Tips for Planning a Successful Museum Field Trip

The phrase “field trip” can elicit a wide range of reactions from teachers and students. Some teachers love them and enjoy the often detail-oriented process of planning them, while others grit their teeth with anxiety. And students may love the opportunity to get out of the school building for a day, but may find the trip itself unengaging.

Planning and attending a great field trip can indeed be stressful. But the effort is worth it. The National Education Association offers tips for planning a successful trip, and cites a study from the U.S. Travel Association, in which 89% of respondents said that educational field trips had a “positive, lasting impact on their education and career.”

Museums are a popular choice for field trips, and have their own special challenges. Here are some suggestions which can help you organize a memorable, meaningful museum field trip: 

  • Involve the students. If you’re fortunate to live in an area with multiple museums, you can seek input from your class regarding which one to visit. Even the youngest students have ideas and opinions, and letting them share is a great way to build interest. If you only have one potential site, you still may be able to solicit ideas from your class. Maybe there are multiple tours or specific exhibits to choose from. The Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York organizes its tours based on age group, giving elementary, middle, and high school students three options for their age group to choose from. Your choice may have similar options.
  • Take advantage of free and reduced-cost programs and tours. Budgets are a common concern for both schools and families, and museums can be costly to visit. However, many offer free or reduced-fee opportunities for tours and visits. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is free for school groups in the five boroughs, which makes it more accessible to more students. Your nearest museum may offer free or inexpensive tours for area school groups.
  • Don’t just show up. When starting a new unit, it’s helpful to preview new texts and materials with your students, as a way to generate interest and prior knowledge. Apply this idea to a museum field trip by sharing famous works of art or unique items from your chosen spot in advance of your visit. In addition to its collection, the place you’re visiting might have unusual or exciting stories. For example, in 1990, thieves broke into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art worth $500 million dollars. The crime is still unsolved. Sharing this story prior to a visit could pique the curiosity of your students. While your local museum may not have anything as noteworthy, there still might be an anecdote worth sharing. Mysteries at the Museum is a television program which features interesting and bizarre stories from all over the country, and may have featured a nearby museum. Sometimes, seeing something on tv can generate a lot of interest. Thanks to the internet, it’s possible to provide your class with just enough of an overview about their trip to make them genuinely excited.
  • Develop a meaningful but simple task for the students to complete during the trip. Creating a system of accountability will improve engagement. Unless you’re taking your class to an amusement park, it’s tough to plan a trip which will appeal to everyone. If you survey your class, you’ll almost definitely find a range of interest levels which may include kids who’d rather eat glass than view an art exhibit. So it’s important to create an activity for the students to work on during their visit. It may require additional work beforehand, but a well-planned task can help you head off any behavior issues. Students who are idle and bored could become rowdy, but giving them something relevant to do will create accountability. While you may prefer to have a task related to your curriculum, many museums offer activities on their websites. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles features pre-visit activities along with projects to complete at the museum. Even smaller museums feature ideas for maximizing your visit. The Roslyn Museum in Washington State has a scavenger hunt, and Connecticut’s Aldrich Museum offers multiple resources for trip planning.
  • Recruit as many adults as possible. A museum field trip can be structured in many ways. You may have a large-group tour followed by some time to explore in small groups, or you may be on your own the entire visit. If you’ve already ventured into a museum with your class, you know the primary challenge is trying to keep a large group intact as you move about, which can feel a bit like herding cats. Creating smaller groups, if possible, can alleviate this difficulty. Chances are, your school or district requires a certain ration of adults to students for leaving the building, but more adults might be better as it will facilitate smaller groups. Organizing kids into smaller teams of three or four with a chaperone can provide them with the freedom to follow their own interests, which can really enhance their overall experience. If your parent chaperones have never helped supervise, reviewing expectations beforehand will help ensure a good visit for everyone.

Whether you visit a museum or another educational spot, field trips are an excellent way to enhance learning. With some advance planning, your trip can also be fun and problem-free, leading to a great day and future memories for your students.

Tracy Derrell is a Hudson Valley-based freelance writer who specializes in blogging and educational publishing. She taught English in New York City for sixteen years.

Read More:
The Magic of a Field Trip:

Grants for Teachers:

How to Plan a Field Trip: A Step-by-Step Guide: