Field Trips: An Analysis

During a recent conversation about field trips with a colleague, we were reviewing the more challenging aspects of bringing groups of small children anywhere. She pointed out that the worst part can be well-meaning people (quite often parents) who say “You must love these days off!” or something along those lines.


This is not a day off. This is not even close. It occurs to me that most people don’t really understand what these forays into the outside world with your small friends can be like. So here is some insight!

All field trips can be divided into certain categories:

Museums, a.k.a. ‘Narrow corridors filled with priceless and fragile things you can’t touch’

Nature a.k.a. ‘Wide expanses of land that are easy to disappear in and full of things you are allergic to or should not touch, but will. Also, it’s going to rain.’

Historical Sites a.k.a. ‘Downtown areas with close proximity to two lanes of traffic and overly friendly strangers’

When you have two dozen impulsive little people in your care, you can’t help but view these trips based on the dangers they pose.

My very first field trip as a classroom teacher was 3 days after I had my wisdom teeth out. It was my first day not on heavy duty painkillers. I was woozy and sore, but luckily the terrifying and near crippling knowledge that I was in charge of other people’s children and that I was the adult kept me on a good adrenaline buzz. As we boarded the bus to go, one student stopped at told me, “I like the color of your face bruises.” I’ve come a long way since then, but field trips are still exhausting!

Last week, we went to a museum attached to a university (narrow corridors filled with priceless and fragile things you can’t touch). Here is a brief run down of that trip.

The kids had a blast, which is great. Usually, about 20% of the fun is due to the purpose of the trip. Those bones were cool! I love dinosaurs! I learned about Native Americans!

30% of field trip fun is the bus ride. Yes, they ride the bus everyday, but not with everyone in the class! And the teacher! And she totally wants to hear you sing every pop song of the past five years off-key and at the top of your lungs!

Kids on a bus are like popcorn. They cannot stay seated. They either pop up to see what the person in front of them is doing, or lean across the aisle, or slide bonelessly under their seat across the grossest floor imaginable to grab the feet of the person in front of them. I’m tall enough so that if I sit up VERY straight and crane my neck, I can see them if they pop up. So the whole ride is me saying various names followed by “In the seat! Sit down! Legs in! Sit up! Turn around.” My neck stays sore for days.

Between the singing, yelling across aisles, and hysterical shrieking hyena laughter, it gets very loud. I have an app on my phone that registers decibal levels and compares them to comparable sounds. On our most recent field trip, we got as loud as a running blender!

Some field trip locations are almost 2 hours away. It’s a magical ride.

Bus rides aren’t the only fun thing! 10% of field trip fun happens en route from point a to point b once in or at the location. Stairs with railings you can lean over, aiming your body from the waist up at the ground 3 floors below (while you’re teacher has a heart attack and hauls you back by your pants)! Escalators that you can dangle your baggy clothing on, and run up while it goes down! Elevators that are older than the combined age of the entire class! Even better if they are tiny, squeaky, and rickety! If you find out your teacher has mild claustrophobia, this is an AWESOME time to have a dance party and sway your hips side to side to crash into her.

Once in the museum, the real fun begins. Now, I pride myself on being very aware of gender bias. I treat all my students equally, and I try to break down stereotypes- just try telling someone they throw like a girl in my classroom. However, when in a museum, most kids will break down along gender lines and play two very distinct games as they tour the exhibits. And therein lies 40% of the field trip fun.

For girls, the game is “Find the Cutest Thing.” I’m sorry, I meant “Oh my goddd, it’s the cutest thing Ev-EERRRRRR.” Paintings with horses in them. Dioramas of tiny people in tiny clothes. Hummingbirds. Tigers. (I don’t think they quite got that the latter two were taxidermied.) “Look at THIS! ohmygod so furry. So colorful. FEATHERS!” They are not normally like this.

For the boys, each visit to a museum becomes an intense game of “Spot the Penis.” On a statue! Naked people in a diorama! Taxidermied animals! Whale skeletons! (They aren’t right 100% of the time.) The game is played like this. See something, point at it while snorting and giggling and huffing. Elbow your friend. Whisper. Stare at your teacher with giant eyes and yell “Nothing!” before she even asks you a question.

Usually I tactfully pretend I haven’t heard them or seen whatever they happen to be looking at. The group I had with me on this trip was particularly good at spotting everything even remotely phallic, and freaking out about it. After a couple hours, I was getting a little tired of it.

So when we stopped in front of a giant Native American carving and they did the ‘hee-hee-look-at-it!’ shuffle for the 78th time, I snapped, “Yes it’s a penis!”

Then turned around to see three alarmed looking undergraduates staring at me.

Luckily, my students had my back. From behind me, one little guy logically pointed out “Well, it is, you know.”