Pack Some Questions With That Lunch
Preparing for Field Trips
by Jo Anne Weinberg, BA, MEd
You have seen many articles that give advice about preparing for a field trip. They mention packing lunches; bus, metro, and plane schedules; medicines; comfortable shoes; sun block; and fun things to do while standing in line. There is, however, another very important preparation that is too often overlooked in the hustle, bustle, and excitement of getting on the road. That preparation is called “Building Prior Knowledge.” For me, it is the single most important component for youngsters and adults. As a tour guide and one that teaches new guides at the Library of Congress to give tours to children, one thing is very clear—children with prior knowledge learn more and participate fully in the experience if they have advance information. Children visiting the Library of Congress and other historical places without prior knowledge glean less and miss out on their opportunity to be actively involved.
Prior KnowledgePrior Knowledge means that children are introduced to the activity before it happens. Consider a restaurant you want to go to. How about a book you want to read or a movie you want to see. What sparked your interest? Was it the poster, the book’s cover, a friend’s recommendation, or are you familiar with the actors or the author? Perhaps it is something you already know but want more information. Children get excited and involved when they have some information; an introduction. They become comfortable with the new activity. I greet visitors while they are standing in the security lines to enter the Library. Recently I heard a young boy ask,” What is in here?” His mother responded, “Just wait and see. It’s a surprise.” The child is asking because he did not want to be left in the dark. He wanted to be prepared. Surprises are great for birthdays, but not so great for learning. There is even prior knowledge for birthdays: the child knows they will be receiving a gift. How much more interesting would it be for that youngster to be anticipating the visit based on information. The key to being a great learner is to be an active learner. Below are two easy ways you can build that knowledge and ensure an active learner on you next field trip. Then there is the final activity to tie it all together.
Help Your Child Anticipate the Field TripThere are many avenues available to help you with this, especially in this era of the Internet. For instance, if you are visiting Washington DC, select the places you want to visit. Children can read books or check out websites to help them become familiar with what to expect. If you have a multi-age group with readers and early readers don’t leave those early readers out. Show them pictures. This does not mean hours of study and research, just spend some time helping the children to build interest and expectations.
Ask Questions Before You Go On the Field TripNow that the children have a sense of what they will see and where they are going, encourage ownership of the trip. What do they want to know? Without a doubt, if you are visiting Washington, DC, or any major city, you will be visiting a number of different places. I suggest a limit of one or two questions for each place. Too many questions become frustrating or intimidating. Write those questions down. Now each child has a purpose for the field trip. The child is there to get information.
Guidelines for Questions:
- limit the number of yes/no and true/false questions
- Avoid questions with dates and numbers, usually they can be easily researched, are easily memorized without adding any real understanding, and may stress some children to “remember the right number” rather than the important information.