Use the information on this Web site to help you plan a successful outdoor field trip with your students.

Tips for Outdoor Field Trips

As an educator, you have a profound impact on the lives of your students. You may be introducing your students to the outdoors for the first time. You may enhance some environmental knowledge they already have. You might even instill a passion for the outdoors that will stay with them throughout their lifetime. A solid plan is the key first step. A little planning goes a long way towards a successful and safe trip. An outdoor field trip is a great educational experience for all involved. Here are some tips to help you ensure a good day in the field.

Illinois is home to numerous species of small invertebrates that can make an outdoor adventure less than perfect. Ticks can be an issue, especially in the spring. You can help deter ticks by wearing a hat, wearing light-colored clothing and applying insect repellent. Even with preventative measures, ensure that the students check for ticks once they get home. During warm weather, have insect repellent available for all outdoor activities. In all weather conditions, keep well hydrated with water. Provide a snack, if possible.

Digital cameras are welcome. Pictures are always a great way to not only re-live the trip but document any important features (plants, animals, historical sites, etc.).

Journaling is a good method to use for students to reflect about their experiences. Have each student prepare a blank journal before the trip, possibly from scrap paper. Have them collect information during the trip and write more about their experiences later. Use pencil or waterproof ink.

If possible, take maps of the area and several different types of field guides. Binoculars are a wonderful addition to any day in the field.

Before heading out on your adventure, discuss being good outdoor stewards with your students.

  • Don't litter. Pick up someone else's trash if you see some.
  • Make sure the students realize that the animals they may encounter are wild and should not be approached or disturbed.
  • Be aware what you can and cannot take out of the woods, prairies, wetlands and trails. If you have questions, visit This Web page has explanations about what is legal to remove and what permits/licenses are required to remove it. However, this document is only a general guide. The best rule of thumb is "don't take anything."
  • Remember..leave only footprints and take only memories.

Have a signal device on hand as you may find yourself in an area with bad or no cell phone reception. A whistle is a good tool for "rallying the troops" and for alerting others if you need help. Most parks will have a first-aid kit on site, but some natural areas will have no site personnel. It is a good idea to pack a small first-aid kit along no matter where you are going. Know if any of your students are allergic to bug bites or bee stings and know the proper first-aid procedures. Be aware of the signs of both heat exhaustion and hypothermia and know what to do if you observe any students with these symptoms.

Check the weather forecast for the day of your trip in advance and before you leave on the trip. Is there a chance of rain or lightning later in the day? How hot/cold is it going to be? Is the projected UV forecast high for that day? Will wind chill be a safety concern? If you are biking, boating or canoeing will high winds be a factor? There are numerous resources available that allow you to keep abreast of current weather conditions, such as a portable NOAA Weather Radio, personal laptop computer or several applications available via your cell phone.

Lightning is a dangerous weather hazard. Spring and summer are peak months for lightning activity in Illinois. If you are outside and lightning is approaching, get inside a sturdy building. A complete guide for outdoor lightning safety information is found at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site at If there is lightning in the forecast, make sure you stay abreast of current weather conditions and know where the safe buildings are located. You may also consider postponing your trip to another day. If the forecast calls for only rain and you want to continue with your plans, consider bringing umbrellas or large trash bags so the students can make "ponchos."

Illinois is home to numerous types of poisonous plants. Many people have allergic reactions to these plants, in varying degrees of severity. Knowing how to identify the most common and teaching the students the same is a good idea. Stick to the basics when dealing with poison ivy, "leaves of three, let it be!" The symptoms of an allergic reaction to plants typically take some time to show up. In other words, if you or a student gets into some of these plants, you will not know it for several hours. The best rule of thumb, if you are not sure if a plant is poisonous or not, don't touch it.

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