks." I read the letter and furrowed my brows. What's a DAC? I wondered, pausing to shrug before filing the letter to read "later." l then proceeded with a busy day of teaching my second grader.
Two weeks slid by and before I knew it, the field trip was upon me. My son and I awoke, drove to the designated destination and exited our vehicle.
"What' s a DAC?" I whispered to another mother as we entered the building.
"I don't know," she shrugged. "Guess we'll find out."
As I stood behind the group of children surrounding our tour guide, it became painfully evident that the majority of the people attending this event were as ill-prepared as my son and I. Children squirmed; two little girls to my right held hands, chatting softly amongst themselves; and my son, seemingly overwhelmed by the stacks of old videotapes, gazed in wonder at his surroundings. When the guide asked for questions, the majority of children dashed for their coats to play outside, leaving only a few who politely raised their hands. The event felt more like a social outing than an educational field trip. "There's got to be a better way to do this," I thought as I watched my son poke his neighbor and giggle.
Immediately, I began to plan what I would do differently to make our next trip more memorable, educational, and a better use of our precious home-education time. As I wandered behind the group, I formulated four "P's" that would help my son and I achieve that goal. Watching the ever-shrinking group of parents and children shuffle through the facility, I mentally applied each "P" to the current field trip to see how I could have improved our educational time together. Here's what I came up with:
The first "P" is "Prepare." By preparing for our field trip to the DAC, I would have called the establishment to find out what the letters "DAC" stood for. Turns out, a DAC is a "Day Activity Center." This county-owned facility hires developmentally disabled individuals to perform simple activities for pay. For example, the employees we observed were busy removing videotapes from old videos and stacking the remaining plastic for future recycling.
By preparing for this field trip, I would have asked my son what he thought the employees at the DAC did all day. With a few well phrased questions, I would hope to arouse his natural curiosity and perhaps trigger his desire to learn more. After he presented some of his ideas, I'd tell him what the letters "DAC" meant and allow him to further imagine what kind of activities would occur in such an establishment.
This first "P" would have taken only a few moments from our school day. The next "P," "Provide Information," would take more time, but finding information proved to be almost effortless. Walking through the front door of the DAC, it would have been difficult to miss the many brochures lining the wall. If I'd taken a few moments to call the DAC representative prior to our trip and ask her to mail some of these leaflets to our little homeschool prior to the field trip, my son and I would have had enough reading material to last us a number of days.
If the DAC hadn't had any brochures, we could have visited our public library to find age-appropriate materials about our subject. If all else failed and we still found nothing about DAC's, we could have searched the Internet or contacted the DAC representative again asking for ideas on obtaining appropriate materials.
After gathering our information, we could begin reading. For our schedules, we probably would have chosen either after school or before bedtime. This activity would whet his appetite and encourage him to become excited about the outing. By providing information to my son prior to the field trip, he would have been better prepared for what he would see and could then discover how reality differed from the brochures and library books we'd read prior to the event.
Peruse Related Information
The third "P" that would make home-education field trips more useful is "Peruse Related Information." While reading library books and brochures about DAC's, I'm sure my son would have come up with a million questions, tangents if you will, concerning this topic.
He'd want to know how mental disabilities are categorized: Why can some individuals work at DAC's and others cannot? What causes developmental disabilities? How does a DAC affect our community? Who recycles the videotape plastic? Why do we recycle?
The number of related topics are virtually endless and are limited only by imagination and time constraints. Searching out personal stories in DAC trade magazines or surfing the Internet for newspaper articles are just a few of the myriad of ways our topic could have been broadened. I've found related information allows the subject matter to burst alive as the child begins to view the topic in personal terms. As they learn, students begin to realize how the DAC affects their lives and the lives of others. Workers become humanized and developmental disabilities don't seem as mysterious.
Planning the Trip
Finally, just prior to the trip, I would have engaged the fourth "P": "Planning the Trip." I would have told my son exactly where we were going (there are several DAC's in our county), we'd review what he'd probably be seeing, and I'd also let him know how I expected him to behave. Together we'd make a list of questions he'd want answered before we came home and he'd have an idea of how long we'd be gone. Finally, I'd consult him as to how he planned on completing his missed assignments, if any.
With my four "P's" clearly ingrained in my mind, we launched into our next field trip - to a local dairy farm - and I'm pleased to say it was a far more successful educational experience than our first outing. My son was attentive as he concentrated on searching for the answers to his questions while enthusiastically pointing out similarities and differences between the books he'd read and the realities of modern dairy farms.
The "Four Ps" don't take a lot of time and are a useful tool in enhancing not only the field trip, but other studies as well. As we perused additional information about dairy farms (the third "P"), we found ourselves applying math concepts and science lessons as we discussed how many pounds of milk per cow were produced per milking and how exactly, grass is turned into milk.
Try the "Four Ps" for your next field trip. It's amazing where a child's mind will lead. I found it exciting to occasionally stray from the worksheets and curriculum to engage in the wild adventure that is my son's imaginative learning style. To this day I'm not sure who learned more using the four "P's" - him or me.
©1999, Beth Ann Erickson
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