An excerpt from Cruising the Caribbean with Kids, with tips on designing fun and educational field trips. These tips can applied anywhere in the world by inquisitve families on the go. Although the context here is sailing, the same approach can be applied to any kind of travel learning experience around the world or in your own backyard.
FIELD TRIPS: Kids learn (and remember what they learn) best when they are interested, active, and involved. So take a field trip and kindle the fire of your child’s curiosity: see a volcano in action, hold a baby turtle, or climb over centuries of history.
A field trip is a great way to link formal education with real-life experiences. The problem with formal learning alone is that it is often too abstract to truly captivate children. The problem with a casual field trip, on the other hand, is that it remains an isolated experience without a link to the big picture. That is why a good field trip should be the middle of three steps. First, comes the preparation. Have your children list what they know (or think they know) about the topic. Read background information to learn more and dispel any misconceptions. If you pack the right books, you can read while underway from one anchorage to the next (books suggested below are all slim volumes aimed at readers in grades one to four). Generate a checklist of points to observe and questions to answer during the field trip. A thorough checklist will turn your child into a focused researcher rather than a casual tourist.
During the field trip, have your children take notes that answer their own questions as well as the guiding questions listed. Finally, follow up afterwards with a small project that reinforces the lesson. This could be a simple journal entry, a fictional story inspired by the field trip, or a hand-made “Kids’ Field Guide to Volcanoes / Turtles / Plantations of the Caribbean.” The idea is to reconcile the child’s previous knowledge with the new and to build connections to academic subjects where possible. So let’s get going!
Volcano Field Trip
Guiding Question: What are the forces at work behind a volcano? Locations: Sulphur Springs (St. Lucia), Soufriere (St. Vincent), St. Pierre (Martinique) Suggested Reading: Volcanoes! by Anne Schreiber (National Geographic Kids, 2008) or The Magic School Bus Blows its Top by Gail Herman (Scholastic, 1996).
Our planet is not simply a lump of rock but an active, changing, dynamic ball of energy (a little like our kids!). For too many children, this concept is too abstract to really internalize—but not if you visit a site like Sulphur Springs (St. Lucia) where you can see boiling, bubbling mud, or Soufriere (St. Vincent) where you can hike up and peer into a steaming crater. Guides or park information boards can help you turn the spectacle into a comprehensive lesson in Earth Science.
St. Pierre (Martinique) is a fascinating site because it shows the destructive power of a volcanic eruption. Ruins still dot the town and the museum there does a good job documenting the 1902 event. If you are sailing in the vicinity of Montserrat, that would be another chance to observe volcanic activity, though many cruisers avoid the island due to reported problems such as ash clogging engine exhaust. Prep with a book that covers types of volcanoes, lava, and eruptions, and the environmental and social impacts of volcanoes. During the field trip, note the details of your particular volcano. What type is it? Children can sketch what they see and add subsurface features using their reading as a guide. Follow up by making your own “Field Guide to Sulphur Springs.” This lesson can be extended to consider the Caribbean as a whole: Which islands were created by volcanic activity (Montserrat, for instance) and which were not (Antigua)?
This is just one great example of making learning relevant and fun. You’ll find many more in my books, Lesson Plans To Go, Lesson Plans Ahoy and Cruising the Caribbean with Kids. It’s also easy to adapt the same principles to your own unique learning environment, wherever it may be!