As I've written previously in the Grandparents Guide to Homeschooling series, there are all kinds of great ways to spend time with your homeschooled grandchildren -- just having fun, sharing your skills, providing child care, and helping them learn.
But the granddaddy of them all (pun intended), in my opinion, is taking them on field trips.
Field trips combine so much of the rest of the good stuff. They are great learning opportunities, they can be fun and adventurous, and they provide a kind of hands-on help that homeschooling parents really appreciate from their own parents.
And here's the secret: they don't have to be big deals -- or, they can be.
Broaden Their Horizons
My in-laws took our oldest kids to Chincoteague, Virginia for the annual pony penning, as featured in the famous book Misty of Chincoteague. This was an ambitious field trip, including camping in an RV and lots of logistical challenges.
My mother took the boys hiking on the Appalachian Trail and to the C&O Canal Trail, as well as to Shenandoah and Luray Caverns.
She also took them to a friend's dairy farm and to the Dinosaur Land -- both much more modest field trips that the kids enjoyed. Dinosaur Land, admittedly, is more a lesson in roadside kitsch than anything comprehensively educational about dinosaurs, but my mom, a former science teacher, actually slipped in an awful lot about the Mesozoic Era, and the kids were entranced by the experience of roaming among the large model dinosaurs.
In these cases, the grandparent field trips were not any effort to coordinate with what our kids were studying. These were just opportunities for my in-laws and my mom to broaden our children's horizons -- and to spend time together.
Share Your Interests
Sharing your interests can be the foundation of field trips your grandchildren will love. Whether it is camping, wildlife, American history, geology, hiking, art, music, or some other topic, you'll be sharing your own interests and modeling how adults continue to learn and enjoy life.
Fit the Curriculum
Another approach is to try to match up field trips with the kids' studies. If the kids follow a curriculum, you can ask their mom or dad for ideas or look through the curriculum yourself. When kids study state history is an ideal time to take them to see your state's historical sites and to the state capital. You can also visit science museums, art museums, music performances, plays, and parks.
Even if you are trying to match a curriculum, don't get too hung up on perfect timing. One thing homeschooling parents have learned is that kids can and do learn things out of order all the time. Visiting Gettysburg when it works is certainly better than skipping it because you couldn't be available during the week when it appeared in the children's history curriculum.
Fit the Child
Whether the grandchildren use a curriculum or not, they will also have their own interests. Take the music-fascinated child to the chamber music concert and to a guitar factory or luthier's shop . Take the bicycle boy or girl to a real bike repair shop, with time to stand around and watch and ask questions. Take the hands-on, artistic child to a pottery shop and an art museum.
Keep in mind that not all kids are crazy about field trips and that logistics matter even more to them than to more flexible kids. You will find tips on making field trips fit better in Improving Homeschool Field Trips.
Fit the Family
Of course you'll be coordinating with the kids' parents to make field trips work. Some parents take a field trip every single week, often on Fridays, and you'll hear the phrase "Field Trip Fridays" shouted with glee by many kids in the homeschool world. This might fit your schedule, or Fridays might be the Mom/Dad field trip days, with you suggesting your own separate field trip schedule for weekends or once-a-month or whatever works for you.
Moms with large families, a small baby, or a special needs or more challenging child might like you to just go along on their regular field trips as an extra pair of hands.
Some homeschooling parents might appreciate it more if you will take either one child at a time or "just the olders" or "just the youngers" on your own. Knowing that each child gets special time with a grandparent can be wonderfully sustaining to a busy homeschooling mom, and she'll thank you for it. She'll also be happy if you are able to take the smaller children to things like Discovery Museums geared for little ones -- so the older ones have the opportunity to do something that holds their attention more, or even just to have their own time at home without the younger siblings. It can be a great opportunity for those getting-older children to work on a complicated project.
Sometimes it's the logistical challenges that make field trips difficult for families. I remember one homeschool group meeting where a mom told me how huge it was for her that her own mother packed all the food for their beloved day-long field trips with the kids. As it turned out, her mom also planned the route and scoured the websites to make a list of what would make the field trip a success—comfortable shoes, water bottles, sketch books, or whatever might be needed. What a gift!
Don't forget that "only children," too, benefit from field trips with you. It might not seem like Mom and Dad need as much "help," but what a wonderful thing for a child to have this additional special relationship shaped by adventures together.
Some field trips may be oriented around performances and events. You may be the perfect person to take the kids to performances of the children's theater, the ballet, the orchestra, the play, or the puppet show. You may be the one who can keep up with the special exhibits at the art gallery or science museum, so you can get the kids there when Picasso's work is there or when the special exhibit on "Space" is in town. Sporting events also make great field trips. For a recreational soccer player, attending a professional soccer game with you will definitely be memorable.
You can also look for festivals in different parts of the state. Many are seasonal and feature links to state history and local culture. There are harvest festivals, craft festivals, music festivals, and maple syrup festivals.
In some cases, some events might not seem overtly educational to you. Definitely don't worry about it. A window to the spectacle of professional sports or an off Broadway show that seems aimed at entertainment will still be part of helping your grandchild make cultural connections and understand the world. Keep in mind that these are opportunities that are limited for many school kids because of the time and space constraints of school, so you really do have a unique chance to show your grandchild the world -- or small parts of it!
For Long-Distance Grandparents
Grandmothers and grandfathers who live far away may be thinking -- we can't be a regular part of our grandchildren's lives in this way. However, keep in mind that your living in a different geographical area means that visits to your house mean a whole new set of sites to see. Do your best to take field trips when the kids come out. Kids from the mountains need to see the desert and the ocean. Kids used to hiking the flat trails of the Delta need a dose of Appalachia. Kids who have grown up hearing a city orchestra will certainly be fascinated by walking around a fiddlers' convention -- and vice versa.
What can you share about your area that will provide context for the kids' lives?
For Strapped Grandparents
Somehow as I've gotten older, grandparents have gotten younger! Or so it seems. Many are working, busy with commitments to professional level volunteer work, and extensively involved in their own hobbies, interests, and travel. Others are struggling financially in retirement. You may find yourself strapped for time and money. You may even feel a little estranged from your grandchildren because of their parents' educational choice for them. Going to school was good enough in the past; why do they have to do this homeschooling thing?
Working in "homeschool field trips" may feel way over the line to you. Indeed, this might not be a great fit for you, and that's okay. Still, I urge you to give it a try when you can, because it really can be such an important part of your grandchild's learning -- and his or her memory of time with you.
More from this series...