Last week I had the opportunity to take around 70 middle school kids to the Birmingham Zoo. The educational objective was cross-curricular: the kids spent time observing animal behavior, making notes about their physical characteristics and habitats, and drawing the different animal species. Their drawings will be used for a clay relief project next week. 

The students were great! They had fun, they worked on their assignments, the biggest complaint was that they didn't have enough time to see the whole zoo or to draw every animal! When I asked them to rate their experience (5, 4, 3, 2, or 1) all of them held up 4 or 5 fingers - that's not too bad! Their positive experience made the nightmare of planning all worthwhile (I think - I'm still trying to decide...............)


#1: Kids need these enriching experiences desperately! 
#2: Once you get on the bus, field trips are a lot of fun for the kids, the chaperones, and the teacher.
#3: It can be a terrific motivator for kids to behave and work hard - my experience is that there are almost zero discipline problems both before, during, and after the field trip. The students are absolutely on their best behavior - I can almost see the halos swirling around their cute little heads!
#4: They need a break from the routine of school and so do teachers! Having a field trip at the end of the year is almost like a celebration.
#5: It is a wonderful way to build the art program and recruit kids: all the other kids in school are jealous they didn't take art! Also, field trips are a great way to increase positive perceptions of the art program as well as the school itself. 

We have gone to the Birmingham Museum of Art nearly every year. We have also taken field trips to Oak Mountain State Park Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, The Southern Museum of Flight, and The Birmingham Botanical Gardens. I have chaperoned field trips to Sloss Furnace and watched the iron pours, but am always too late to book this one - I need to book early next year!


1. Field trips are very labor intensive, with many hours of paperwork, emails, meetings, and phone calls that must be made before ever setting foot on a bus. This year, I sent about 80 emails and made at least 45 phone calls!
2. The educational purpose for the field trip has to be justified. My administrator did not immediately approve this venture - I had to show him how the Alabama Course of Study Objectives (Science and Visual Art) tied in to the experience. 
3. Many, many people are involved in making a field trip happen: administrators, school nurses, bus drivers, substitute teachers, office personnel, parent chaperones, and in my case other teachers because my substitute never showed up! (We also had to spend time finding a new bus driver when our first bus driver's wife went into the hospital.)
4. The day of the first field trip my substitute cancelled at 9:30 a.m. - we were already en route to the zoo. My principal had to get other teachers to cover my classes. The second day, a substitute was never assigned via our online program and arrangements needed to be made with my colleagues (bless them!) to watch all the kids not attending the field trip. 
5. Field trips take a leap of faith: you have to remain calm and trust your parent chaperones to help keep everyone together. Communication is key! 


1. Book the event/location as far in advance as possible and get your substitute and bus driver ASAP.

2. Too many chaperones are better than not enough. Also, give your chaperones all the information before the field trip: the itinerary, their students' names, maps of the location, your cell phone number, the safety plan, and any information the venue gives to you. Have the chaperones go over the expectations with their groups before setting foot on the bus. 

3. Stay on great terms with your colleagues - I had to call in many favors this year and I am indebted to my coworkers for all their help. I could not have pulled it off without them.

4. Many things can and will go wrong. You have to decide whether or not it is worth it. Once you decide, don't give up on the idea! I had to mentally keep reminding myself that I had made a promise to my students. For example, because of testing I did not see my normal classes for days after the field trip was officially approved. I had to look up all 102 students in the computer to find where they were 6th period in order for them to get their permission slips. The parent letter wasn't approved until the next day, so I had to repeat the process. This took HOURS. 

5. Keep your numbers down. I learned many years ago that taking all the kids on the same day is NOT smart. I teach upwards of 170 students, so I limit the number who can go. Some years it is only Art Club, this year it was all my 7th and 8th graders but I split up the group and went two different days. (I invited 102 students to go on the field trip but only accepted the ones who turned in their paperwork and money by the deadline; there were 30 students the first day and 40 the second.)

Was it worth it? Probably. I am still thinking about it. I liken it to having a baby: during labor it is extremely painful but when you hold your baby after all is said and done, you don't think about all that grief. The field trip itself is like that baby - irreplaceable and precious. When a parent says, "Thank you for planning this so my child could have such a wonderful experience," that makes my day. It also makes my day to see the students' eyes glowing with happiness. They didn't take off their admission bracelets even after we got back to the school - they wore them like a badge of honor. Was it worth it? YES. & YES.

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols


American Artmasters said...

Great article, Anna. I was wondering how it went. I thought about taking my students to do a clinical at the museum, but I lost steam. I hope to take a group someday to some place. Maybe if I partner with another teacher, I would have more courage to do so. Thanks!


Thank you, Kristie! It is awesome fun to take a good group of kids on a field trip! I happen to have a wonderful group this year, so it wasn't a scary thing at all to take them out in public! The thing about field trips is you have to be very, very committed because they are so. much. work. Also, be extremely organized and prepared for anything (incl. band-aids and maxi-pads). When I do this again, I will start planning much earlier. I waited too late this year and almost didn't get to go, even though I started planning in March!