Thursday, September 15, 2011

Field Trips, part 1

Field Trips, part 1
Last time we talked about the importance of homeschool groups and mentioned field trips. This time I would like to focus on the types of field trips that our fifth graders might be interested in participating in. First, let me say that we should not be afraid of field trips. Field trips do not have to be expensive or take all day. They do not even have to be with a group. Sometimes the most memorable field trips are excursions you make with just your family. And don’t worry, no matter how basic or elaborate the field trip, your child will learn something.

Let’s start with the most basic and simple field trip. What is your child interested in? My fifth grader loves animals and plants. So, here are a couple of field trips that might interest her. What about a trip to the pet store? Why do I consider this a field trip? Well, we get to see a number of different animals, we get to see lots of different kinds of fish. We can talk about what kinds of habitats those fish and animals live in, and what kind of care those animals need to be healthy when kept as pets. We can look at foods, toys, and other items for various animals and decide if those items help the animal live a happy and healthy life. It has been said that a man (woman, or child) who cannot relate to animals and care for their well being is fundamentally missing something that makes them human, compassion and empathy. So, is the pet store a field trip? Absolutely.

Along similar lines, what about a trip to a plant nursery or garden center. Learning about growing things and their care is worth knowing. Talk about why the plants are green, talk about how some of them provide food, talk about growing seasons, talk about the conversion of potential energy to usable energy, sunlight to plant sugars. Both the pet store and the nursery are short outings, but can be enjoyable learning experiences none the less. The added bonus is that they can also be free and spur of the moment.

Another kind of field trip is the museum trip. There are many types of museums. This makes it possible to find a museum that is hands on, or follows along with a social studies lesson, or a science lesson. You can often find museums that are just for fun, like a train museum. But wait, could a train museum also provide a history lesson and a transportation lesson? Children’s museums are often aimed at elementary school children, and offer many hands on type of exhibits. Many children love to learn through doing and touching and this type of museum is ideal for them. There are also the more adult oriented museums, such are art and natural history museums. What better way to present Impressionist paintings, dinosaurs, and mineral collections than to actually get to see them up close and personal? Next time we will discuss other types of field trips.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Homeschool groups

Homeschool Groups
When I was a new homeschooler I was so worried about handling the basics that field trips were very low on my priority list. The only thing I knew about field trips was what we had experienced in kindergarten and half of first grade in public school. I will tell you that those experiences did not leave me wanting to be in charge of my own field trips. The experience was not a good one, I can assure you of that. As my child and I became more accustomed to homeschooling we began to need the outings and the stimulation of field trips. This was early in our homeschooling still, and I had not really become familiar with a homeschool group that conducted organized field trips. At that point we were doing field trips on our own. We have since joined two local homeschool groups. One of those is a small, cozy group of about eight families and is very local to where we live. We do get together with these children for park days, play dates, and sometimes movies. The biggest problem with the small group is that there are several families that have very small children, toddler aged or younger. Because of this there are almost 20 children in this group, but about half of them get excluded when the field trip is age sensitive. This makes it difficult if we need a certain number of children to get the price break on a field trip.

The other group we belong to is a much larger group, containing between two and three hundred families. This group has its benefits and its drawbacks. And those benefits and drawbacks are almost directly opposite of the benefits and drawbacks in the small group. Because the larger group does have so many members it is possible to create age specific field trips. Let me give you an example. We went on a field trip to a local indoor rock climbing facility. We needed 25 climbers to get the group discount. There was an age limit on the low end, there could be no climbers less than 6 years old. The other limitation was that every climber had to have a spotter. The more spotters, the shorter the line for children to climb. Since we also had the place rented for only two hours, this was important. Our smaller group could not have made the discount volume, many families would have had only one climber out of four or five children, and that parent could not be spotter all the time because they were also responsible for the younger children who were not climbing. Have you ever thought about how cranky a three year old gets, waiting for big brother or sister while they do something fun? The larger group also means that the tasks of organizing and being the contact person for field trips gets spread around a lot more. Consider this, if you could get your child in on twenty field trips, but you only had to plan and take point on one field trip, would that work better than being planner and point person on every field trip you ever went on?

The drawback to the large group is a bonus for the small group. With so many families in the large group it is almost impossible to get to know everyone. I have belonged for several years now and I know I have not met half of the families involved. In the small group, I know all of the parents, even consider them my friends. My child considers the children of the small group her friends because every time we get together, it is the same group of children. In the large group, you might see a child at one activity and not see that same child again over the course of the next four or five months, depending on which field trips you sign up for, and which field trips the other family signs up for.

I think it is important at the fifth grade stage to have both groups. Small groups are important for the formation of friendships. Larger groups are important because they provide a wider range of opportunities for field trips and experiences in general. Our fifth graders are looking for social networks outside of their families as the grow in independence. They need the exposure to people from many walks of life. They also need personal relationships. When you look at homeschool groups it is important that that group can provide you with what you need at the time. Don’t think that because you belong to one group, it will meet all of your needs. It is important to keep your options open, and having homeschool contacts in more than one organization is certainly a way to do that.