Still to this day, when I hear the words “field trip,” I have a gut reaction of anticipation, excitement and novelty. I was always ecstatic to get out of the classroom. I laugh now at how euphoric it could be just to hop on a bus with a squished PB&J and venture away from the school grounds (during school hours!) Visits to petting zoos, farms, pumpkin patches, and local police stations are firmly and pleasantly imprinted on my memory.
I can confidently say that — especially after being a stay-at-home or work-from-home mom for the last four years — field trips only get more exciting as you get older. They offer a special kind of reprieve and hope in the middle of what could otherwise be a slow and dismal day. They are little mini-vacations that we parents can look forward to. A change of scenery, some fresh air, new faces and voices—they can do wonders for us and our kids. And if you plan ahead, they can be very inexpensive or even free!
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to take frequent jaunts to the library or aquarium, there is also a hidden “bonus” to field trips when it comes to your child. Since 98% of his or her vocabulary is identical to yours, getting out and about will introduce novel words and phrases he’s never heard before. Even a trip to grandma and grandpa’s house can result in some new vocabulary — in fact that’s where I heard my first swear word, if I remember correctly!
Whether your child is a baby, toddler or preschooler, he or she is likely familiar with the everyday words you and your family use around the house. Peppering in some day trips with a focus on a learning new vocabulary words can add to your daily word goal totals and enrich your child’s mind in ways that can only happen outside the four walls of your home. Plus, if you time it right you can eat lunch on the way there, dinner on the way home, and your baby might even fall asleep before you get through the front door! Talk about magical.
Museums, zoos, aquariums and even good old playgrounds are perfect vocabulary-building destinations for babies and toddlers. Preschoolers might be able to handle some more tour-oriented trips, like the local fire or police station. But really, any trip that gets you out of the house and talking will be beneficial.
Here are some ideas for getting out of the house, having fun, bonding and enriching your child’s vocabulary!
Classic Nature Walk: Depending on whether you live by the mountains, sea or desert, some of your child’s first words could include “sand,” “water,” “deer,” “shell,” “fish,” or “rock.” And aren’t the best treasures those little boxes full of sticks and leaves, anyway? If you have a newborn, walk along a path and talk about what you see. Help toddlers and preschoolers identify, collect or describe the local flora and fauna. Enjoying nature is a free, sensory activity that never stops giving—from warm sunny rays to pockets full of pebbles; you could plan all kinds of nature walks from birth to age eighteen and never get bored! And bonus, if you are the organizing type and happen to know any naturalists in your area — professors, birders, botanists or zoologists — they are usually happy to field questions or host nature walks, especially with kids.
Zoos and Aquariums: Animals are known to elicit screams of both terror and delight in children. Either way, they get little ones talking, squealing and asking questions. Sharks bumping up on the glass, slimy sting rays and playful penguins will spark your child’s wonder and help her make connections. A day at the zoo will do doubt include action words, describing words, and sensory words that they’ve never heard (or smelled) before. My daughter once spent thirty minutes, in the sun, staring at an animatronic display of dinosaur babies hatching from eggs. She learned about the words, “hatch,” “scales,” “alive,” “robot,” and “triceratops,” and she was only three! We don’t have an animatronic dinosaur display at home to teach her these words — that I know of.
Children’s Museums: The mother of all outings. These places can keep kids busy for hours. Do not underestimate their power. A pass to my local children’s museum was the best $160 I have ever spent. There is a Children’s Museum in every state, and in most big cities, so even if you’re traveling and feel that your little one has been left out of the conversation, you can take a break and locate the one nearest to you. To get the most bang for your buck, narrate some of your child’s play and encourage dialogue between them and others. There are usually diverse areas and attractions in Children’s Museums so you don’t have to do much work, but you can make a habit of spotting new, unfamiliar objects (like play hospitals or musical instruments) that will be sure introduce novel vocabulary.
Sometimes getting out the door is the hardest part. There is no need to be an overachiever to reap the benefits of a field trip, but when you plan your next one, make sure to include time to talk.
You don’t have to plan or spend excessively to expand your child’s vocabulary and reach your daily word goal. Yes, Disneyland is fun. But to a baby or toddler, some sticks, leaves and a squirrel sighting will win out, every time.