A Family Trip to Washington, D.C., Part 13: The 2-Week Homeschool Field Trip

In case you missed the first few posts in this series, we are chronicling our family trip to Washington D.C.  The first post in the series is here.  You can find the rest under the travel menu on our main page.  Last week Todd described our method of choosing restaurants while traveling.  This week I will talk about turning a family vacation into a 2-week homeschool field trip.

I knew our trip to D.C. would provide an excellent opportunity to create a homeschool experience away from home.  In addition to having fun as a family, I wanted our children to learn a lot.  One of the things I quickly discovered, though, is that there really are not many good lesson plans out there on the Internet for homeschool families to use.

family reflections

I decided to create my own set of lesson plans, tailored to the individual needs of each of the girls.  I coordinated our oldest daughters’ assignments to meet homeschooling regulations for our state.  I created a set of assignments for our youngest daughter so that she could feel included.  She likes being part of the fun.

Here is how I created our Washington, D.C., homeschool field trip curriculum:

1.  We incorporated civics as a subject for the entire school year.

I wanted our kids to have a clue what they would be seeing before they arrived in the city.  I felt the trip would be more meaningful if the historic and political significance of the city was already laid out for them.  The curriculum I chose to use was Notgrass’ Uncle Sam and You.

This curriculum is specifically geared for upper elementary and middle school-aged students.  I particularly like the illustrations and the primary sources included for students to read.  While we did not read the books during the course of the actual field trip, our months of study definitely enhanced our experience while in D.C.

2.  I created a binder for each kid.

Our older girls had a binder assigned to them before we left.  In it, I included all of their assignments, several sheets of blank notebook paper, and a pocket to stash brochures and other memorabilia.

For our youngest daughter, I purchased an inexpensive multi-pocket file folder.  It was easy for her to keep all of her supplies in one place and organize all of her treasures by category.

3.  I wrote out our lesson plans by the day and went over them with the kids before we left.

The lesson plans were printed and placed in the kids’ binders.  There were two components to the assignments.  The first part included daily tasks: journal writing, item collecting, and question answering.  The second part related to reports to be completed once we were home.

I attached our basic outline below.  Obviously it can be tailored to meet the needs of an individual family, but you can see my general thought process.  I found that asking specific questions, in conjunction with open-ended journaling, allowed me to glean better information from the girls about what they did and saw.

Team Made Family D.C. Homeschool Curriculum

The reason I had the kids complete reports once we got home was primarily to “prove up” that we had really done school while gone.  We pulled the girls from band, confirmation, and dance for two weeks.  I wanted all of the teachers who graciously accommodated us to know that we appreciated their willingness to let our kids leave without asking for make-up assignments.  In addition, the report writing process generated several thoughtful conversations with our girls about some fairly deep topics.

The family comedian keeps discussions lighthearted.
The family comedian keeps discussions lighthearted.

4.  We encouraged picture taking.

Each of our older girls had their own cameras on the trip.  Todd and I also had cameras and phones.  We came home with many, many photos.  Sometimes it felt tedious to wait while a child took their 4 millionth photo of an animal skeleton at the Natural History Museum.  Because we allowed time for so many photos, though, we have a sizable collection of really good visual memories from the trip.

When offered sound advice, follow it.

5.  We utilized traditional and creative concepts to define school.

Writing reports is very traditional.  Discussing the differences between grocery shopping in D.C. versus home is a little creative.  But still meaningful.  Utilizing free educational printables and worksheets from the American History Museum website is traditional.  Eating chicken lips in Iowa and learning about geographic differences in cuisine is creative.  And yummy.

We decided to be reasonable in our creative approach to our field trip curriculum.  After all, not everything is school.  Many things that seem ordinary are, though.  Eating out, navigating traffic on public transit in a major city, and attending church away from home are very educational.  And for us, that means they are school.

How do you make family vacations educational?  Email me or comment below!

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