Educational Field Trips for the Family, All Across Florida
By Saundra Amrhein
Like many homeschooling moms, Janne LoFaro of Holly Springs, N.C., never misses an opportunity to turn an excursion into an educational adventure for her 9-year-old daughter. For instance, picking strawberries is a chance to learn about bees and pollination; road trips in the car include educational DVDs.
Among the nearly two million home-educated children and their families in the United States, Florida proves to be not only a vacation destination, but also a virtual classroom – where parents combine leisure time with learning opportunities at museums, aquariums, wildlife refuges, historic sites and theme parks.
There are many places for educational field trips in Florida that cater to homeschooling families through elaborate educational materials and programs that give students behind-the-scenes, hands-on experience, self-guided tours, and special rates on admission tickets.
“I heard they had great discounts,” LoFaro said about LEGOLAND. That’s a big bonus, she added, for homeschooling families who carry their own costs for curriculum materials at home. LoFaro started a homeschooling group five years in her home county for homeschooling families to share information on events, tours and classes. It quickly grew to 135 families.
She and her husband plan to surprise their daughter with the trip to LEGOLAND, an interactive theme park with educational programs that have a strong focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM).
“She’s all into the LEGO Friends,” Janne said.
During the Florida vacation, they also plan to seek out museums and possibly an aquarium to add to their daughter’s learning experience. Meanwhile, given her daughter’s current study of space and science, Janne was already planning their next vacation destination: the Kennedy Space Center.
“You gravitate to what their interests are,” she said.
Here’s a list of some opportunities for educational field trips in Florida, organized by region of the state:
- National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola: This military and aerospace museum features a Flight to Excellence (FTE) educational field trip that incorporates educational IMAX movies and Teachers’ Walking Tour guides. The National Flight Academy also brings students aboard its simulated aircraft carrier to plan and carry out missions. For more information, visit: http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/ (Note: Admission to the museum is currently limited to Department of Defense ID cardholders and their guests, and veterans with a Veterans Health Identification Card.)
- Apalachicola Maritime Museum, Apalachicola: This museum, providing a gateway into the rich and diverse history of the three rivers forming Florida’s largest, the Apalachicola River, offers hands-on educational programs, from sailing to boat-building and restoration to historical tours and eco-tours. For more information, visit: http://ammfl.org/
- The Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine: This 15-acre waterfront park sits at the heart of the area explored by Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 and is the original site of the settlement of explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565 – making St. Augustine the oldest European settlement in the United States. Visitors can explore a replica of a Timucua village and a reconstruction of the First Mission Church of Nombre de Dios, originally built in 1587 on the grounds. For more information, visit: http://www.fountainofyouthflorida.com/
- Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, Flagler Beach: This 150-acre park is a relic of the former prominence of sugar plantations in East Florida. Destroyed in 1836 during the Second Seminole War, the once thriving Bulow Family plantation had grown sugar cane, cotton, rice and indigo. The park holds remnants and ruins of the former plantation, spring house, wells, the crumbling foundations of the plantation house, slave cabins and sugar mill ruins, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. For more information, visit: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Bulow-Plantation.
- LEGOLAND Florida, Winter Haven: With more than 50 rides, shows, attractions and a water park, this interactive theme park on 150 acres has STEM-focused educational programs – from building solar-powered cars to programing LEGO robots to rescue the rover on a mission to Mars – and also offers discounted tickets for designated “Home School Days” as well as educational resource guides for self-guided tours. For more information, visit: http://florida.legoland.com/
- Walt Disney World, Orlando: The Disney parks provide a broad spectrum of educational programs and guided field studies, from Applied Sciences to Liberal Arts, Environmental Studies and Leadership Development. Students get a chance to help solve conservation challenges; explore physics through thrilling attractions; meet marine biology professionals; or participate in dancing, acting and other performance arts workshops. For more information, visit: http://www.disneyyouth.com/our-programs/
- Gatorland, Orlando: With thousands of alligators and crocodiles, a petting zoo, zip line and free-flight aviary, this park offers a bevy of hands-on educational field trip opportunities, as well as close-up encounters with alligators, snakes, tarantulas and more. For more information, visit: http://www.gatorland.com/
- Kennedy Space Center: In addition to Camp Kennedy Space Center with its strong STEM emphasis, the center also has ongoing educational programs where students can explore the Apollo/Saturn V Center, meet astronauts, watch 3D IMAX films, strap into a Shuttle Launch Experience and see historic rockets. What’s more, the center also offers a special day for homeschooling families one day a year. For more information, visit: https://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium: At the home of movie-famous Winter the dolphin where the mission is rescue, rehab and release, there are loads of educational programs, from workshops on animal training; to science camps on ecosystems; to camps and field trips that include snorkeling in sea grass beds, kayaking through estuaries, SCUBA, and meeting the aquarium’s rescued residents. For more information, visit: http://www.seewinter.com/
- MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Tampa: With its more than 450 interactive exhibits on space and astronomy, technology, robotics and gaming, MOSI lets families explore everything from the night sky in Saunders Planetarium; to what it feels like to live on the moon in Kids in Charge! – the largest children’s science center in the nation – to building anything from robots to cities in Imagination Playground, to hands-on 3D printing, and riding a bicycle on a cable 30 feet in the air. For more information, visit: http://www.mosi.org/
- Sanibel Island: About 20 miles southwest of Ft. Myers, this island of white-sand beaches and crystal blue waters is a nature lover’s dream and a natural classroom to learn about wildlife. It is home to both the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW, which is a teaching hospital and visitor education center focused on saving wildlife through state-of-the-art veterinary care, research, conservation medicine and education. For more information, visit: http://www.sanibelisland.com/
- Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Naples: On 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters, visitors can learn about some of the 150 species of birds, threatened and endangered animals that thrive in this estuarine environment. Among educational programs and opportunities are field trips that are geared to classes and students focused on marine biology, chemistry, environmental science, oceanography and general biology. For more information, visit: https://rookerybay.org/
- Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples: At this two-story, 30,000-square-foot cultural institution and hands-on learning center, children can become a weather forecaster, chef, farmer, architect, artist, and veterinarian; explore the cold of an igloo, and the sound of the sea. Educational programs include workshops for homeschooling families, on past topics such as the science of snow; investigating the brain and the science of emotion; and an entertaining look at Newton’s Laws of Motion. For more information, visit: http://www.cmon.org/
- Deering Estate at Cutler, near Miami: This 444-acre preserve and historic site holds a prehistoric burial mound, a three-story wooden house dating to 1900 known as the Richmond Cottage and a three-story stone mansion. Home to what is considered the largest virgin coastal tropical hardwood hammock in the continental United States, Deering Estate is known as an environmental, archeological and historical preserve offering everything from canoe tours, butterfly walks and guided nature hikes. For more information, visit: http://www.deeringestate.com/
- Miramar Cultural Center, Miramar: Revolving around an 800-seat theater, this complex includes two art galleries, banquet facilities, rehearsal halls, botanical gardens, classrooms and more. Educational programming includes behind-the-scenes tours, performances, summer camps, and past master classes on everything from dance techniques to the fusion of Afro-Peruvian music and jazz. For more information, visit: http://www.miramarculturalcenter.org/
- Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, Florida Everglades near Miami: Visitors can learn the history of the Florida Seminoles’ resistance of U.S. government displacement and survival in the Everglades; take in the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum; follow nature trails throughout the 60-acre cypress dome to a living village; explore 2,200 acres of untamed Everglades on airboat and swamp buggy rides during the Billie Swamp Safari; or attend rodeos and reenactments of the Second Seminole War. For more information, visit: http://www.floridaseminoletourism.com/