We go on a lot of field trips in our class. I believe in the power of getting outside, off the school grounds, and out into the community. I really think that one of the things that separates children who succeed and children who fall through the cracks is the richness of their experience; when they come to a book, a math problem, or, heaven forbid, a test question that references an experience like going to a restaurant or riding on a train, the children who’ve had those experiences have an inherent advantage over those who haven’t. Their broader schema gives them a leg up when confronting new information. While as teachers we don’t generally have it in our power to take children on airplanes or ski trips, we can take them as many places as possible. When you’re out and about you are open to new and surprising experiences that may go well beyond the stated objectives of the trip. So far this year we’ve been to the art gallery and on community walks to urban and green spaces but our latest community walk may go down in the history of my teaching career as the best field trip ever.
It started out as a fairly standard walk. We were on the hunt for letters – on signs, graffiti, and in the environment. I handed out the cameras and off we went, pausing frequently to snap photos.
There were some hairy moments as there are always are when you venture downtown with small children. Walking sedately in the middle of the sidewalk is not the forté of four and five year olds. These adventures sometimes require nerves of steel.
We were making our way back to school, crossing over the train tracks, when serendipity found us.
A train engine was chugging towards the bridge and, as it approached, the engineer started sounding the whistle.
The kids started to squeal with delight and I found myself laughing out loud. Everyone was smiling. The train passed under the bridge, sounding its horn (please forgive my total lack of railway terminology). It was so loud that it shook the bridge. You could feel it in your chest.
One of the men on the engine got out and turned a switch on the track, waved at the kids, and hopped back on the engine.
Then they reversed back down the track with the engineer taking over the waving.
Once again, they gave our chests a rattle as they passed under the bridge. It was totally thrilling and it wasn’t an experience we ever would have had if we had stayed in the schoolyard.
So – please – be brave and take that class outside!