The Benefits of Overnight Field Trips

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chaperoning the fifth- and sixth-graders in my practicum school on a weeklong, overnight field trip. Although it was exhausting, I was so happy to have the experience. You learn so much more about your students in a nonschool setting, and seeing how much they each took away from the trip was incredibly rewarding.

A unique growing experience

For many of the students, this field trip marked the first time they were away from home without their families. They slept in unfamiliar beds, ate three meals a day that weren’t cooked by their mom or dad, and were surrounded by t heir classmates 24/7. As chaperones, we were apprehensive about how students would react to such a new experience, but we were blown away by how independent they became throughout the week.

Once students got used to their away from home routine, they took responsibility for themselves and their classmates in a way I’ve never seen in the classroom. From helping one another cross a rope bridge and working together to create rules for a new game, to making sure they napped during breaks so that they had enough energy to get through the rest of the day’s activities, students stepped up to the plate and almost always did what was right.

Additionally, many students took “risks” they might not otherwise take at home and proved to themselves just what they’re capable of.  Whether that meant braving the woods at night, holding a slimy slug, or simply trying a new food at dinner, they pushed themselves and recognized it. When we got back, my mentor teacher asked students what they learned about themselves after the trip and many said they realized they were capable, brave, and adventurous.

Flexible, experiential learning

What surprised me most about this field trip was just how much students learned. Activities were scheduled throughout the day, and each of them was educational in a “you’re learning, but it’s actually really fun” kind of way. I never heard a student complain about doing an activity because they were active participants in their learning and were given choices about the activities they wanted to do.

The activities were also really flexible. The teachers who led them encouraged students to veer off topic when something caught their attention. For example, if students were learning about plant life in the woods and spotted a hawk flying nearby, the teachers might pause to discuss the food chain and how the hawk hunts its prey.

Because most of the activities took place outside in a rural environment, these “on the fly” learning experiences were plentiful. And, while I believe it’s possible to replicate this kind of learning in the classroom, students were simply more engaged and excited about what they were learning because they were in a new environment.

New friendships formed

In school, students end up spending the most time with the kids they’re in class with. Friendships tend to be formed on proximity rather than shared interests. On our field trip, it was interesting to see new friendships formed during break times, when students got to choose the activities they did.

Instead of hanging out with the kids in their class, students bonded with one another based on what they liked to do. Fifth- and sixth-graders who never talked in school played football together while kids who didn’t like sports met up to journal, read, or play board games.

Back in the classroom, everyone still gets along like they did before, but students have become more aware of what they like and don’t like, and know they can seek out kids with the same interests. This hasn’t resulted in cliques, negativity, or bad feelings toward one another, but you can tell that friendships are stronger, more genuine, and more likely to last long in the future.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.