How to turn a trip to the aquarium into a lesson

Honestly, if we could pick only one type of activity for our subscribers to do for each lesson, it would probably be the field trip. As much as we love living books with captivating stories and eye-catching illustrations, there’s just something magical that happens when your child sees what they are learning about in real life.

Of course, part of that magic is that you, the homeschooling grownup, don’t really have to work that hard to create an experience where learning happens. Your child has a natural hunger to learn more about what they see and are exposed to—all you have to do is fascilitate the experience. So while this post shares a few simple ideas to help your child get the most out of a field trip to the aquarium, don’t overthink it. And remember: The purpose of field trips is experiential learning, not necessarily intentional teaching.

Ready to dive in? Here’s how to turn a trip to the aquarium into a school lesson they’ll never forget.

First, know how your child learns.

Think back to the school year and ask yourself which lessons went best. Was your child driven by quests for an answer? Or did they prefer activities that let them work gross motor skills while they figured something out? Were they fascinated by visual stimulation…or did they prefer lessons that were more hands-on? The good news is that aquariums often have something for everyone, and you can linger at exhibits as long as your child wants to.

Which leads to our second tip: Let your child lead.

During traditional lessons, you may have felt some lingering pressure to stick to the curriculum and try to complete all the activities in a certain time. (Though, if you did, this is your friendly reminder that you don’t have to do that, either! 😉) On field trips, though, we strongly suggest taking a cue from child-led learners and letting your little one set the pace and the intention for the day. That might mean inching your way through the shark exhibit (and identifying every single one), and it might mean spending an hour watching the jellyfish float. By indulging your child’s interests, you are encouraging deeper understanding, a love of learning, and helping them strengthen concentration muscles that will come in handy the next time it comes time for any desk learning.

And remember: One of the many benefits of child-led learning is that it takes a lot of pressure off of you. Trust your child and trust the process—we promise you’ll be blown away at how much they learn!

Craving more structure or challenge? Here are some simple activities to try:
  • If it has been a while since you studied the ocean or ocean animals, try a refresher the day before your visit. This doesn’t mean you have to repeat any lessons (unless they want to!), but it can be helpful to pull out your ocean books or even watch a featured video or two from our unit studies. That way, when they see something in person, they already have a baseline understanding and it will help solidify the lesson in their brain. One of our favorite options is The Big Book of the Blue by Yuval Zommer!
  • Try a scavenger hunt. Whether you’re looking to challenge an older child or want to take a fresh look at an aquarium you’ve been to a million times, a scavenger hunt is a great way to put a fresh spin on your visit. Here’s a printable version you can bring along, or try this one for an extra challenge.
  • Play I Spy. Large tanks can overwhelming for some children, so work their focusing skills by turning it into a game. For example, try to spot the yellow fish or a fish with spots. Can they spy something that breathes air or something that is an herbivore? The possibilities are endless!
  • Keep the learning going even after you leave! Did your child fall in love with the dolphins or sea turtles? Can they not stop talking about the saw shark? Go with it! After your visit, check your library for books about the topic, try Netflix or Disney+ for documentaries, or purchase figurines of the animals to use as manipulatives in other lessons.

Most importantly, though, we hope you remember the primary purpose of field trips: To have fun! Let the lessons come to life organically and let your child’s interests lead the way, and the love of learning is sure to follow.

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