With school transportation an ongoing financial issue for many districts, classroom field trips have taken a hit in recent years. Some families are taking it upon themselves to bring learning to life with a homeschooler’s favorite tool—the educational outing. August is the perfect time to hit the road for lessons disguised as fun.
Fun and Academic Outings with State Standards in Mind
Many teachers design field trips to tie in with California State Educational Standards in social studies and the sciences. Parents can tap into California state educational content standards for every grade level and subject area by visiting the Department of Education’s Website at www.cde.ca.gov. These content standards tell parents what their child should learn by the end of every grade level in each subject.
Social Studies Outings
In social studies, each grade level has a subject area around which curriculum revolves. In kindergarten and first grade, students look at themselves and their place in a larger community of helpers and systems. Visits to local fire stations, construction sites, behind-the-scenes tours of grocery stores, libraries and the post office and trips to local farms can help children understand just how the systems of building, food production and message delivery work, and help them develop relationships with community helpers.
Second grade students study their own family history, as well as the lives of great people. A visit to the Museum of New Americans in Point Loma’s Liberty Station www.newamericansmuseum.org can provide students with insight into their own past through stories of immigration.
For third grade students studying local history and geography, no education can be complete without a study of the Kumeyaay Indians. A visit to the museum and cultural center of the Barona Band of Mission Indians www.baronamuseum.org will offer students hands-on lessons in how the earliest people of San Diego lived. A visit to the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum www.agsem.com in Vista offers a glimpse of San Diego’s rural past. And Balboa Park’s San Diego Historical Society www.sandiegohistory.org makes a number of historical buildings available for tours.
Third graders learning about San Diego’s climate and landforms will also enjoy a field trip to a local canyon, a walk along the San Diego River in Mission Valley, or a hike through Mission Trails Regional Park and visitor’s center www.mtrp.org. The San Diego Natural History Museum’s www.sdnhm.org ongoing exhibit Fossil Mysteries traces San Diego’s geological and biological past through the fossil record.
California history provides a wealth of outing possibilities for fourth grade students. For a comprehensive guide to many historic early California sites in San Diego County, see the San Diego Founders’ Trail website www.earlysandiego.org/ Visits to Old Town www.oldtownsandiegoguide.com, the San Diego Mission www.missionsandiego.com, the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center www.bonitamuseum.org, Cabrillo Monument in Point Loma and Rancho Guajome in Vista give students a chance to time travel through San Diego’s earliest history. A day aboard the Star of India on San Diego Bay completes the student’s journey back to the present.
Field trips involving American Colonial history are harder to come by in San Diego. The closest thing to the thirteen original colonies is a long day trip to Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen www.rileysfarm.com or a Revolutionary War or Civil War re-enactment. Riley’s Farm, about 1.5 to 2.5 hours northeast of San Diego, offers day-long experiences for students and families.
Science Field Trips
San Diego is known worldwide as a hotspot for biotechnology. In the past, San Diego has also been known as a pioneer in the aerospace industry. Students can tap into that scientific energy with visits to perennial Balboa Park favorites such as the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center www.rhfleet.org and the Air and Space Museum www.aerospacemuseum.org. Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla www.aquarium.ucsd.edu offers not only exhibits on marine biology, but ongoing hands-on studies of climate change and physical oceanography relevant to all ages. And the San Diego Museum of Man in Balboa Park www.museumofman.org offers exhibits on anthropology that give students a step-by-step guide to the fossil record of human development.
Older students interested in exploring careers in medicine can gain a greater understanding of the human body through a visit to Body Worlds, a short-term (until October only) exhibit of donated, plastinated human bodies at the San Diego Natural History Museum. While the exhibit may be too intense for younger viewers, mature students of biology will learn from displays of healthy and diseased organs, skeletal systems with prosthetic replacement parts and information on how the body works.
San Diego is also known as an environmental hotspot, due to our shrinking stands of Coastal Sage Scrub, one of the world’s most endangered habitats. Field trips focused on the environment can include visits to Audubon Society sanctuaries www.sandiegoaudubon.org, wetlands such as San Elijo Lagoon www.sanelijo.org/naturecenter.html the Chula Vista Nature Center www.chulavistanaturecenter.org and the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park. www.sandiegozoo.org. For a smaller-scale study of San Diego’s rich insect population visit the Monarch Program and butterfly vivarium in Encinitas. www.monarchprogram.org. This gentle introduction to San Diego’s smallest wildlife includes free-flying butterflies, a greenhouse of butterfly-friendly plants and a video introduction.
No study of San Diego’s environment would be complete without a visit to the Eco-Center for Alternative Fuel Education www.sdecocenter.org. Families and students can learn how fuel is made, wasted and conserved through hands-on activities and high-energy exhibits that will encourage creative kids to seek a greener future.
Putting Education in Parents’ Hands
In one of his earliest speeches, President Obama addressed the idea that parents are their child’s first and most important teacher. While not everyone has the time or inclination to homeschool their children, most parents can squeeze a few educational outings into their summer that will keep learning fresh and rich. So, before summer is gone, be sure to hit the road at least once for an end-of-summer field trip. It might be what your children remember most about summer—and maybe the whole year!
Cynthia Jenson-Elliott is a freelance writer and educator in San Diego.