When you reminisce about your schools days, do you fondly recall math worksheets, multiple choice tests, or lab notebook entries? We didn’t think so!
Instead, you might recall a field trip to a historical site that sparked a lifelong interest in the American Revolution. Or, maybe you remember a visit to a local art museum that opened your eyes to exquisite modern art. It could even be a day exploring a nearby science museum that launched an entire career!
Unfortunately, the field trip as an American institution is on the wane. According to Education columnist Jay Matthews in The Washington Post, “The field trip, once woven into the American school experience, is in decline.”
Is the school field trip destined for extinction?
How kids learn from field trips
The decline of the field trip is especially troubling because studies have shown that children learn much from visits to museums, historical sites, and natural wonders that they simply can’t get from teacher lectures or textbook pages.
For example, “Research from the University of Illinois finds that children feel bored as much as 50 percent of the time while at school or doing their homework. At children’s museums, kids become excited about what they are learning while they are playing,” according to the Association of Children’s Museums.
There are eight major benefits that children derive from field trips of all kinds. These benefits were outlined by TeachThought, the educators’ go-to resource for practical tools and ideas for the classroom, and include:
- “Students are energized by the excitement and anticipation of leaving the school environment.
- The transportation to and from the museum/site is often a pleasant open-social time.
- Students have the opportunity to see new things and learn about them in a more unstructured way.
- Students have the opportunity to determine what they learn and how they learn it. Said differently, student learning can be interest-driven, not teacher and curriculum driven.
- Students will experience a more holistic, integrated picture of the information that, in the classroom, may have only been presented in a textual and abstract way.
- Museums, and many other kinds of field trips are multi-media experiences; therefore, learning is enriched and reinforced with superimposing sensory and intellectual inputs.
- Most museums are designed to stimulate curiosity and actively engage the visitor, so you have a very professional partner working with you to help your students learn.
- In some museums you can arrange for your class to meet with a museum educator, often in a private classroom, to facilitate directed learning and/or provide a question-answer session.”
The best field trips in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania
Lucky for those of us who live in the tri-state area, there are a slew of interesting, kid-friendly destinations in all directions. In addition to traditional fall destinations such as pumpkin patches and apple orchards, parents can add some tried and true field trips to local sites that are sure to inspire and amaze.
Since October is National Go On A Field Trip Month, we have put together a list of local and regional trips your family will love. And, don’t forget to take some pictures!
Go wild at the Delaware Natural History Museum. Since it opened its’ doors in 1972, The Delaware Museum of Natural History has become a mainstay for elementary school trips of youngsters from all over the state. But what you might not know is that this little gem is also a member of Association of Science-Technology Centers – a collection of over 250 museums and facilities worldwide. That means that when you join, you get not only a year of fabulous visits to see life sized dinosaurs, an African watering hole, plus birds and shells from around the world, you also get free admission to 250 other locations! From the New Mexico Museum of Space History, to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Florida!
Get smart at the Maryland Science Center. An easy drive from anywhere in New Castle County, the Maryland Science Center is located at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This mammoth, 170,000 square foot facility is absolutely filled with great hand-on learning experiences. The Center focuses on hands-on, interactive exhibits, cutting-edge computer games, simulations and more to engage and excite your kids about science.
Enjoy the great outdoors at the Tyler Arboretum. Perfect for the outdoor-loving family is a visit to the Tyler Arboretum. 650 acres of horticultural collections, rare plant specimens, ancient trees, historic buildings, and over 20 miles of fantastic hiking trails. The kids will get a kick out of the Butterfly House & Garden, a rare chance to get a close-up look at local butterflies in all their stages.
Take a step back in time at Valley Forge. Make history come alive at the 3,600-acre Valley Forge National Historical Park. At Valley Forge during the winter encampment of 1777-78, General George Washington faced starvation, sickness, and despair and still forged his Continental Army into a force to be reckoned with. See Washington’s original stone headquarters which have been restored and furnished, or marvel at the reconstructed log huts that housed our brave soldiers. There are also numerous statues and monuments throughout the park including statues of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, and the Monument to Patriots of African Descent.
You’ll “sea” life at the beautiful National Aquarium. The National Aquarium, located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is an experience unlike any other. This spectacular aquarium houses approximately 16,500 specimens and more than 660 species of animals! You can watch the rays glide mysteriously, marvel at the colorful rainbow of tropical fish, or examine terrifying jaws and teeth of the many species of sharks (from behind the safety of some thick glass, of course!) Membership to the National Aquarium includes daily admission for one year at both the Baltimore and Washington, DC, locations.
Philadelphia is the birthplace of America. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to teach your children more of their national history in a fun way. Forget the dusty history books. Visit the Liberty Bell (free daily, no tickets necessary), Independence Hall (free daily, although you must register for timed tickets in advance), or The Mint (free). End the day with a leisurely carriage ride throughout the historic district. (And don’t forget an authentic Philly soft pretzel!)
Have an adventure at Indian Echo Caverns. Located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Indian Echo Caverns is one of the most visited attractions in the eastern United States – and it’s easy to see why. Sparkling crystal clear lakes, dazzling calcium deposits, and stunning limestone “rooms” will inspire the budding geologist in your family. A 45 minute tour explores the 440 million year old site, which was originally discovered by the Susquehannock Indians and later by French fur trappers in the 17th century. Kids will also enjoy an afternoon at Gem Mill Junction, located on the site, where they can become official prospectors searching for gemstones, chunks of amethyst, jasper, calcite, or agate.
The American Civil War Museum brings history to life. At the American Civil War Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the phrase “history comes alive” takes on new meaning! The museum encourages kids to not only learn about history, but become a part of history. Interactive programs – from “Learning to be a Civil War Soldier,” to “The language of fans and parasols,” to “Children of the Civil War” allow kids to become active participants. In addition, on most weekends now through November, the Gettysburg Heritage Center hosts complimentary Living History Encampments. Visitors may stroll through the Civil War camp, view military drills and demonstrations, and speak directly with the reenactors.
Spend a day on the farm at the Delaware Agriculture Museum. If your children believe that milk comes from the grocery store and not a cow, if they think that John Deere only manufactures lawn mowers, or that farming is the “simple life,” they’ve never been to the Delaware Agriculture Museum in Kent Country, Delaware! The Delaware Agriculture Museum offers a wonderful education in all things farming-related. The Main Exhibit Hall is chock full of technological advances – from blacksmiths to tractors. Loockerman Landing Village, a representation of a rural 1890’s village, allows children to catch a glimpse of farm life at the turn of the century, and includes a country store, schoolhouse, church, and more.
Learn a little art appreciation at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover. Art lovers of all ages will thrill to the outstanding collection of American art at The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Delaware. The Biggs features a collection of nearly 1,800 fine and decorative art objects, all of which reflect the Delmarva Peninsula. From furniture, to paintings, to silver, glass, ceramics and textiles, The Biggs offers a glimpse of the best of American art from 1700 to the present.
Science “geeks” unite at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute offers 12 exciting permanent display galleries from The Train Factory, to The Giant Heart, to Space Command, there’s something for every child’s interest. The Franklin Institute also offers a world-class Planetarium and IMAX Theatre.