Field Trips: Pros and Cons

Off-campus excursions can enhance learning, but they pose challenges

Children on a school field trip in nature
Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Are field trips worth all the time and effort required to make them successful? Most teachers have asked themselves this question at one time or another, typically when feeling overwhelmed as they prepare for a field trip. The truth is that field trips at any grade level can cause quite a few headaches for teachers. At the same time, well-planned field trips can provide students with truly educational experiences they cannot get in the confines of the classroom. Following is a look at the pros and cons of field trips.

Benefits of Field Trips

Field trips provide students with new opportunities for learning through experience:

  • Information is presented to students in a way that meets different learning modalities. Field trips provide students with the ability to learn by doing instead of just passively listening to the information being taught in class. 
  • Students are exposed to new experiences that, hopefully, broaden their horizons. This can be especially helpful for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have been exposed to these opportunities before. 
  • Concepts that have already been learned in the classroom can be reinforced. Sometimes seeing information being taught in a new way can make a big difference in student comprehension. There is quite a difference between being taught about something like hurricanes and wind speed and experiencing them in an exhibit at a science museum. 
  • Students are provided with shared reference points that teachers can then refer to and use in future lessons. There may be an opportunity to have two or more disciplines use a field trip as an enrichment activity. For example, a trip to an art museum (art) may couple with a timeline for social studies (political systems in place when art was created) or math (measurements) can combine with science in a biosystem (river, beach, and meadow). In this manner, several teachers can then refer to things that students saw and experienced during the field trip for the remainder of the school year. 
  • Students and teachers can see each other in a different light, helping to increase communication between them. Some students who might be overlooked in class because they are quiet might really come alive on field trips. 
  • If parents are involved as chaperones, they can feel more connected to the teacher and the lessons being taught. They can get to know the teacher better and understand what teachers deal with daily.
  • Standards in social studies and science require students to have experiences related to concepts in the discipline. In social studies, students are required to take informed action. In science, students need to be exposed to a series of concepts to help them to better understand the world around them. Field trips help teachers meet these objectives.

Problems With Field Trips

Teachers face a number of concerns and challenges when designing field trips that they need to recognize and address before planning a field trip.

  • Field trips take preparation if teachers want to make them meaningful. They have to coordinate locations and transportation. They also need to create an effective lesson plan that they will follow when on the excursion.
  • Students will be out of the school building for a field trip, which means they will miss other classes—at least in middle and high school. If each core subject area (ELA, math science, or social studies) offers one field trip during a school year, students would be out of the building for four days. School attendance policies may count these as excused absences, but any field trip that removes students from class reduces the number of classroom hours. 
  • Field trips can be expensive, and some students may not have the funds to attend. Organizers of the field trip may consider asking for parents to add a few dollars to help students in need. School boosters may need to host a fundraiser for students to raise money for more expensive trips.
  • Teachers have to organize the collection of money and the assigning of chaperones. Teachers need to spend some time creating student groups that work for all students and ensuring that chaperones are assigned accordingly. 
  • Teachers will likely have to deal with red tape as they plan field trips including permission slips, medical information, and emergency procedures. Schools typically require paperwork from teachers and their students. 
  • Students will be placed in a larger environment than the classroom. New surroundings could possibly lead to additional discipline problems. Because teachers typically only lead a small group (such as 30 to 40 students), they may not be able to maintain control over the behavior of every student on the field trip, especially if the group is large. Teachers should go over rules and expectations before the field trip, enforce the rules strictly while away from school grounds, and create effective consequences for misbehavior. 
  • The field trip destination might not live up to the teacher's expectations. The location might not be as interesting as the teacher thought it would be. The time to complete the field trip might be considerably less than was expected. Therefore, it is a good idea to have some contingency plan in mind just in case.
  • There may be students who, for one reason or another, will not attend the field trip. Teachers must leave lessons, usually enrichment offerings, that mirror some of the concepts being experienced on the field trip.

Requesting Feedback

One of the best ways to measure the success of a field trip (other than returning all students back to the school) is to ask for feedback. Teachers can post a survey for participants and for other chaperones asking them to express how they would evaluate the trip.

Students should have the opportunity to reflect on the trip and write a response in a journal or essay. Requiring journal responses after the trip can solidify the information learned as students reflect on their new experiences. Asking students to write a thank you to the school principal for allowing the trip may even smooth the path to additional field trips. 

Many teachers feel that well-chosen field trip destinations are worth the difficulties they may create. The key is taking the time to plan each aspect as much as possible. Teachers should be proactive when thinking about and planning field trips. Students, on the other hand, may remember the experience of the school field trip as a highlight of the school year, and the time they learned more than anything taught in class.