Chrissie is an educator, freelance writer, and mother of two children and three dogs.
Great Field Trip Ideas for Elementary and Middle School Students
Fun and Educational Field Trips
If you are a teacher or parent who does homeschooling, at some point or another you want to find a field trip that is both educational and fun for your students.
As a former 5th and 6th-grade teacher and a current parent who has chaperoned many field trips with my own children, I can tell you there are a lot of great options when it comes to learning outside of the classroom. All of the ideas below are great places to take elementary or middle school children. These places are also good for large or small groups.
Some of them are booked solid in the spring, so make reservations early in the school year!
The Franklin Institute
Field Trips for Kids In Pennsylvania
The best place to start when planning a field trip is to look at the history of the state where you live. Many great things have happened all over the Keystone State and there are many places where students can relive the rich history this state has to offer while also incorporating the arts and science. Whether you are looking to take a day trip or overnight field trip, all of the places listed below combine fun with education and are worth the drive to get there!
If you have the opportunity to do an overnight trip, I highly recommend going to Philadelphia. The Franklin Institute offers a camp-in that allows you and your students to camp out after hours in the exhibits and wake up in the morning and have the place to yourself (and the other groups camping out). They offer this to scout groups and school groups and I took my fifth graders there and it was one of the best field trips ever. Philadelphia also offers a wide variety of places to visit within a concentrated area and many of the historic areas are free, so more than a day in this city is the way to go! The Art Museum has a wonderful display of Knight armor and the ships at Penns Landing are a beautiful sight. Although the Liberty Bell is not all that exciting and you do have to go through a lot of security, it is neat to get your picture taken next to a large national historic artifact. Philadelphia definitely gets five stars from me for the best city for a field trip. (Make sure you vote if you agree or even if you disagree)!
Philadelphia Field Trip Ideas
Get Close with Animals
Fun and Educational Places in Pennsylvania
Here are my top ten picks (in no particular order) for both fun and educational field trips:
- Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium OR Carnegie Science Museum in Pittsburgh
- Lake Tobias Wildlife Park near Harrisburg
- The Franklin Institute, Independence Park, or the Art Museum in Philadelphia
- Reading Art Museum and Planetarium in Reading
- Gettysburg Battlefield and Civil War Museum in Gettysburg
- Quiet Valley in Stroudsburg or Old Bedford Village in Bedford (both are living history sites)
- Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour near Scranton
- Indian Echo Caverns near State College
- Chocolate World and/or The Hershey Story in Hershey, PA
- Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair at Mount Hope in Manheim, PA
Free Field Trips
If you can't afford to travel far or don't have the money for admissions there are many free and low-cost field trips available throughout the state. One of the most important things to do when planning a free or low-cost field trip is to make sure there will be enough activity to keep the kids busy and engaged. Here are some free field trips I have taken classes on and the types of activities they were able to do. I did these things when I taught in both city and rural schools, so they can be done almost anywhere in the state. Hopefully, you can use my ideas to help you find similar programs in your area.
Read More From Wehavekids
- Career Exploration- We visited local businesses and acted like reporters learning about different careers. The students were able to take a sculpture plan to a metal factory and watch it be cut and then it was later installed in front of the school! We also visited the Bedford Springs Resort and cooked in the kitchen with the resort chefs and then ate the food we prepared. Many Petco stores around the state will allow you to visit and learn about various pets. I suggest talking to parents about the businesses they work for and you may be able to plan an exciting field trip.
- Hidden History and a Surprise Science Lesson- Inside a church in Allentown, PA lies a replica of the Liberty Bell that was once brought there from Philadelphia and hidden in the church. When we visited the museum, the kids were allowed to ring the Liberty Bell. We then went a few miles away to the Fish Hatchery and had lunch and fed the fish. Everything was free and very hands-on and fun.
- Tasty Trips- In Lititz, PA students can explore the Wilbur Chocolate Factory free of charge. There is a small park right there that is perfect for eating a bagged lunch as well. For a small fee, students can walk down the street and visit the Sturgis Pretzel Factory and twist pretzel dough the old-fashioned way. This is a great trip for smaller groups or home-schooled children. (See the map and more details below )
Field Trip Ideas Near Lancaster, PA
Go Back in Time at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair
Low Cost Field Trip-Sturgis Pretzel Factory
Exploring History in Pennsylvania
If you are looking for a trip that is very interactive and engages both boys and girls, consider visiting the Lancaster County area. When planning your trip, times and tickets will need to be reserved in advance. Here is a suggested itinerary:
- Go to Lititz, PA in the morning and visit the Wilbur Chocolate Factory and/or Sturgis Pretzel Factory.
- Eat a bagged lunch in the park near Wilbur Chocolate Factory or at the PA Renaissance Faire.
- Arrive at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire by noon.
Places to Visit With Young Children Near Lancaster, PA
The Lancaster area has so many places to see and if you are looking for a field trip for young children (under the age of 7) consider these:
- Strasburg Railroad: You can take a train ride any time of the year and there is a great miniature railroad place called Choo-Choo Barn nearby that little kids will love.
- Hands-on House: This hands-on museum offers both inside and outside activities.
A Great Place to Visit Even in the Winter Months
Field Trip Resources for Parents and Teachers
When you are planning a field trip it is important to connect learning in the classroom with learning on your trip. By reading books, watching videos, and doing Internet research prior to the trip you can help children build knowledge that they can apply on the trip. This will help them be more engaged while you are on your field trip.
For older students consider making each child be a tour guide for parts of your trip. For example, when I took my class to Washington, D.C. a different student was our tour guide and gave a one-to-three-minute speech at each planned stop. The students felt like an expert at 'their' stop and they really listened better to each other than they did for typical tour guides.
Scavenger hunts are another great resource while on a field trip with your elementary or middle school students. Some museums, science centers, and zoos offer pre-made scavenger hunts on their website which can be printed at school prior to your trip.
If your school has a digital camera that you can borrow, consider having students take turns taking pictures and then do a post-trip activity with the photos. You could have the students work in small groups to make a PowerPoint demonstration about the trip. You can have the kids share the presentations with the rest of the class or consider having the PowerPoint running continuously for parents to watch while waiting for conferences. It could also be used the following school year during 'meet the teacher night' so parents and children know what they can look forward to during the school year.
Always plan field trips as early in the school year as possible so you can tie various subject areas into your trip. You should also secure parent chaperons early as well so that you can help them prepare for leading students and helping them learn while having fun. Check out this Step By Step Guide for additional tips on planning a field trip. By planning ahead you can be sure that your students will have fun and learn a little something all at the same time!
Pick Your Favorite Field Trip Place in Pennsylvania
More Great Places to Visit Near Pennsylvania
Field Trips in Surrounding States
If your school is located in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, a day trip to a neighboring state is also possible. Here are some great places to visit that only take a few hours to get to. All of these locations would also work well for overnight trips as well.
- Baltimore Aquarium and Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, MD
- The Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Arlington Cemetery, and National Monuments in Washington, D.C.
- Museum of Natural History, Central Park and Central Park Zoo in New York City, NY
chrissieklinger (author) from Pennsylvania on November 27, 2012:
Yes, I agree with 'finding' a kid to take. I really love the Baltimore Aquarium and I know I enjoy it more than my kids. I will have to check out Longwood Gardens. I did go to the Cape May Zoo this past summer and was very impressed and I forgot to put that place on here!
Simon Cook from NJ, USA on November 27, 2012:
Superb Hub - you should add Longwood Gardens too - they have lots of activities for Kids! I've been to many of these places, but have a few more ideas thanks - does it matter that I'm not a kid anymore??? I must plan a road trip and take my Grandson with me!
chrissieklinger (author) from Pennsylvania on November 23, 2012:
So glad to see everyone agrees with my choices. I loved bankscottage story. I can't top that but I was 8 months pregnant when my class did the sleep in at Franklin Institute, had I gone into labor there, that would have been quite memorable.
FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on November 23, 2012:
Great information and ideas. I always loved the science center and zoo in Pittsburgh. My favorite field trip was on the Incline.
Mark Shulkosky from Pennsylvania on November 23, 2012:
Great Hub Chrissie. Having lived in several places in PA, we have taken our kids to many of these (they are now adults). Another great museum in Philadelphia is the Fireman's Hall Museum. Among other things, it chronicles how much Ben Franklin did for fire safety. One caution, the Fireman's Hall is not a "touch" museum. Our eldest son found that out after he pulled a fire alarm that he thought was a display.
Voted up, interesting, and shared.
LauraGSpeaks from Raleigh, NC on November 23, 2012:
Chrissie- this is a wealth of useful information! I will be printing this out for our next hockey trip to PA. Voted up.
Claudia Mitchell on November 23, 2012:
Great ideas here! My daughter & I love the overnight programs offered at the Pittsburgh Zoo. Loads of fun at a reasonable price. Going to have to check out some of the others too! Voted up and shared.
chrissieklinger (author) from Pennsylvania on November 21, 2012:
Natashalh- that is so cool that you traveled to PA, having lived here all my life and having gone to all those places more than once I sometimes take for granted all that we have here to enjoy.
Natasha from Hawaii on November 21, 2012:
When I was a kid in West Virginia, we would actually take field trips to PA. I guess there were better field trip opportunities! I remember a couple of these sites from 'my youth.'
chrissieklinger (author) from Pennsylvania on November 21, 2012:
tillsontitan looks like you are a car ride away from visiting our wonderful state. Thanks for reading and commenting and I hope you get a weekend to come visit and explore PA!
Mary Craig from New York on November 21, 2012:
Now I wish I lived in PA :) I have visited and seen some of the places you've mentioned....that's what I like about this hub, you've listed lots of interesting places and didn't limit yourself, you've even gone out of state! I'm sure this will be very helpful for people living in PA and people visiting as well.
Voted up, useful, and interesting.
chrissieklinger (author) from Pennsylvania on November 21, 2012:
Thanks Denise and CL. I hope you get to visit PA soon!
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 20, 2012:
What a great hub! This is filled with 'everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-educational-field-trips-in-Philadelphia'. Great ideas and the photos show 'customer satisfaction' for sure!
Thanks for sharing your knowledge about this. Rated up/U/I
Sheila from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State on November 20, 2012:
I spent a few years in the Pittsburgh area as a child and most of my father's family still live there. I will be taking your Hub print out with us next time we go visit. Lot's of great idea's!