Field trips are a fun opportunity to give your students exciting hands-on experiences and the chance to see new things and learn outside the classroom. Kids love animals, so naturally, as educators, we want students to learn more about them and foster empathy and compassion. But the problem is that many field trip destinations that involve animals send the wrong message entirely. Seeing animals trapped in barren cages or being forced to perform silly and uncomfortable tricks leads kids to believe that it’s acceptable to bully those who are weaker than we are.

Countless schools still take their students on field trips that support animal abuse, without even realizing that they’re teaching the wrong lesson.

Compassionate teachers should steer clear of the following field trip destinations:

Animal Circuses

Animals used in circuses are shackled for their entire lives, separated from their families, and beaten by handlers, who must establish dominance in order to get wild animals to perform unnatural and uncomfortable tricks. Barbara W. Boat, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, advises against exposing children to animal circuses: “An industry based upon the use and abuse of wild animals has no place in either the education or entertainment of young children.”

If you teach younger children, check out our printable circus activity booklet to help explain why the circus is no place for animals.

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Roadside Zoos

Roadside zoos claim to provide educational opportunities, but most enclosures are small and completely misrepresent animals’ natural habitats. Animals’ normal behavior cannot be observed in such an environment because their basic needs aren’t met—so the experience is not educational for students. These animals are subjected to a lifetime of suffering simply to offer passersby a few minutes to gawk at them as they languish in enclosures.

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Unaccredited Aquariums

Trips to unaccredited aquariums are not learning experiences for students. Fragile tropical fish, who were born to dwell in the majestic seas, suffer miserably when they’re forced to spend their lives swimming in endless circles inside glass tanks. These fish belong in the ocean.

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Petting Zoos

Children who visit petting zoos often bring home more than their parents bargained for. Health officials indicate that petting zoos and farms are hotbeds of serious pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella bacteria, which can cause children to become severely ill—and some have even died.

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Orcas at SeaWorld are denied everything that’s natural and important to them—they’re separated from their closely knit families; kept in small, chemically treated tanks of water, which is the equivalent of making a human live in a bathtub; and forced to perform ridiculous tricks for food. Many students and teachers are speaking out against SeaWorld, and schools are canceling field trips to its parks—your school can, too. If you haven’t seen Blackfish yet, we highly recommend it, and we suggest you share it with your older students, too!

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Is Your School Already Planning a Field Trip That Would Exploit Animals?

You can help put a stop to it by speaking up.
Here's what to do:

  • Write a letter to or set up a meeting with your school’s principal. Encourage a change to the field trip in question, and include plenty of facts about reasons why such establishments are harmful to animals and how they send a harmful message to children. Check out the information above for help. Also, be sure to prepare some suggestions for humane field trips in your area that the school could take instead. Show your principal that there are plenty of places to visit that don’t support the cruel treatment of animals.
  • Get fellow teachers on board. Share the facts about roadside zoos, animal circuses, marine parks, and other inhumane businesses, then gather signatures for a petition to present to your administration asking it to cancel the trip and choose an activity that promotes kindness instead.
  • Set a good example for students. Let your colleagues know that there’s no shame in changing a field trip that’s already been planned—in fact, it gives you a chance to show students that it’s never too late to do the right thing and that no animal deserves to suffer for entertainment.

Were you successful? Let us know—we want to hear your story! If your administration is open to it, we can even help you work on proposing a school pledge or implementing a policy that would ban field trips to destinations that abuse animals.

Tried reasoning with your principal and fellow teachers and still haven’t had any luck?

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