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Using Excursions to Teach History

Excerpt from Getting Started with Home Schooling Practical Considerations by Beverley Paine

It is possible to use a series of excursions as a basis for a unit of study on a particular theme or topic, covering a range of learning objectives. These can be complemented with additional activities, either initiated by the parent or generated spontaneously from the children. Such activities depend on the nature of the topic, but usually always involve using and further developing the children's language skills. This may include recording information, opinions or feelings, creative writing, conversation, discussion or re-telling others about their experiences. Other spin-off activities from excursions can include art and craft work, projects, scientific experiments and mathematical investigations.

Having a plan for a series of excursions can be as simple or complex as you wish. A list of objectives will help to guide you in your choices of people and places to visit, and the type of activities you will want the children to be exposed to.

Excursions offer an excellent alternative to learning from books. They get children out into the community, where they can observe people at work and leisure, and hopefully have the opportunity to participate. They break the monotony of home life, for both children and parents. Although they can be exhausting if overdone, one excursion each week or fortnight is easily manageable. Excursions can also be combined with other families. Bear in mind, however, that your children will prefer to play with their friends, and will be distracted by this need. It may be hard to encourage them to focus on the learning opportunities presented! Include opportunities for free play before or after the educational part of the activity.

Themes that lend themselves readily to an excursion based learning approach include history, geology, environmental studies, health issues, art, craft, cultural studies, employment, etc.

Allow yourself all day, especially if you are travelling some distance. Try to break the day up, offering your children a range of activities. Too much standing around, looking, reading and discussing can tire children very quickly. They will lose interest and learn to dread excursions. Visit a playground, go for a walk, take a picnic lunch. Allow the children adequate time to run around and stretch their legs. Morning and afternoon tea offer excellent opportunities to pause, or change the scenery. If you are in a building you have paid to enter, ask for a pass out, and come back later.

Where possible seek out places which offer 'hands-on' learning opportunities for children. Many places now do this, either as displays the children can manipulate to achieve an effect or obtain information, or actually participate in a skill, such as making pasties in a bakery, using an antique mail exchange and phone in a communications museum, testing water samples for Landcare.

The following carefully sequenced excursion plan was aimed at children eight to twelve years. It was designed to introduce the children to South Australian history.


Areas of the (then) SA Curriculum to explore:

  • Structures and Systems
  • Heritage and Change
  • Cultures and Beliefs
  • Space and Place


  • Aboriginal Life, Past & Present
  • European Settlement
  • Exploration & Exploitation
  • Political Systems


  • understand that Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants and that they continue to be a part of South Australian society: especially local peoples - Kaurna, Ngarrindgeri, Narrunga
  • identify ways in which present South Australian culture has been influenced by people in the past - Aboriginals, settlers, explorers, migrants; investigate reasons and effects; identify a range of people who settled and the effect on cultural practices in the areas they settled
  • take part in historical and cultural celebrations
  • compare things now and then - tools, people, environment, etc
  • discuss impact of Aboriginal and European settlement on natural environment
  • find information about the changing roles of women and children over time
  • arrange a time line, showing historical and important cultural events
  • find out about important South Australians, and what made (makes) them important - politics, exploration, welfare, cultural, mining, agricultural, scientists, etc.
  • investigate political systems and history, early British influence and support, role of minority groups, structures


  • Contact museums, etc., for information, opening times, costs
  • Gather theme support materials - books, videos (fact and fiction), audio cassettes; use local libraries, historical and cultural associations and societies, individuals, local Councils

Support Strategies:

  • scrap-book record of visits, including pamphlets and information, photographs, personal reflections, issues discussion
  • art and craft activities - models, dress-ups, dioramas, artefact making, practicing 'past' skills, etc
  • listening to and watching performance art - music, dance and recreating, making traditional cultural instruments, etc
  • reading stories, watching videos, TV, reference books


  • Tandanya - Aboriginal Women & Art; guided tour, notes, explanation of symbols, meanings, sacred significance, insights into traditional and contemporary art and lifestyles, exposure to a variety of art techniques
  • Adelaide Museum - Aboriginal Exhibit, dreaming stories, video and audio presentations, 'past' lifestyles, art display, artefacts, fossils, craft, music
  • Maritime Museum - Early European arrival, conditions of sea voyage, reasons for settlement, life of sailor (oral account), development of Port Adelaide area, recreational past-times of early European settlers, history of travel and emigration by sea
  • Buffalo Museum - replica full size ship, recreate voyage, first white settlers
  • Migration Museum - awareness of reasons for waves of immigration, varieties of nationalities, white Australian policy and effects and issues, effect of overseas wars, migrant life
  • Old Gum Tree - Proclamation of South Australia - what it means
  • Art Gallery - art over 150 years, SA artist, influence of landscape and living conditions on art in Australia over time
  • Old Parliament House Museum - development of Adelaide (photographic), development of political processes and construction of New Parliament House, women in politics, and the Temperance Movement
  • Parliament House - tour of both chambers, history, how laws are made
  • Talisker Mine, Yankalilla Museum, Rapid Bay - mining conditions and techniques, comparison to modern times, country life and settlement by Europeans, changing land use, focus on local history (including Aboriginal people)

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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