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Planning Optimal Field Trips for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

5 min read

Clarke students enjoy a field trip to Dunkin’ Brands headquarters in 2022. With preparation, educators and caregivers can ensure that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same enriching field trip experience as their peers with typical hearing.


A highlight of every school year, field trips are an opportunity to shake up routines, learn in new ways and have a little fun. And for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, they can be especially useful.

“Field trips are so important because they provide children with real-world experiences,” says Katie Jennings, MED, LSLS Cert., AVEd., Clarke’s education director of mainstream programming. “You can try to recreate things in the classroom, but nothing compares to getting that hands-on experience.” Katie notes that since children who are deaf or hard of hearing are more likely to miss out on incidental learning, it’s especially beneficial for them to see life in their communities and get a sense of how the world works.

However, these varied environments and routines also present challenges to a child’s access to sound. Fortunately, with some preparation, educators and caregivers can ensure that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same enriching field trip experience as their peers with typical hearing.

Preparing for the New Setting

Planning and forethought can make the field trip go smoothly for everyone. Classrooms are known, controlled spaces that likely have already been evaluated for sound quality by an educational audiologist or similar professional to ensure the student(s) with hearing loss have high-quality access to sound.

Field trip locations have generally not been evaluated for access to sound, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “It’s important for children to see that some environments are trickier to listen in or can present additional challenges for them,” says Katie. “And we can take those opportunities to show them how they can adapt to them — because they will see environments like that again.”

The key is ensuring teachers and families have thought through every step of the field trip process to confirm all the details are in order.

Consider Travel and Logistics

“You need to look at it from start to finish,” advises Katie. “How will students line up for the buses — outside by class, in the cafeteria as a large group? Even for regular bus riders, the field trip bus is a different experience. How will they hear instructions during the ride? If a parent is driving a group of kids, will they wear a mic?” Thinking through travel and logistics can help teachers identify in advance any possible challenges and work with the student as needed to address them.

Plan for Equipment Needs

Whether the student uses school-owned equipment or their own personal hearing technology, make sure it’s fully charged before a trip, and any needed backups (such as batteries) are on hand just in case.

Share a Briefing Document with the Venue or Tour Guide

For field trip locations such as a museum where there is a docent or tour leader, it’s helpful to provide them with information and a brief handout in advance. For example, explain that the tour guide may need to wear a small wireless mic (provided by the school) or that one student may need to stand closer to them to hear better. The handout does not require extensive detail but should include that there are one or more students with hearing loss, the kind of devices they use and what sorts of accommodations can be helpful.

“The acoustics at museums or outdoor events can be a lot different. Preparing a one-sheeter can make for a more positive experience for everyone,” says Katie. She adds that it’s better to send it in advance so the location has time to prepare. “Usually, destinations are wonderful about these preparations and may already have accommodations in place such as captioning or, for exhibits that have audio but no screen, printouts which the students can read along with. As long as there is someone to support the location staff with any equipment, field trips can be both accessible and fun.”

No need to start from scratch! Download and customize Clarke’s sample handout here.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Anyone who recalls their own school days is familiar with how excited children can get for a field trip. But that excitement can be another challenge, especially for younger students who are more reliant on routines to keep them feeling stable.

“As much as you can, take away the unknown. Prepare them as much as possible for what to expect,” says Katie. “For younger children, that may mean having a social story for them: ‘We’re going to line up in the cafeteria first. Then we’re going to go on the bus. We’ll go to this museum — this is a picture of what it looks like…’

“For every routine you do, there are a bunch of mini routines within it,” she continues. “For the youngest students, it’s so important to break it down because they have more limited language. Something like lining up is more complicated than we often realize.”

By helping answer questions before students have them — where do I line up, who do I stand behind, how do I know which bus to get on, when will I have a snack — teachers can prevent plenty of unnecessary confusion. That’s beneficial for all students, but especially those with hearing loss.

Another issue teachers should be aware of is the need to preplan for any emergency procedures. Something unexpected tends to happen on every field trip — normally something minor — but when the unplanned happens, it can be overwhelming for any student. This is exacerbated for a student with hearing loss who may struggle to hear and understand directions in a chaotic situation.

“Whether it’s the bus, a movie theater, or a museum, it is important to talk to them about things that might happen and what to do to prepare,” says Katie. “You don’t need to dwell on it too much, but offer basic reminders for things such as looking for the exit signs and knowing where to meet your class if you get separated.”

Follow Up for Maximum Impact

The best and most effective field trips don’t end when the students arrive back at school. Katie recommends having students write about or reflect on what they saw on the trip through experience stories.

This can be a class activity for everyone, something done in a speech therapy session or something fun to do at home with caregivers. It’s a way for the child to relive the trip but also gives educators and families a chance to confirm what the child did (or didn’t) learn from the experience.

“If you don’t huddle up afterward, you could miss things that they either missed or misunderstood,” says Katie. “This activity ensures they learned it correctly.”

Field trips of all kinds are a vital tool in an educator’s toolbox. With a little forethought and planning, students who are deaf or hard of hearing can have the same educational experience — and importantly, the same amount of fun — as their peers with typical hearing.

Use Clarke’s Customizable Handout for Field Trips

“Preparing a one-sheeter can make for a more positive experience for everyone,” says Katie Jennings, MED, LSLS Cert., AVEd., Clarke’s education director of mainstream programming.

Customize the above handout and send it to your field trip site in advance.

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