9 great field trips in the western United States

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By Dana Ticknor

One of the unique benefits of schooling on the road is the never ending opportunities for field trips. They are a fabulous tool for supplementing your student’s educational journey.

Factory tours are educational field trips that give your students the opportunity to be present, engaged and vested in the manufacturing process of products that we know and use.

Being onsite and actually viewing all it takes to bring an item from raw materials, to shelf ready products, leads to a memorable and enhanced learning experience where a student — or adult — is much more likely to understand, and retain, what they have learned.

Please note that most factory tours welcome photography in their welcome areas, but photos are not allowed on the tours themselves.

Here are some of the very best in factory tours for the area west of the Mississippi River (in no particular order):

Boeing in Everett, Wash.

Tickets for this 90-minute tour are not cheap, but this field trip is one of a kind! While in the largest building in the world, you can watch 747s, 777s, and 787s being assembled.

Your guided tour will begin with a short video explaining some of the history of Boeing, and then progress into the manufacturing plant. You will see huge jets being assembled while your guide explains the process.

Included in your tour fee is admission to the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Gallery where you can enjoy interactive activities including designing and building your own online aircraft. The center is photo friendly.

There is no minimum age requirement for this one-third-mile walk, but attendees must be at least 4 feet tall.

Boeing also has a museum in St. Louis that is free to the public, but only open during the summer months.

For more information about all the tours, visit www.boeing.com

Taylor Guitar Factory in San Diego, Calif.

This free, 75-minute tour of the Taylor Guitar factory is offered every weekday at 1 p.m., but you need to register with receptionist at least 10 minutes before tour begins.

This field trip takes you through all processes of guitar making, from wood selection to finished product. This tour does require extensive walking, and may not be of interest to young children.

For more information, visit www.taylorguitars.com/contact/factory-tours

Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Factory in Fairfield, Calif.

Definitely a favorite of kids everywhere, this free, 40-minute tour is offered seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Your guided tour begins with an explanation of what you will see, as well as a reminder that photos are not allowed on the tour.

You will view the jelly bean making process from a covered walkway above the factory floor.

Field trips during the week are prime as the factory is in production, and you can view the staff in the actual making of the sweets.

Tours on the weekends will view the prerecorded process on video monitors. Tours are great for all ages, they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and are stroller accessible. Yes, it includes free samples.

For details, visit www.jellybelly.com/california-factory-tours

There is also a Jelly Belly warehouse in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., where you can take a free 30-minute train tour.  Check that one out at www.jellybelly.com/wisconsin-candy-store

Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory in Brenham, Texas

This yummy tour is offered Monday thru Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. as needed, and on a first come, first served basis.

After purchasing tickets, you can view eight different educational DVDs in the tour center while waiting for your tour to begin.

On this 45-minute, guided tour, you will visit three different observation decks that overlook the production floor, and see parts of the ice cream making process.

Your field trip begins with the homogenization process, moves to the making of their fun Rainbow Freeze Bars and creamy ice cream sandwiches, and finally the filling of Blue Bell cartons with finished ice cream products.

Tours have a fee of $4 to $6 (5 and under free), and include a generous bowl of your choice of Blue Bell Ice Cream at the completion of your tour before visiting their fun gift shop.

Additional tour locations are at Broken Arrow, Okla., and Sylacauga, Ala.

You can find links to details on each location at cdn.bluebell.com/the_little_creamery/visiting_blue_bell

Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth, Texas

This fabulous field trip includes a 45-minute guided tour where students can watch U.S. currency being printed from a catwalk above the printing floor, watch a film clip about the bill printing process, and purchase some fun money-themed gift shop items.

Tours are free, and offered on a first come first served basis from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. E to wait at least 30 minutes to pass security measures.

For more information, visit https://www.moneyfactory.gov/fortworthtxtours.html

John Deere at various locations in Iowa

Four different tours are available, at four separate locations, each showing a different aspect of John Deere construction. Each location specializes in the manufacture of a different John Deere large machinery product.

Individual plants offers an exclusive introduction video varying in length from 5 to 15 minutes, after which your guide will help you don headsets and goggles before you board the “cart” for your riding tour through the factory.

During the tour, you will stop in various areas of the factory where your guide will explain that particular process in the manufacturing of the plant’s specific machinery.

Tours are for ages 13 and up and last up to 1.5 hours each. Reservations are to be made 48 hours in advance, and these free tours do fill up quickly.

For more information, visit www.deere.com.

SAS Shoe Factory in San Antonio, Texas

Stop in at the SAS General Store, where you can stroll through their gift shop, purchase SAS shoes, and watch shoes being made during the free factory tour.

This unique field trip is not just about the factory tour you can take, but a unique, old-fashioned “general store” experience, a nostalgic step back in time where you can purchase paper bags of popcorn for a nickel, and cups of soda for a dime.

Be sure to give the kids a handful of change for the peanuts, as well as penny candy.

Reservations recommended for these tours, which are conducted Monday through Thursday and offered three times a day at 9:15 a.m. 12:30 p.m. and 2:05 p.m. Tours are free and last approximately 45 minutes.

For details, visit www.sasshoes.com/en/general-store

Tillamook Creamery and Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Ore.

Tillamook offers the opportunity to view their cheese making process through a free self-guided walking tour via an enclosed walkway above the middle of the factory.

You will view master cheese makers at work, and your tour is supplemented by viewing screens explaining the process.

Take your time, enjoy great photo ops, and try some yummy cheese samples, including cheese curds which really do squeak when you eat them.

It’s a fun stop and not far from the Pacific coast.

For more information, visit www.tillamook.com/cheese-factory/index.html

Hammond Candies in Denver

Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hammond Candies offers free tours of their candy making factory.

Visitors can see how their master candy makers craft traditional candy canes, colorful lollipops, and other flavorful hard candies, all by hand, from scratch.

Even if you can’t make it to Hammond, be sure to have the kids check out the tour video, as well as the “Kid in a Candy Store” clip at the link below.

For more information, visit www.hammondscandies.com/factory-tours-parties.

Dana Ticknor

Dana Ticknor

Dana Ticknor is the co-founder, along with her husband Vaughn, of the Ticknor Tribe, a conservative Christian, roadschooling family of 14 who tossed the American Dream for the "Our Family Dream" to spend more time together experiencing life instead of maintaining possessions. Follow their adventures at www.ourtravelingtribe.com.

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