Field trips are a thrill for any kid, providing experiences — sitting in the driver’s seat of a fire truck, touching a tarantula, seeing the inner workings of a farm — that are memorable and a window into new worlds.
But field trips aren't just for schools. Many local museums, farms and learning centers offer tours for any group that are easy to organize and affordable.
So gather up a group of friends (your PEPS group, cousins, playgroup friends, homeschool group) and try one of these local tours. (These tours are of course just the tip of the tour bus; post more ideas in comments!)
- Fire station tour. The Seattle Fire Department has a wonderful preschool fire safety education program, and it’s FREE. They will send you a box with curriculum and a DVD to review with the kids before you tour a fire station. At the fire station, expect to get a tour from a friendly fire fighter, check out the fire fighters’ gear and sit in the fire truck. Tacoma has a similar program. Everett and Bellevue allow station tours (though Everett requires kids to be 5 or older).
- The Burke Museum. The Burke Museum of Natural History at the University of Washington has group presentations for preschoolers and up on a variety of topics – such as Native American culture, dinosaurs, and the Pacific Rim. The programs are typically one hour, and include stories, a scavenger hunt, objects for the kids to touch and a craft project. During a Native American "Discovery Tour" for preschoolers, for example, kids get to touch a real button blanket, learn about bentwood cedar boxes and hear a Native American story.
- Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo offers hour-long preschool group sessions with a classroom experience and a visit to a section of the zoo. Kids, for example, can check out hides, bones and pelts and then go on a safari! Older kids can learn how wool is made into yarn, and have a close encounter with raptors, reptiles or spiders.
Price: $8/person for groups of 10-18 kids. The fee includes admission to the zoo.
- The Museum of Flight. The museum's Flight Zone programs give kids the chance to make a model glider, pilot an imaginary flight in a real plane and discover how airplane parts work together. The sessions are typically one hour for younger groups, with varied topics for different age groups.
Price: $150, maximum of 20 kids for the pre-K program.
- Theo Chocolates. Learn how chocolate is made (and taste the results) and explore the social and environmental issues surrounding chocolate production by touring the Theo factory in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. Theo offers its tours daily, and any number of individuals can join for 6/person. Note that kids under 7 are not permitted but Theo does offer a private kid-oriented tour, which is $150 for a group up to 25 people, and requires a ratio of four kids to one adult.
Oxbow Farms. Oxbow, a beautiful organic farm in Carnation that is known for its education programs and camps, offers 90-minute "farm adventures," an exploration of the ecology of the farm and the vegetables that are in season. In the spring, for example, kids might play hide and seek in the rhubarb patch (using leaves as hats), try purple broccoli and many types of greens, sow seeds, and see Oxbow’s “living playground” before it’s covered in green.
Price: $100 for up to 20 kids.
- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. You can charter a private tour of an exhibit with the “rent an educator” program for $6-$10/person, depending on group size. Or, pair an hour long hands-on classroom presentation about a specific animal or habitat before exploring the zoo with the Discovery Programs,
Price for Discovery Program: $50 for up to 30 people, zoo admission and taxes not included.
- Safeco Field. Safeco offers behind-the-scenes tour sure to be a home run with little baseball fans, covering areas of the ballpark not normally open to the public, such as the press box, the field and dugouts. It does involve walking about a mile, so it may not be appropriate for the smallest kids. Groups of 20 or more can get a discounted rate.
- Museum of History & Industry: Tour options include using imaginative play to learn about the people and occupations that built our communities. Other topics include Salish history, salmon and Settlers. Note, though, that MOHAI's group tours are already booked through 2012, so you'll have to plan ahead. Programs are available for groups K-12.
Price: $120 for 10-30 students, chaperones are free.
- For older kids: Boeing offers a tour of its Everett plant, and the Seattle Times offers tours of its printing plant, available for kids over the age of 8.
See also: Summer Tours with a Twist
About the author: Michelle is mom to two preschoolers. She lives with her family in North Seattle and is a practicing attorney.