There are things most kids can't see or do in an average classroom on an average day.
Seeing Up Chuck the turkey vulture — or Chuck, for short — regurgitate his morning meal. Identifying animal tracks. Watching snakes squirm, salamanders wriggle, turtles plod. Touching pieces of an actual dinosaur bone.
Those kinds of real-world lessons are the reason field trips were invented. But field trips can be expensive.
So these days, many museums and other attractions are taking their lessons to the classroom through traveling outreach programs.
"If the kids can't get here, we can go out to them," said Traci Kallhoff, education manager for Exploration Place.
The science center launched its "EP On the Go" program several years ago but began marketing it more aggressively this year, Kallhoff said, in part as a response to declining school visits at the downtown museum.
Because of budget constraints and an increased focus on "seat time" to cover material for state tests, students are taking fewer field trips now than they once did.
In 2006, because of liability concerns and a new law that required booster seats for children younger than 8, Wichita schools stopped allowing parent drivers and required buses for field trips. The policy more than doubled the cost of some field trips and prompted schools to take fewer trips.
"Transportation is the biggest issue" said Danielle Logsdon, education director for the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita.
"I talk to teachers and they say, 'It would be great if you could come out to us.' ... So when I noticed more budget cuts, I said, 'We need to get into the classroom.' "
Logsdon knew she couldn't pack up the Egyptian mummies or Ivan the T-rex skeleton and take them on the road. So she developed a series of lessons on dinosaurs, fossils and ancient Egypt.
"It's not the full experience. But this allows them to experience some of the things they would see if they came out to see us," Logsdon said.
The outreach program costs significantly less than a trip to the museum. A typical Museum of World Treasures outreach lesson costs about $5 per child — $1 less than field-trip admission — and negates the need for a bus.
Exploration Place charges $2 per child for its outreach program, compared with $3 to $8 per child for museum visits.
Sharon Bateman, who co-directs an after-school program at Benton Elementary School, booked "EP On the Go," for several visits to the latchkey program this spring.
"It's definitely a good alternative," she said. "The kids get to experience a lot of new things, and of course the hands-on (activities) —you can't beat that."
Last week, Benton students learned to identify various animal tracks, then made casts of some tracks out of air-dry clay.
"We like there to always be something they can take home," said Kallhoff, the education director.
Museum officials hope children also go home talking about what they've seen and learned, and perhaps ask their parents whether they can visit the museum. Many attractions include passes for free or discounted admission with their classroom lessons.
"If we can ooh and ahh them just a little bit, it blossoms into, 'I did this' and 'We saw that.' And maybe they'll talk to a friend or to Mom and Dad," said Joyce Lent, a naturalist at the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita.
Even free attractions like the nature center have noticed dwindling field-trip crowds over the past few years. Lent, like others, says transportation costs are to blame.
For several years now, naturalists have booked "critter visits" at area schools, taking animals such as possums, hawks, owls, snakes, turtles and Chuck the turkey vulture into classrooms to give kids an up-close look at nature.
"We talk about animal habitats and behaviors, and the kids just love it," said Lent, a former classroom teacher.
"For so many of the kids, their experience with being outdoors is pretty much the space between the bus and their house," she said. "You can do your book learning in the four walls of a classroom, but it's not the same as having a personal experience."