[Today’s guest post “A Year of Homeschool Field Trips to Make the Homeschool Experience Special” was written by contributor Michelle Habrych, who has graduated both of her children after homeschooling them the entire time.]
Disclosure: I get commissions for purchases made through affiliate links in this post.
Field Trips in Homeschool with Older Kids?
When my kids were younger, we took many field trips in our homeschool. As life got busier and the coursework increased, field trips were few and far between. In the winter of my daughter’s junior year, we considered what we wanted for her upcoming senior year. What were our priorities to prepare her for art college as well as enjoy our final year of homeschooling? She was the final student I would be graduating from our very private academy, so I also wanted to make it special for the two of us. The answer we both settled on was that we wanted more field trips.
We made that decision in February 2020. Then a global pandemic shut the world down. What would this mean for our upcoming school year of field trips? We didn’t know, but I told her I would do whatever I could to make the field trips happen.
Where to go for Homeschool Field Trips
We live in the far north suburbs of Chicago, so we went into the city for some of our adventures, as well as going north to Wisconsin. My purpose in this blog post is to not just tell you where we went, but to also inspire you to find these kinds of field trip experiences near you. We did go to some of the places more than once as well, depending on the rotating exhibits or seasons. Keep in mind that there are many adventures just waiting around you, even if the choices seem limited.
Use Discounts for Homeschool Field Trips
I used discounts when available to make this more affordable. Some museums offer homeschool discounts. Others have a discounted day of the week. Perhaps a membership would be best to get you reciprocal membership for other museums, zoos, aquariums, gardens, etc. There are many options available for you if you take a moment to look.
How to Plan a Year of Field Trips
In total, we took 24 local field trips (only six were virtual) throughout the course of our school year! When I started planning, I asked my daughter where she would like to go. I told her about places and events I found on my own, so she could decide if they were things she wanted to see, experience, or learn about. In addition, we took a girls’ getaway road trip weekend which included some impromptu “field trip” activities. In short, as often as possible, I said, “Yes!” We fit it in around schoolwork, class (she had one virtual class through our homeschool group), and her part-time job.
Local History Museums
Local history museums are an often overlooked treasure. In my area, we have a museum run by our forest preserve district. It’s a small but beautiful museum, with educational permanent exhibits, as well as a rotating exhibit of some connection to Lake County. We visited Dunn Museum in Libertyville twice during our year. Discount Tuesdays made it worthwhile for us to go just for the rotating exhibit since we’d already seen the permanent exhibits countless times.
Additionally, the forest preserve offered some virtual field trips in conjunction with our library. The one we attended featured reptiles and other small animals. Both of my kids enjoyed seeing the creatures up close and personal with their Zoom presentation.
Another thing to keep in mind with forest preserves are informal field trips which you can take on your own at any time, weather permitting. My daughter and I are not into hiking, but my kids and I have done this in past years. Our forest preserve district even offered a pin you could earn by visiting different sites and logging your trips. Called Hike Lake County, the forest preserve will be offering it again this year. Check out your local preserve for opportunities in your area.
Apple Picking and Working Farms
Enjoying a family field trip counts too! Apple picking is an annual family tradition for us. Though things were a little different this year because of the pandemic, we were still able to go and enjoy the sunshine, the sights, and the tasty apples at Royal Oak Farm Orchard. We discovered many varieties of apples we had never heard of before.
As a family we also stopped by a working farm in our area, owned by my great aunt. My teenagers still enjoyed watching the baby chicks there.
Outdoor Field Trips (with food!)
Any type of outdoor field trip where food is involved is a great idea! Find out what is in your area (within an hour’s drive). A simple Google search with the term “near me” can help you find places you might otherwise not know about. Consider all types of “picking” farms, as well as working farms with tours and attractions.
Our homeschool co-op did a group field trip to Richardson’s Adventure Farm organized by one of the moms in the co-op. On the trip, families got to take rides on flatbed trailers pulled by tractors and learn about the family farm that has been a mainstay in our area for generations, pick a pumpkin from the patch, and explore the various attractions, including the world’s largest corn maze.
In the spring of 2021, Richardson’s also opened its first tulip field attraction. It was home to over 300,000 tulips in 30 different varieties.
In the summer prior to this we had visited another farm’s sunflower maze. Farms are finding creative ways to entice customers to visit, so be on the lookout near you. Be sure to visit the farm store while you’re there for fresh produce, baked items, and souvenirs.
Big Cities for Homeschool Field Trips
We are blessed to live near two big cities (one to the north and one to the south) with their abundance of museums to visit. Shedd Aquarium provided a wonderful opportunity for a field trip during the week when other kids were in virtual class. We enjoyed all of the information the guides were willing to share and took so many pictures. My daughter was the only one in the stingray touch pond for most of the time we were there. While they weren’t running the typical shows due to covid restrictions, we still had a full morning of fun, learning, and time together.
Here’s a link to find a zoo or aquarium in your area .
Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) is another of our favorite places. I knew we would want to visit a few times (and we did go three times during the school year and once during the summer), so I purchased the membership. This membership also provided reciprocity for free admission to Mitchell Park Domes, which we visited twice. When we go to the CBG, we usually bring a sketchbook and art supplies, so we are able to try to capture some natural beauty in its setting, rather than from a photo.
Visiting during different seasons also permits guests to see the beauty of creation throughout the year.
Here’s a list of gardens which share reciprocal membership benefits. An internet search can help you find a garden in your area.
Holiday Season Field Trips
In December, virtual options provided new ways for us to have field trips in the holiday season, despite covid restrictions. A homeschool graduate friend was part of a dance company, so we purchased tickets to watch her perform in The Nutcracker and streamed it on our TV! We also bought streaming rights to enjoy the Christmas performance by violinist Lindsey Stirling because my daughter was a big fan of her music.
More virtual performances became available at an affordable fee, and we signed up for Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “ChicagoShakes Stream.” The membership offered us one-time viewing of numerous recorded performances, including Love’s Labors Lost and I, Banquo.
Now that live performances are starting again, look for opportunities to watch a play or a musical near you. Search for local theater troupes, community performances, or traveling shows. We are big Shakespeare fans in our house (read this blog post to find out why it’s important for kids to learn his works), but any live shows are worth checking out. Local colleges may also provide opportunities for enjoying theatrical performances. My kids’s friend was in an Edgar Allan Poe-themed virtual performance, of which the school offered free viewing access. It was interesting to see a dramatic interpretation of the gothic stories of Poe offered by these aspiring thespians.
Free Virtual Field Trips
Also, a great source of free virtual field trips and presentations is Washington, DC History and Culture. I attended some of their presentations on my own in the past year and felt I learned a lot.
Back into the city, we had a great morning at a family favorite museum, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). While we explored some of our old favorites, we spent the bulk of our time engrossed in the traveling Marvel exhibit. My daughter loved that; I did not rush her through. I told her to take her time. We stopped and read every sign and display. I took photos of everything as we soaked in the super hero atmosphere. MSI offers free admission to Illinois homeschool families. Ask if the museums in your area will provide a similar program.
Another museum we visited was the Illinois Holocaust Museum. We had planned to visit one exhibit there, but ended up going through another. It was a bit overwhelming emotionally. We spent some time purchasing books and items from the gift shops so we could further explore the topics at home.
We went on the free admission day. If you’re flexible, you might be able to save money by visiting on a different day of the week.
Museum Virtual Tours
If there is a museum you would like to visit but it’s not nearby or it’s cost prohibitive, look to see if it offers a free virtual tour. It may be limited in what is offered, however, you will still get to see and learn things you would not have if you didn’t “go.” See here for links to 37 museums from around the world that you can check out this way!
Fun Field Trips
Make time for a fun field trip too. Senior year had been really busy for my daughter as well as her friends. I suggested we plan a mini-golf and bowling day. A mother-daughter pair of friends was able to join us, and we had a blast. Did we specifically learn anything? Perhaps not. But it was a good way to wind up our year of field trips and fun.
Art Field Trip
Our final field trip of the school year was to see the much-talked about Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit. My daughter is an artist, and I am an art enthusiast. My husband had heard rave reviews of this very expensive field trip, so he encouraged us to splurge and go. We planned it for the last day of her senior year.
While it was unique in its presentation, we were both disappointed in the length and scope of the exhibit, especially when we considered the amount of money spent on tickets and parking. Additionally, due to covid restrictions, we were not permitted to walk around and had to stay in our distanced circle (tape marked on the floor). On the other hand, I know many people who enjoyed it. My advice is to carefully consider your preferences before dropping that kind of money on a field trip. We felt we “redeemed” our day by walking to the nearby Lincoln Park Zoo, which offers free admission to all. We saw some animals and rode on the carousel. It was a good end to our year of field trips!
Girls’ Getaway Weekend
Our girls’ getaway weekend was not planned to be field trips, but some of the things we did would fit into that category. We followed historical markers and found a couple of different places. In Freeport, Illinois, we discovered a park which was the site of the second of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, complete with statues and information boards to tell about the historic event.
We gazed upon the mighty Mississippi River in Rock Island, Illinois.
In Iowa we journeyed to the Field of Dreams, where the movie of the same name was filmed (which requires a donation to get in, though that was not listed on the website that I saw).
Then while visiting our final destination (Antique Archeology in Leclaire, Iowa, from the TV show American Pickers), we discovered the Buffalo Bill museum just down the street and learned a lot about the history of the area.
It was a fun weekend which added some unplanned field trips to our year, bringing our final total to 28!
Take time for fun and learning through homeschool field trips. I’m glad we did.
Do you have some fun homeschool field trip ideas that we missed? Please share them in a comment below!
Michelle Habrych started homeschooling her two kids in 2006, and now continues to teach at her homeschool co-op after both have graduated. She enjoys history and making learning come alive through homeschool field trips.
Related Homeschool Field Trip Posts:
- Field Trip to The Grove Log Cabin in Glenview, IL
- Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL
- “The Passenger” Chicago Lyric Opera
- Cantigny Tank Park and First Division Museum
- Chicago Botanic Gardens
- Our Favorite Chicagoland Field Trips
Related Homeschool High School Posts:
- My Best Tips for Homeschooling High School ~ From My Own Experience!
- How to Prepare for Your Senior Year of Homeschool High School
- How to Successfully Plan a Homeschool Graduation Ceremony and Party