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Outdoor Field Trips with Preschoolers: Deciding Where to Go

Nature centers, parks, forest preserves, public gardens, working farms! Any of these places can become your preschool “classroom” during an outdoor field trip. Planning an outdoor field trip starts with deciding where to go.

Consider field trip logistics.

  • Check your program’s field trip policies. Is travel by public transit, car, or school bus allowed? Are you able to collect money from families to pay for travel or other fees?
  • Find out what adult/child ratio your program requires or recommends for field trips. How many volunteers will you need to help supervise the children?
  • Consider how much travel time a field trip will require. How much time will the class actually be able to spend at their destination?

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Consult with the school nurse about students with health issues. Seizures may be triggered by heat or lights. Nurses or other trained staff may need to attend to support students who require tracheotomy suctioning or tube feeding.
  • Review student needs with the bus driver when reserving the bus. Consider wheelchairs, medical equipment, five-point restraints, or the number of adults who will accompany the students.

Anticipate what children might gain from an outdoor field trip.

  • Keep in mind that children are likely to get more from a trip related to something they are studying than from a general-interest trip.
  • Consider which early learning and development benchmarks might be met during the trip. Can children investigate weather or living things? What new vocabulary might they learn? Will they have opportunities to interact and be physically active?
  • Be aware that children who don’t often go outdoors may need to focus on exploring the place and “discovering” nature. More experienced children may explore but may also concentrate on making detailed observations of specific things (trees, insects, a creek, etc.).

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Intentionally plan which IEP goals will be addressed during the field trip. For example, a child with an IEP goal to identify colors can be asked “What color is the bear?” or “What color is that bird?” Clipboards can be used for data sheets.

Collect information about places you might go.

  • Find out as much as you can about key features of each place. What kinds of animals, plants, landforms, etc., will children be able to observe? Can they follow trails to points of interest? Are pathways wheelchair-accessible?
  • Ask site personnel about services and facilities. Are restrooms and sources of water easy to find? Are guides available to answer children’s questions? Can teachers check out equipment such as insect nets and binoculars? Is a visitor center available? A playground?
  • Find out about rules and regulations. Can children collect specimens? Is picnicking allowed?

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Prepare children for the change in their routine/schedule as soon as possible and provide many reminders before the trip. Use an icon on the calendar to indicate which day the field trip will take place.
  • Communicate your expectations for the visit as soon as possible and provide opportunities for the students to practice them.
  • Use pictures of the field trip location to help children know what to expect.

Before you decide, visit possible sites.

  • Go to each of the sites, preferably with other adults who will be involved, such as assistant teachers and parents. How do they feel about going there with children? Do benefits outweigh concerns about a trip?
  • Take note of things that may interest, distract, or worry the children.
  • Pick up print materials about each site. Take photographs or videos of what the children might see to share with the class before the trip.

Adaptations for children with significant support needs

  • Visit the field trip location before your field trip. Consider accessibility issues, sensory needs, bathrooms/changing space, or situations (e.g., walking past a gift shop) that may trigger challenging behaviors such as running or wandering away. Develop a plan to address issues before arriving with your students.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Family Child Care
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

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