Residentials can be fun, memorable events that engage children in learning, but they can also be stressful for teachers, so here's how to get the most out of your excursion and keep things fresh for all
For many children, a school trip is one of the most exciting experiences of their educational career.
For teachers, a trip is often stressful, but the memories you make are ones that you look back on with pleasure and pride. A visit can act as a brilliant starting point for a new topic, and it is a great way to complete children’s learning on a subject.
Take time to choose the right place to compliment your learning – this might not be the nearest venue or one that other classes have visited in the past. Consider your students’ needs and interests and find somewhere that makes sense in terms of your wider learning objectives.
Think about the possibilities for cross-curricular learning, and also the ‘soft skills’ (confidence, resilience, motivation) that it might help the children build. Obviously, you also need to consider your budget, and how to fund your trip.
If possible, it is useful to visit the venue ahead of time to understand the practicalities. At many popular school trip destinations there is a member of staff responsible for schools. Even if you can’t go to the venue, get in touch with the education officer and give them as much information as you can about your group.
Ask whether they deliver sessions for the children such as allowing them to get ‘hands on’ with exhibits. Get details about any resource packs that are on offer to support learning. Some venues have objects you can borrow to use in school after your visit, while others may also offer INSET opportunities.
Make sure that all accompanying adults have the information they need. This should include practical information, details about what children will be learning, and ideas about how to support this. Consider what you need to do in terms of risk assessments – depending on the location and activities, this may be time consuming. Ask the venue whether they have a pro forma that you can use as a starting point.
Let your children know all about your trip beforehand. When kids are clear about where they are going, what it will be like and what they will learn, they gain much more from the experience. This is particularly important for children with additional needs, especially those who might struggle with the break in routine. Look at the website of the venue and play the children videos related to your trip.
If you are planning a longer trip, such as a school camp or an overseas visit, give parents information well ahead of time about what the children need to take with them. Be specific about anything you don’t want them to bring as well. Reassure parents about what will happen in the event of issues, homesickness for instance. While you are away, keep in touch with families to tell them about the exciting things that the children are doing.
Talk about your expectations of behaviour with the children, as well as of learning. For instance, if you are visiting a museum you might talk about how exhibits are special and why we need to take care with them. Let your pupils know what to do if they get lost or separated, and have clear procedures for using the toilet.
Be prepared for your children to experience sensory overload on the trip (and on the journey), especially if they are not used to visiting new places. For some students, one of the most exciting parts of the day might be the journey itself, especially if it is the first time they have been on a bus or train.
When you get to the venue, the children may notice things that you didn’t expect them to – different smells, background noises. Build in time for them to get used to the place – this is all part of the learning experience.
Have clearly focused activities for the children to do, to encourage them to look closely and think about what they are seeing. You might ask them to:
• Find specific information to use in class
• Answer a series of questions on a worksheet
• Do some drawings with labels
• Go on a treasure hunt to find specific items
• Research a specific part of a topic in groups
Take photographs or videos of objects, artefacts or views that you may want to refer back to when you return to school. Get the children to take notes and make sketches as well, explaining how these will be useful in the future. A visit is often great for inspiring writing in different forms when you get back into the classroom, so consider how the children will gather information for specific writing tasks.
If students do a session with a specialist educator at the venue, listen carefully. Your children may come up with some brilliant ideas that only surface when they are out of the classroom. Nicky Wallis, education officer at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge advises, “Don’t feel that you need to prepare questions in advance – once the children have been introduced to the museum objects, questions will flow much more naturally than any staged ones that you were thinking about in history last week.”
As well as the learning that you can do in class, and share with parents, it is a lovely idea to let the venue know what your children did after their visit. They will love hearing about how you expanded on their work.
• Think ahead about the potential for learning from your trip and how it might contribute to different subject areas. Choose a venue on the basis of what you want the children to learn.
• Work closely with the venue – they will have ideas and advice about planning your visit and linked activities.
• Get all the adults on board with what will happen on the day – not just the practicalities, but also the learning that you want to take place.
• Document your visit carefully to make it easier to recall what you saw, did and learnt when you get back to school.
• Consider the potential for cross-curricular connections. For instance, if your focus is on Egypt, you might touch on areas such as material science, belief systems, geography, art and ethics.
• Consider options for budget and local trips as well as further afield. You could hire a bus and take the children on a tour of your local city to find landmarks and history, or visit local places of worship to support learning in RE.
• If you’re based in or near London, you might like to do a literacy walking tour, visiting the blue plaques of different authors, and reading an extract from the author’s work at each place. Find a teachers’ guide to attractions in Yorkshire at yorkshireattractions.org.
Sue Cowley’s book Road School tells the story of what happened when she ‘road schooled’ her children for six months. Visit roadschooldiary.co.uk.