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Learning and Fun on Family Trips

Originally published:

mom and children picking apples in the orchard

At IEL, we have updated our language to reflect our continued understanding of disability. This uses the term “special needs,” but the content remains relevant.  

Summer often is a time for family field trips.

Illinois is packed with interesting places to go. You may be traveling to a neighboring state park, visiting a museum, enjoying a zoo, or visiting with relatives. How you plan for the trip and the travel time can make for a pleasant break from routine or a difficult day! The Illinois Early Learning Project’s tips on Learning and Fun on Family Field Trips apply to all families. They are:

Plan with care

  • Where will you go?
  • What will you see?
  • How will you get there?
  • What will you take?

Have a good time

  • Don’t over do it
  • Plan for waiting

Follow up

  • Talk about the trip and what you’ve done and seen

If your child has special needs, you may need to make some additional preparations.

Consider your child’s strengths and limits.

  • Where will you go? Think about your child’s interests, her approach to new and unfamiliar places, and sensory preferences. Some children are hesitant to go to new places. Talk about your destination and show pictures if you can. Tell her why you want to visit the park and what you can do at the park.
  • How will you get there? If your destination is far, you will drive a car or use public transportation. A train or bus ride may be a special adventure. Talk about what you may see on your trip. If you travel in a new way, such as taking a train, you may want to find a book about trains to share before you go. If you drive, build breaks into your schedule. This may avoid demands to stop when you really can’t.
  • What will you take on the trip? Plan ahead if you will be traveling during a meal time or nap time. Bring snacks, drinks, and a change of clothes. Consider quiet toys and books he can enjoy during the trip. Make sure your child is well rested and encourage him to bring a small comfort item (stuffed animal, doll, or car). Your child may want to tell his stuffed animal or her doll about the trip and hug it to feel safe. Think about backpacks or fanny packs to hold the comfort item and other special items you want for the trip.

Have a good time!

  • You know your child’s limits—don’t plan to do too much. There’s always another time. Let your child observe before trying something new (sliding, swinging). Do new activities with your child, if appropriate. Be aware of when your child has had enough. If you can, take photos.
  • Build in waiting time to relax, to look at books, or to play with a comfort toy.


  • After the trip you may want to create a story board or small book with photos. This will help your child remember the trip. It offers your child a starting point, middle point, and end point. Encourage your child to use the photos to share her trip.

Susan Fowler Susan Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a retired professor of special education at the University of Illinois. Susan’s doctorate was in developmental and child psychology and she was one of the pioneers in early childhood special education and developmental disabilities. She also is a parent of a young man with exceptionalities.

(Biography current as of 2022)

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2022