Bring Back the Field Trip
Remember the excitement you felt as a kid going on a school field trip? The whole process, from ferrying the precious parent approval form safely to school to scurrying to get the “best” seat on the bus, was one I looked forward to for months.
These days, our kids aren’t so lucky. The persistent march of state education budget cuts has rung the death knell for many field trips across local school districts.
Plus, stricter school accountability measures mean that teachers have to squeeze even more instruction time into each day, leaving little room for extra activities.
“Field trips have really been minimized over the past six years, unfortunately,” says Karen Fuqua, spokeswoman for the San Jose Unified School District. “I really feel like they did bring an experience to children that they don’t always have in their lives, and it really did bring life to the curriculum.”
Rather than mourn the loss of field trips, it’s up to us parents to step up and fill the gap. There is a wealth of educational destinations across the Bay Area. We’ve listed a few of our favorites below. The best thing about taking your kids on your own field trips is being there to learn (or relearn) right alongside them.
Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont. 510-544-2797. ebparks.org/parks/ardenwood.
Take a step back in time and learn how farms were worked in the old days. This working farm dates back to the 19th century and demonstrates different techniques, from horse-drawn plows to present day practices. The park features a Victorian garden, mansion, farm animals and blacksmith shop. Docents in period costumes lead tours throughout the house and park, while produce grown on site is on sale to visitors.
Golden State Model Railroad Museum
900-A Dornan Dr., Point Richmond. 510-234-4884. gsmrm.org.
Sure to delight kids and adults alike, this 10,000-square-foot facility houses freight and passenger model trains coursing through three detailed layouts that represent scenery found throughout California. Visitors follow the steam locomotives and diesel engines along 200 feet of walkway, and participate in theme days on the fourth Sunday of each month.
Located on the summit of Mount Hamilton in the Diablo Range east of San Jose. 408-274-5061. mthamilton.ucolick.org.
Founded in 1888, this eye on the sky has managed to keep up with advances in astronomy and serve as a research facility for the University of California system. It operates nine research-grade telescopes; the largest holds a three-meter reflector and operates every clear night of the year - viewing our own solar system as well as distant galaxies. Visitors are invited each summer to peer through one of two telescopes and participate in a series of lectures and multimedia presentations.
Marin Mammal Center
2000 Bunker Road, Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito. 415-289-7330. marinemammalcenter.org.
This nonprofit’s core work is to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals. Visitors learn about the impact humans have on these ocean creatures by checking out the center’s veterinary hospital and education facility, participate in tours and docent programs, and learn from the experts.
Moaning Cavern Adventure Park
5350 Moaning Cave Road, Vallecito. 866-762-2837. caverntours.com/MoCavRt.htm.
Not for claustrophobics, this is California’s largest public cave chamber, touted as large enough to fit the Statue of Liberty. Visitors can learn about cave geology through a 45-minute cavern walk, 165-foot rope rappel and three-hour adventure trip. One can also explore the cavern’s jewels, namely the speleothems, stalactites and stalagmites, which have grown and changed over thousands of years.
NASA Ames Exploration Center
Moffett Field, just off of U.S. Highway 101 near Mountain View. 650-604-6274. nasa.gov/centers/ames.
Kids can learn about cutting-edge space technology and the missions of famous space explorers. Enjoy panoramic views of Mars and the rings of Saturn on a 40-foot screen in the center’s “immersive” theater. Check out a lunar sample retrieved by the crew of Apollo 15. Or, learn more about the terrain on Mars with a large topographical globe (currently out on loan.) Best of all, the center is FREE to the public.
Point Reyes Bird Observatory Conservation Science
Headquarters: 3820 Cypress Dr., #11, Petaluma, 707-781-2555. Palomarin Field Station: southern end of the Point Reyes National Seashore, 415-868-2555. prbo.org.
Founded in 1965, this nonprofit research facility explores bird ecology as an indicator of environmental health. It also conducts science-training programs and seeks to advance biodiversity conservation. Visitors can participate in bird counts, observe bird banding and join walks led by expert birders and biologists.
2025 Shoreline Hwy., Muir Beach. 415-381-6155. slideranch.org.
On the California coast in the Marin Headlands, this nonprofit teaching farm educates visitors about human interdependence with nature. In addition to organic gardens and farm animals, the ranch offers access to coastal trails, tide pools and pocket beaches. It also offers group and family programs, and summer day camps.
Millicent Skiles is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent.