School-sponsored field trips may be on hiatus, but here are some options for field trips you can take as a family
Do you remember going on field trips as a child? School bus experience aside, there’s so much fun to be had in packing a brown bag lunch and spending a couple hours wandering through a museum or garden and learning firsthand all kinds of things that you’ve been talking about in the classroom. We know our schools have a high value for field trips as part of typical school years and we’re here to fill the gap while field trips hit the “pause button” for a short season in our schools.
We’ve made a list of our favorite low-commitment field trips that are also fairly easy on your budget. All suggestions are less than three hours away.
Field trip planning tips:
- Pack your lunches. This will save you so much money and simplify your field trip a lot.
- Don’t forget your masks. Indoor spaces require them and when a distance of six feet or greater can’t be practiced, you’ll need them outside too.
- Wear walking shoes. You just never know how far away you’ll park and a lot of these field trip ideas include some walking!
- Bring a notebook, or better yet, see if the destination you’re visiting has any kind of worksheet or printable available on its website before you visit. This is the kind of stuff teachers round up in the week before a field trip and you can, too.
We’ve done our best to find attractions that are open and have something to offer as a field trip destination for your family this year. Of course, select field trips that are age-appropriate for your child(ren) and that offer an experience at your comfort level during the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage you to always check the website/social media for the place you are going to visit for the latest on hours, closures, restrictions and more.
Editor’s Note: In instances where we link to field trip guides you may reference to your visit for individual sites, realize that these guides are crafted with usual school visits in mind and all attractions may not currently be open. We simply link to them here as an additional planning resource for you.
One-of-a-Kind Field Trips in Champaign-Urbana
Abraham Lincoln Scavenger Hunt
There are several Lincoln monuments in Champaign-Urbana, from Carle Park‘s statue (visible from Race Street) to the famous bust in Lincoln Hall on campus. There’s also a lesser known, newer Lincoln statue outside of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center off of (appropriately enough) Lincoln Avenue in Urbana. Lincoln Square counts. Bonus points: find the house where Lincoln supposedly slept in Urbana (404 W. Illinois St.). Have older kids? In Urbana, there is a collection of Lincoln informational signs along Main Street (around the Champaign County courthouse and at Busey Bank).
Learn about Roger Ebert
You may have heard of Ebertfest, a Champaign-Urbana tradition. Because of the late Roger Ebert’s ties to C-U in his youth, there is a lot of Ebert info around here. Go to the Roger Ebert statue outside the Virginia Theatre, visit his house in Urbana (410 E. Washington) and to wrap up your Ebert day, pick a film and do a film critique with your children. Thumbs up?
Walking Tour of Campus
You don’t even have to go inside anywhere to have a “field trip” to campus. Put on your best tour guide cap with what you know (and no, you don’t have to walk backwards) and walk your kids through a glimpse of the college experience. Take a pic with Alma Mater, sit on the grass of the quad and stroll past the dorms or other areas you wish to see. For more info on self-guided tours, check this out. Want to enjoy some food from somewhere different while you’re there? We have some ideas.
Meadowbrook Park Sculptures
They’re hard to miss if you’ve spent any time at Meadowbrook Park. Put on your walking shoes and hit the path at Meadowbrook to see the towering sculptures up close. It’s like an art show right outside! Get a glimpse of what they’re like on YouTube.
If you or someone in your family geeks out over everything tech, you’re going to be pumped to learn about TechHub. Visits are available by appointment only right now, but like a lot of other things, just plan ahead and you’re good to go. Fun fact – TechHub is the headquarters for Illinois Esports, and so much more.
Yes, a visit to a library is a field trip! We know a lot of children’s areas don’t have their usual play areas open for business but you can get to the basics of a true library trip and pick out some books or do some research on a school subject while on your visit. Teach your kids how to use the computer to look up call numbers and familiarize yourself with where certain subjects are located throughout the library.
Krannert Art Museum (KAM) reopened with the start of the fall semester at U of I. Like many museums we’re hearing about, they will be using a timed reservation system (which you can book here). We love the HIVE exhibit, which you can even see from outside the museum, among many others.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is open for visits and as a common field trip destination, you can add this one to your list. Purchase tickets ahead of time; the museum is utilizing timed admission to help with crowd control. They have a field trip guide you may wish to check out, too.
Some of the other usual Lincoln attractions aren’t fully open right now but you can take a stroll through the Lincoln neighborhood, which is a National Park Service site. The Lincoln Home, among other buildings, are currently closed though. The Illinois State Museum is open, offering free admission as of the fall of 2020 and requiring timed entry tickets to be reserved ahead of time.
This makes a great afternoon field trip, with their 1-5 p.m. hours, Tuesday-Saturday. Submit your requests for timed admission — which is free — here.
A popular field trip destination for early elementary students, Miller Park Zoo is ready for you. Simply show up (no more timed reservations). Head to the back of the zoo to see the tiger, enjoy the wallaby walkabout and don’t miss the otter feeding!
Purchase tickets ahead of time and reserve a time to show up online. We love the penguins here and the many, many goats, too. Plan a virtual field trip with the virtual visits on their site, if you wish. Also, free Thursdays continue through Oct. 8 so this definitely fits the description of budget-friendly! (You still have to reserve your time ahead of time on the site for free Thursdays.)
This medium-sized zoo offers some different animals, including GIRAFFES. Guests are encouraged to buy tickets ahead of time (but not required). They have a ton of resources for teachers on their website, so you can pick an age-appropriate packet for your child before your field trip.
Also, through the end of 2020, any Illinois K-12 student can receive free admission, Monday-Friday. Must show proof of school, such as school ID or if homeschool (or without a school ID), any type of documentation showing they are a student in Illinois will work. Call the zoo with questions. Accompanying parents and non-school age children will pay a reduced price of $7.
Nature-Focused Field Trips
We hear that Anita Purves could be open soon, just in time to view the fall foliage from their great bird-watching room. You can go play at Friendship Grove or go on a peaceful stroll through Busey Woods.
If you’re heading out here for some nature time, this makes a fantastic add-on to your visit. Stop in to ask questions, learn about birds, or check out their amphibians up close and personal.
There’s always plenty to do at Allerton Park. You can make it a bird-watching field trip or a garden study, as two ideas. To provide some historical context before your field trip, check out this 20-minute documentary before you go.
Aptly named, Imagination Grove is a part of the Sugar Grove Nature Center and features a variety of natural playground options. An astronomy observatory and working blacksmith forge, too (no word on specifically when these special things are open right now so call ahead if you wish).
More of our favorite nature field trips: Clinton Lake | Sangamon River Forest Preserve | Moraine View | Lake Shelbyville | Kickapoo State Park | Middle Fork River Forest Preserve | Starved Rock and nearby Matthiessen State Park | Turkey Run
And our series of nature posts: Family-friendly Hikes near Champaign-Urbana | Walk Your Way Through Champaign-Urbana | Parks Minus Playgrounds We Love Around Champaign-Urbana | Kicking Off the Fishing Season | Family-Friendly Bike Trails in the Champaign-Urbana Area | 6 Places to Explore Nature with Children Near Champaign-Urbana | Camping With Your Family Near Champaign-Urbana | Where to Rent Canoes, Kayaks and Boats Near Champaign-Urbana
Other Unique Experiences
Located in downtown Decatur, this is one of only a handful of sculptured tributes to the African American Civil War soldier in the entire United States. Check it out at the 300 Block of North Water Street in Decatur.
Rader Family Farms in Normal is a popular field trip destination with the elementary-aged crowd. We know that many (if not all) of the usual farm activities will be happening this year, so get ready to play down on the farm!
There’s so much to love about Amish Country. See horses and buggies, go shopping, and eat some great food. We always have great conversations with our kids just driving through the farmland and seeing the clothes hanging on the clothesline as we experience how the Amish live.
Dr. Hiram Rutherford House – Aboard the Underground Railroad
A doctor in the town of Oakland, Dr. Rutherford’s most notable association was with the Matson Trial of 1847. General Matson, a Kentucky plantation slave owner, brought some of his enslaved laborers to the area where Dr. Rutherford got involved. Learn more about it here and visit the house on a trip to Oakland.
This Civil War-era home is designed to reflect today what life in 1860 was like. There are free weekend tours in the summer and early fall months; learn more here.
The world’s largest crochet hook and knitting needles; the world’s largest mailbox; and the world’s largest wooden shoes — this is a field trip to remember. Budget-friendly, mostly outdoors and definitely on the side of fun, you may want to add a day in Casey to your field trip list.
The grounds are open daily until dusk and while all special event programming is currently canceled, you can still wander the grounds and visit the visitor center this year.