Free field trips at Orwell Corner a big hit with Island families

School field trips may have been cancelled this spring on P.E.I. because of COVID-19, but Orwell Corner Historic Village found a different way to connect with Island students, by inviting their families to the site.

The program has been offered free of charge in June, with financial support from the P.E.I. Department of Education.

"Generally we open in May and June and we receive school kids from all across the province," said Jason MacNeil, site director at Orwell Corner.

"We weren't able to open until June, whenever Phase 3 started, so we lost the entire month of May."

MacNeil said the crew at Orwell came up with the idea of guiding families through the site as a unit, so they could maintain social distancing.

Shane Hennessey/CBC

The response from Island families, MacNeil said, has been great. 

"Roughly 1,000 or so through the site which is really good considering, generally like last year for example, we would have had about 1,500 kids in May and about the same or a little bit more in June," he said. 

"So our numbers are down substantially, but it's still encouraging to see that we managed to get 1,000 people out for this."

Shane Hennessey/CBC

MacNeil said one of the things families were "most excited" about was that the program was free.

"Not only were they able to get out of the houses and do some learning from home, away from home, but it was being covered by the Department of Education, which was amazing."

Connecting to curriculum

Over the last couple of years, MacNeil said, Orwell Corner has been connecting each grade level to their social studies curriculum, with specific visits for kindergarten to Grade 12.

Shane Hennessey/CBC

"This year we've condensed it a little bit more so that we have one kind of standardized visit," MacNeil said.

"But they're still getting little bits of each of the curriculum outcomes that happen from [kindergarten] to [Grade] 12."

MacNeil said it has been a bonus having family members along on the field trips, which usually doesn't happen. 

Shane Hennessey/CBC

"It's actually been beautiful, we've had families from Bloomfield, lots of them coming from west of Summerside and it really gives us an opportunity to raise our profile as far as Islanders go," MacNeil said.  

"I think a lot of Islanders have heard of us but there are lots that haven't been, so hopefully it'll raise the profile."

Hands-on learning

Angela Lawlor brought her three sons to the historic village, happy for a new experience after months of at-home learning.

"It's definitely been a challenge to find things to keep them engaged while they've been at home," Lawlor said. 

"We've utilized as many of the online resources as we possibly could, but to get them out of the house and do some experiential learning has been fun so this is a great way to do that."

Shane Hennessey/CBC

Lawlor said she and her family will be back. 

"Absolutely, the kids are having a lot of fun today, they're learning a lot," Lawlor said.

"They're hands-on with the animals and getting a lot of great experiences. We'll definitely be back."

More from CBC P.E.I.