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The Field Trip Lady

by Teri Brown

"Dad! Stop! What's that one?" The brakes slammed yet again. Binoculars were raised and heads swiveled. The people driving behind us, instead of being annoyed, followed my son's pointing finger, their own binoculars already in place. My daughter grabbed the National Audubon Field Guide and started leafing through the pages.

This scene was played out a dozen times over the weekend of the John Shariff Migratory Bird festival in Burns, Oregon. It was probably one of the best field trips we have ever taken; bound to become a yearly tradition. Field trips, for the homeschooler, are the stuff that real learning is made out of. Whether you do unit studies, a full curriculum, or are a happy unschooler, field trips can add flavor to your life, cement what has been learned or be a complete educational experience in itself. Sometimes a field trip can be taken for the sheer pleasure of it.

During the school year, we try to take one field trip a week. So why don't more people take a field trip a week? Economics. Field trips can be expensive. The average Art Museum charges between $8 to $12 per child and more for adults. Many homeschoolers have quite a few more than the average 2.2 children. So, if you multiply eight to twelve by five you have . . . . a lot. Probably as much as many people spend on curriculum and supplies in a year. That is just one trip to the museum. Try going to the ballet or the orchestra.

But field trips don't have to be expensive. I have learned through the years where to look to find the most interesting, reasonably priced field trips available in my area. It's just a matter of knowing where to search. Probably the easiest place to start would be the library, a place already known and beloved by most homeschoolers. There are generally classes already in place for younger children, including stories, puppets and crafts. Often times they have similar activities for older children. Most of these are free. But dig deeper at your local library. There is ordinarily a bulletin board somewhere with various local activities posted on it. I once found a small clipping advertising an African story teller and musician at a neighboring library. My children received a small taste of another culture absolutely free.

Libraries frequently have strong ties with the local historical society which is another wonderful place to look for fascinating field trips. Historical museums are usually inexpensive and a good resource for other unearthing other places in your area that are relatively reasonable or free to visit. The home of one of our first citizens was 50 cents per person to go through and the guide was very knowledgeable.

The historical society often sponsors other events; ours does a draft horse exhibition every year. This exhibition also includes local craftsmen such as leather workers and furriers.

Another wonderful place to go for a field trip is one of your local herb farms. We discovered ours by chance and are thankful we did. Most herb farms and stores have a newsletter they put out and many offer classes. After attending a workshop with my daughter that included making various types of candles and our own herb pizza, we were offered the chance to come back the next day to make our own willow trellis for free. Somebody had to cancel at the last minute and wanted to give their spot to someone else. Most people who run herb shops and farms love their profession and are willing to share their knowledge with those who have a few curious questions. I generally buy the children a plant to thank them for their time.

In the autumn, farms are the best place to visit. Even if you live in the city it would only take you an hour or so to find your way to the best farm fresh produce you have ever tasted. Many of the smaller farmers are offering more than just produce to augment their incomes. Every October we visit 4 or 5 farms to get fresh apples, apple cider and gourds and Indian corn for fall decorations. Each farm is unique. We have found farms with hay bale mazes, farms with country crafts for sale, with petting zoos, dried flowers and even one with a mini-train to ride. Call your county extension office to see if they have a listing of farms in your area that sell fresh produce. Keep an eye on your local paper. They usually put out some kind of guide to local happenings and many are quite reasonable.

Our family once headed across town to watch a group Native American dancers. Numerous groups advertise their cultural festivals in the newspapers. This is a good way to introduce your children to cultures of different countries without ever leaving your home town.

Join or form a local field trip group. Local businesses are often willing to guide a tour for a group of people. Our grocery store took a group of us on a tour through all their different departments and we received a snack from each one.

With a group you can also take advantage of cut rate admission fees. Nurseries, pet stores and farm stores are all mini field trips that my children love to take. Be careful though, on one of these excursions we ended up with a puppy who is still with us today!

More great places to find interesting field trips are through your parks department, fish and game department and chambers of commerce. All these organizations put on different activities that your children can participate in. The Parks and Rec service often has classes or nature hikes for a reasonable fee and the Fish and Wildlife Department in our area holds kid's days at many of their hatcheries. The Chamber of Commerce often has volunteer activities such as a park cleaning day. At one volunteer event we attended, the Chamber of Commerce even fed us a wonderful lunch donated by a local sandwich shop.

Another, often overlooked, resource for interesting activities is a subscription to one of your regional magazines. The field trip ideas you glean from it are typically well worth the subscription price. We have found such diverse field trips as going to a tulip festival, digging for fossils behind an old school, visiting a ghost town and exploring tide pools. Glancing though our regional magazine led us to the incredible John Scharff Bird festival where we saw Sandhill Cranes, Great Egrets, Loons and the most breathtaking sight of all,a flock of Tundra Swans feeding in a meadow.

Field trips have given my children more hands-on knowledge than all the schooling I could have done with them at home. They can be rewarding, fun and economical...if you first put in a little time and effort in finding them.


Teri Brown is a freelance writer and homeschooling Mom. She and her family field trip around Oregon where they reside. She is also guest features editor for Voices, the newsletter for the National Home Education Network.

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