One spring day we met up with some homeschool friends and went to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, arguably the best, hands-on, science museum for kids in the US. This was their annual FREE Day, and it was packed with kids, both school groups and homeschoolers. Kids everywhere were having a great time, practically bouncing from one display to the next, always calling each other to show off the next cool thing.
I saw a boy, probably about 11 or 12, come up to one of the displays next to me, and he started moving the parts and playing with it. His mother came up and quickly read the little placard that explained the science, and then she began quizzing him. His demeanor immediately changed, his face fell, his shoulders visibly slumped, he sighed and answered her in a monotone, uninterested way. He then saw something else interesting and walked over to it, and the scene repeated. I felt so bad for him. I'm sure his mother was trying to be a good homeschooling mom, trying to make sure her son was learning by quizzing him, but her efforts were simply killing any interest he had.
That scene has stuck with me, and ever since I make sure to allow my kids to explore without my agenda when we go on field trips.
Instead of quizzing or directing them when we are someplace like a museum or zoo, I follow them, let them choose where to go, and I get interested for myself. I wonder out loud about what I am seeing. I comment on what I like or what I didn't know before.
If I feel they are going too fast and not looking at anything for more than a moment, I kindly tell them I'm not finished there yet, and request that they wait a bit. Then they might look a little closer at things while they are waiting for me.
The results, over about a year of intentionally doing this, is that my kids now read the placards themselves and talk about whatever they are seeing, they wonder out loud, they say how they didn't know that, or that they did know that - and then add even more that they know about it.
We have short conversations, long conversations, and a great time, as long as I look at it as we are all learning together instead of me being the boss of learning.
Now, they don't read about every animal or display, just those that interest them, and that is ok, as we can always go back again and find more to explore. They find their favorites this way, and learn deeply about a few, and others they just skip altogether (none of us have ever enjoyed gorillas LOL).
So next time you take your kids on a field trip, hang back, don't quiz them, allow them to become interested in their own way. Instead of leading them around a museum, or giving them "animal bingo" cards to complete at the zoo, lead them by example, show genuine interest in things yourself, be engaged and have fun, and I bet it will rub off.