“A field trip to the bookstore? What does that even mean?!” That was my initial reaction when one of our tweens proposed the idea during our annual “wish list brainstorming session.” I recovered quickly and realized it was actually a near-perfect suggestion. The trip would cost almost nothing. Bookstores are designed for browsing. And, it would be a great chance to promote group bonding.
After a couple of weeks of my own brainstorming efforts, we enjoyed one of our coolest field trips of the year! The key was coming up with a way to take advantage of what bookstores offer. I wasn’t really up for them wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes and then asking us to buy refreshments. I also didn’t want them self-segregating into small clusters hanging out in different parts of the store. Instead, I wanted to create opportunities for them to deepen their connections with one another. And, I wanted to keep it light-hearted and fun.
My basic plan hinged on creating a set of “book searches.” Each search required visiting a specific section of the store and finding a certain type of book. I gave them a few minutes to complete a search. Then, we found a nearby spot to re-convene, so everyone could share what they found and explain why they chose it.
Here are 10 of the most entertaining “book searches” we’ve used. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize the possibilities are endless, so feel free to add your own ideas in the comments!
Travel: Find a book about a place you dream of visiting.
Kids’ Books: Find a favorite book from your own childhood.
Biography: Find a book — either about someone you want to learn more about or about someone you’ve never heard of.
Parenting: Find a book you think your parents should read.
Cookbooks: Find one recipe that sounds delicious and one recipe that sounds disgusting.
Humor: Find a joke book and then find one joke to share with the group.
History: Find a book from a time period that interests you.
Art/Photography: Choose a book and find one image you love and another image you hate.
Crafts/Hobbies: Find a book about a craft or hobby you would like to learn more about.
Pets: Find a book either about a pet you already have or about a pet you would like to have.
A Bit More on Logistics
The participants for this field trip are between 10-15 years old with groups of 4-10 people. Youth groups, school clubs, and other troops are perfect. You can even design book searches to match the particular needs and interests of your participants. Their book selections always open the door to all sorts of discussions, and our kids are always amazed by what they learn about one another.
Successful bookstore field trips can easily be scaled up for slightly larger groups. If your group is significantly larger (like a classroom full of students), I would recommend creating smaller sub-groups so the sharing times don’t get too long or overwhelming.
There are also ways to adapt bookstore field trips for slightly younger kids. For example, you could spend more time in the different sub-sections of the Children’s Book area. Or, you could require fewer reading skills by focusing on book cover images rather than the titles.
Proper bookstore etiquette is a really important aspect of these field trips. Bookstores are not libraries, but they aren’t trampolining parks either. The two most important rules — that we now reiterate before each and every search — are Don’t Run and Don’t Yell. For some reason, perhaps because they are all heading to the same section, they quickly started racing! Similarly, each activity seems to elicit louder and louder voices. There’s no need for either; it just seems to be a natural by-product of having fun. We now do our best to prevent both behaviors before they get out of hand.
Other important rules revolve around how we handle the books. Bookstores clearly encourage browsing but, obviously, the books should be handled with care. This is especially true for field trips since you’re probably not planning on purchasing them. Truthfully, most kids already know this, but a quick reminder never hurts.
Finally, all books need to be properly reshelved. A group of five kids doing five-book searches quickly results in 25 books strewn about. Someone will need to reshelve them. Rather than assigning that task to bookstore employees, your group should take on this responsibility. Therefore, pay attention to where the book found is critical to returning it to the right place.
The reshelving task also provides some great teaching moments. In many stores, books are arranged by the author’s last name. However, many sections also contain sub-sections. For example, the History section might be sub-divided into World History, U.S. History, and European History. The Pet section might be sub-divided into Cats, Dogs, and Aquarium Pets/Birds. Travel sections are categorized into regions like Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Encouraging them to notice these details can help them select their books, and it makes the reshelving process easier.
This field trip generally requires at least one hour in the store, but the time goes by really quickly. We usually plan for at least 90 minutes, but some groups like to stay even longer.
Field trips often rely on finding a rather delicate balance between helping kids move out of their comfort zones while also providing an appropriate level of monitoring and supervision. This particular field trip is both safe and inexpensive. It also offers a rubric for kids to share a bit about themselves using the books they’ve chosen as props. This approach is especially effective for tweens and teens who often struggle with self-disclosure and articulating emerging preferences.
I will also add the caveat that it’s never totally free for us. We do buy refreshments at the end. 🙂
Disclaimer: Each country handles the coronavirus pandemic differently. Many countries are still on lockdown so please adhere to hygiene and social distancing guidelines where you live and make sure you take the necessary precautions.