Monday, April 18, 2011

Field Trips: Are They Worth the Trouble?

            Taking Babygirl out in public can be a very tricky event.  If she finds herself in a crowd (which can be 3 people in an elevator), she has a panic attack.  I can tell these attacks are coming on because she suddenly stops listening to anything I may ask her.  She then starts saying, “Gotta go.  Too many people.  Gotta go.”  This starts softly, too soft to hear unless I’m listening for it, and then slowly increases in volume until she is screaming it at the top of her lungs and is completely inconsolable.  She will then decide to take matters in her own hands and try to leave the crowd in whatever direction is behind her.  If I’m not ready, she will be gone before I can catch her.  Even when I do catch her, she still tries to twist out of my grip until I have to almost physically carry her to the nearest exit or at least a wall.  So, is it really worth taking her on a field trip?
            Yes.  Yes.  Yes! 
            Babygirl needs experiences to learn.  I can hand her a book and get her to copy things, but if I really want her to gain meaning from something, she has to have experiences.  In my article, “Not Just a Little Adult,” I explain the overall philosophy of Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist and researcher of child cognitive development.  My daughter is between the Preoperational and Concrete stages, both of which tell me that explaining something to her may have some impact but she really to be able to use her five senses and explore.  With her disabilities, it also makes it extremely urgent that she experience things to understand them.  Field trips are fun, yet they also open thousands of learning experiences that a child could never learn through a book.
            In the beginning of homeschooling, my daughter had problems getting started (which I explained in my article, “In the Beginning”).  We didn’t have much money, but we had bought Zoo passes, so we started going to the Zoo at least once per week.  As a former teacher, I knew that if any field trips were allowed, they would usually occur on a Friday, so we did not go on any Friday.  I respected her fear of crowds and did all I could to ensure that our trips did not include a lot of people.
            Our city has a wonderful Zoo, and we could have easily taken an entire day to explore.  None of our trips, however, lasted longer than 2 or 2 ½ hours, and those days were rare and always with other friends.  My ideal trips lasted about one hour.  I bought some cards from Usborne Books which had information about different animals.  (BTW, these cards only cost $10.  If you want to buy them, I can give you our distributor’s contact information) 
            Before we left the house, I asked Babygirl what animal she wanted to see, and she picked out a card from the set.  (Before I had the cards, I just asked her to pick an animal from memory).  We went to see that animal, and when we got there, we read the information about that animal.  Of course, we saw animals along the way to our target animal, but once we found the animal and read about it, we either went to the play area or we left and came home. 
            I would never have done this unless we had a Zoo Pass, but these short trips helped on many levels.  Babygirl has mild Cerebral Palsy and she is limited in her strength and endurance.  It doesn’t take much to wear her out.  These short trips gave her the experiences she needed, topics which we could research further in the library or at home on the computer, and allowed us to build trust that I would not push her beyond her limits. 
            Besides the zoo, we took other field trips, as well.  We discovered that many museums in the area have “free” days.  Some of these are just a few times per year, but others occur every month.  Babygirl likes art, but not enough to enjoy an art museum, so we have not tried going to any of those yet.  We have gone to a local natural history museum, however, and that is now Babygirl’s favorite museum.   They are free on the first Monday of every month, which has been wonderful.  I have also found a local children’s museum which is free every day.  They have an entire western town inside an old armory for children to play in.  We spent many days there with our neighbors, who also homeschool.  They would dress up, rob the bank, stick someone in jail, play house by serving dinner, going to bed about ten times per day, and go grocery shopping.  For a while, they could even go visit imaginary neighbors in an authentic Indian tepee, though a leak in the old building caused damage and it had to be removed. 
            All of these field trips gave Babygirl the experiences which she needed to understand events from stories we read, as well as giving us topics which we could research later.  While my daughter does have some special needs which makes these field trips more essential than other children, all children under the age of twelve should be taking field trips at least once every week or two.  Unfortunately, most schools have cancelled field trips, even though research overwhelmingly supports the need for field trips in elementary ages.  Not only does it expose them to the natural world and natural consequences, but it also allows them to build excitement about learning which could never happen inside the four walls of a classroom.  Even if the field trip is a walk around the block, making a list of whatever sounds we hear, field trips are an essential part of any classroom.  Especially mine.

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