How Important are Field Trips?

In an era of “If it’s not on the standardized test, it’s not worth learning” attitude and tight budgets, the benefits of field trips and classroom presentations by experts in their fields have been forgotten or ignored. All too often, the value of a class returning from a great destination and tour with a new desire to learn more has been overlooked. These trips to the “real” world help to make classroom lessons more relevant, and the excitement students bring back with them carries over to other subjects. Inviting speakers to the classroom and hearing another “voice” besides that of the classroom teacher also contributes to the relevancy of learning, and provides a new perspective on a subject.

Joyce E. Tucker Teacher, 31 years, Retired

Field trips not only offer a break from everyday classroom work, but also a new perspective that may awaken a child’s interest. Perhaps, more importantly, however, field trips allow the teacher to observe their students in a different environment.

“As a teacher,” says retired middle school teacher, Jeanne McCune, “you’re able to have the kids put into action what they’ve learned in the classroom. It allows for a creative side to come through as the kids show you in a different way what they know.”


When we lead field trips at national wildlife refuges, we divide the children into smaller groups to hike the trail, each group with its own guide, accompanied also by a teacher or a parent chaperone. “We’ll put all the troublemakers in one group,” a teacher announced on one such occasion. It was the group I ended up with.

Since we had taken a presentation to the classroom to prepare the students for their field trip, we had observed these “troublemakers” firsthand. I was not looking forward to a concentration of these kids on my hike!

As we progressed along the trail, however, I became aware that these students were keenly focused on their surroundings and paying attention to everything I said. One little girl, labeled the worst troublemaker by her teacher, shadowed me closely, asking myriad questions and offering a multitude of answers to my questions.

“I’m amazed!” the teacher confessed. “They’re totally different out here – out of the classroom.”

For some children, field trips justify their education, validating what they’ve learned in the classroom. Why learn all that stuff in the classroom if there’s no practical use for it? Participating in a useful application of information gleaned from books and videos brings to life the material they’ve learned.

Field Trip
Chuck presenting snake program              program at Meer's Point

Tight Budgets

However, as budgets become tighter and testing is viewed as the critical appraisal for a child’s development, more and more field trips are disappearing. Regarded as expendable and perhaps even a waste of time, these are some of the first activities chopped to conserve funds. But field trips offer an opportunity that enhances and balances education.

“The students discover that learning can be fun when they put it into action in a field trip,” says Jeanne.

Valuable Opportunity

Field trips can be valuable if they’re set up to be successful. Preparation and planning are key ingredients leading to a positive experience, but follow-up back in the classroom is also necessary to reinforce what has been learned.

“There’s no way in the classroom that you can have artifacts or biofacts for the subjects that you’re learning,” says retired middle school teacher Marty McCune. “You can view a video, see pictures, and read about it, but you can’t experience it firsthand. You go on the field trip because it’s a unique opportunity for the students to experience in person the real item.”


The payoff for the students is an experience that the regular classroom cannot usually provide. The payoff for the teacher is not only that the students receive a great experience, but also that their excitement and enthusiasm carries over into the classroom.

“A field trip does not take place of classroom learning,” says Marty. “It’s an expansion of it!”

“I had incredible teachers. And as I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all of these things came from how I was parented and taught. And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am … can be tested.  Matt Damon, 7/30/2011

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