Catholic Homeschool Field Trips: Top Ten Tips
When I was a boy going to public school, field trips were always something I looked forward to doing. Whether we were going to the zoo or some museum, it was always fun to get out of the school routine. I loved hitting the road to go on an adventure with my class mates. Though much of my public education is a blur, I can still vividly remember almost all of my class field trips.
One fantastic thing about homeschooling is you can field trip anytime you want! But where should you go? Opportunities for fantastic field trip experiences are all around us. However, they are hard to notice sometimes. Have you ever get in a rut with dinners, where you seem stuck making the same four dishes over and over again? That can happen with field trips as well. We can get so used to the places we live that we don’t notice all the wonderful destinations in our own backyard.
In this post I am going to get the wheels of your mind turning with a plethora of recommendations for field trip ideas, both the obvious and the not-so-obvious. Since I am a Michigander, I will be using examples from my home state, but this applies to any state! I’m sure each state has similar destinations to the ones I’ll be citing here.
I’d say this is probably the most obvious homeschool field trip destination. If you’re within reasonable driving distance of an urban center, most larger cities have some kind of museum. Living in southern Michigan, I have taken my kids to the Detroit Institute of Arts as well as the Toledo Museum of Art. Many museums have seasonal passes that make sense if you have a large family.
If you find the admissions too expensive, publicly funded universities generally maintain free museums. In Michigan, I’ve taken my kids to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which has some fantastic exhibits and is totally free. Additionally, Michigan State University houses a small entomology museum that is popular with homeschoolers as well as a number of other small museums and collections.
Remember, museums need not be art museums. Museums of natural history are also a wonderful place to learn about geology, biology, and the natural history of the place you live. Again, check your public universities; in my state, the University of Michigan operates the U of M Museum of Natural History, which is free admission.
2. Shrines, Basilicas, and Historic Churches
One of the best things about Catholic homeschooling is you can roll a field trip and a pilgrimage into one. Our country is dotted with beautiful shrines, basilicas, and historic churches that make ideal Catholic homeschool field trip destinations. A visit to one of these pious locales can nourish the soul and educate the mind!
Where I live, we often go down to the historic churches of Detroit. St. Anne’s is the oldest parish in Michigan, founded by the explorer Antoine de Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. There’s also St. Bonaventure’s Monastery where Bl. Solanus Casey is interred, and the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak.
Ask around or do a google search to discover Catholic destinations near you. You never know what gem may be right in your backyard.
3. Historical Sites Large and Small
I’m a history guy, so historical sites are a favorite go-to for my family. There’s not a historical marker I pass that I don’t stop and check out (sometimes to the annoyance of my children). There are all sorts of historical sites all around us/ This can include battlefields, historic buildings, and Native American sites galore. These are some of the more notable historical attractions, but don’t neglect to visit the small historical attractions as well.
An example of a smaller historical attraction is something like a historic cider mill that does demonstrations of pre-modern cider making, or a local repository of historical artifacts administered by your historical society. Where I live, we have historic farms, such as the Waterloo Farm, a historic farm & museum where they conduct tours and reenactments of frontier era farming methods. There is also a place in Kalamazoo called Tillers International that gives demonstrations on pre-modern methods of weaving, blacksmithing, and plowing. All perfect for your Catholic homeschool filed trip!
So, when you are thinking of historic sites, expand beyond battlefields. There’s a lot more out there, especially if you look for smaller and out of the way places! Sometimes these smaller venues will give your family a personalized tour.
4. Roadside Attractions
I use the phrase “roadside attractions” as a catch all for those interesting and often obscure little educational sites that don’t fit easily into other categories. Perhaps its best to explain by example: In Michigan, I’m talking about Sea Shell City in Cheboygan with its exhibit of giant clams; the Montrose Telephone Museum, which contains one of the largest collections of historical telephones in the country; Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, which is packed with historical arcades and every coin-operated buzzing device imaginable; or the Wacky Taxidermy shop in Mackinaw City, where kids can see taxidermy animals eccentrically arranged in displays with names like “Astronaut Mice,” “Guinea Pig Bigfoot,” and “Doctor Frankensquirrel.”
These sorts of locations are often off the beaten path a bit and may have a bit of “tourist trap” feel about them. But there are ample reviews online to help sort out the good from the bad. These are the sorts of homeschool field trip attractions your kids will never forget!
5. State Land/National Parks
Sometimes the best field trip is just getting out into nature. The state and federal government maintain vast tracts of wilderness for the public enjoyment, and getting out into the woods can be a great way to spend an afternoon. Pack some sack lunches, toss the kids in the car, and take them for a hike. Make them leave their devices behind.
Of course, there are well-known national parks and national forests all over, but chances are you have freely accessibly state land with fantastic hiking trails all around you. It doesn’t need to be some expensive cumbersome trip like driving to Yellowstone. Your state’s Department of Natural Resources likely maintains local trails and nature areas near you. I have frequently just told my kids, “Put your stuff away; we’re going hiking,” and they seldom complain. It’s an excellent way to get them out into nature, get some quality time together, and wear them down so they chill out when you get home.
6. Commercial Tours
This is something we do not often think about when contemplating field trips, but commercial tours can be super fun and educational. A commercial tour is just what it sounds like—a tour of some commercial facility. It’s no secret that we are surrounded by factories and commercial businesses. What you may not know is that many of these places offer tours to the public.
For example, have you ever used Jiffy Mix? Jiffy Mix is produced in a factory in Chelsea, Michigan, only ten minutes up the road from me. Jiffy Mix not only offers public tours of their facility, but they are extraordinarily fun and interesting! They’ve put a lot of thought into making these tours enjoyable and are very highly rated online. Kids get to witness the production of Jiffy Mix and take home free samples.
I’ve also been down to the Renaissance Center in Detroit, which is the headquarters of General Motors. The building is open to the public and you can take tours learning about the history of automobile manufacturing and see historic cars. One day I personally hope to make it down to Waco, Texas to go on the Dr. Pepper tour! Ah… a man can dream. (See my History in a Minute episode on Dr. Pepper.)
7. The Zoo
What kid doesn’t enjoy a trip to the zoo? Some of my best memories from public school field trips were from zoo excursions. Seeing exotic animals is fun and educational and an admirable addition to any biology or earth science class. The great thing about going to the zoo on a homeschool field trip is that you have the scheduling flexibility to avoid the large crowds. Instead of wading through a sweaty mass of humanity on Saturday afternoon in the summer, go on a Wednesday morning in late September. It will be a lot more enjoyable!
8. Nature Centers and Wildlife Rehab Centers
Whereas zoos are for seeing exotic animals, nature centers and wildlife rehabilitation centers are excellent opportunities for getting a close-up look at the wildlife in your own backyard. These organizations typically combine wildlife rehabilitation with public outreach and can be an extremely fun and educational outing for kids. Near me, we have the Howell Nature Center, where kids can see owls, foxes, coyote, and even a bald eagle. The Wildside Rehabilitation Center in Eaton Rapids rehabs over 1600 animals a year and offers tours and educational presentations to learn about Michigan wildlife. These sorts of organizations are all over the place in every state and provide a fantastic opportunity to learn about your local ecosystem.
9. Science Centers
Science centers are educational facilities that use interactive displays to teach about science, technology, mathematics, and engineering. Usually they are tailored toward helping young people get a visual understanding of how scientific concepts work. Near me, I have taken my kids to the Ann Arbor Hands on Museum, which is a four-story complex with a ton of interactive science displays. There is also the Impressions 5 science center in Lansing, featuring educational exhibits about the human body and now the senses operate. These sorts of destinations go by various names so it’s best to just Google “science centers near me” and see what’s out there for your next homeschool field trip!
10. Botanical Gardens
Botanical gardens are a relatively new discovery for me. I’d never given them much thought as I don’t really care for gardening and my knowledge of plants is nugatory. I only first took my kids to one during the pandemic because there was nothing else to do. I was surprised how much we all enjoyed it!
Botanical gardens typically contain displays of rare or exotic plants, or just flora that aren’t native to your own region. Usually you can drive through them or walk, so it’s easy to choose your level of engagement. Most of the plants are out in nature so you can walk up to them and interact with them, though botanical gardens often feature greenhouse exhibits as well.
I took my kids to the Hidden Lake Gardens managed by Michigan State University; we spent two hours there, took a ton of photos, and made some great memories. We were pleasantly surprised how many trees they allowed us to simply walk up to, touch, and climb on. Botanical gardens may be private (like the Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids), or public, often affiliated with a state university. Sometimes they are called arboretums. They are a fantastic way to get out into nature and educate yourselves about plant life at the same time.
Well that’s probably enough, although I am sure I could keep on going!
Even though sometimes it’s nice to plan a big day out, don’t ever feel like a field trip has to be a meticulously planned affair. Sometimes it’s nice to just toss the kids in the car, maybe call a homeschool friend, and go to the museum for the afternoon. Either throw something in the crockpot before you leave or grab some pizza on the way home. It can be that simple. Field trips are meant to be fun. If the planning of a field trip stresses you out, try something more impromptu.
However, if you do love the task of planning, it can be fun to do field trips with other homeschool families. With a little logistical planning, turn your field trip into a multi-family affair! Some homeschool groups even have a regular day they all field trip together with trips planned out well in advance.
I hope this has planted some ideas in your head. If you have more suggestions for field trip ideas, let us know!