Bike Park at Fort Tuthill, Flagstaff
The fourth graders were the most coveted for all of us lowly first through third grade peons. Not only did they have the only class pet in school (a hamster who escaped at least three times every year and seemed to mysteriously change color when it was “found”) but they got the coolest field trip. At the entry level grades, the excursions included the town museum, the post office, or some other local one-hour moderately-interesting academic-focused curiousity. By the time spring rolled around in the fourth grade, you got to leave town. With no parents (well, some parents were coerced into chaperoning), packed lunches, and a strange, exciting new city two hours away. But that’s not even the best part: after a day of barely interesting museums of 1800’s farm life, we got to spend the afternoon in a hotel pool complete with a water slide. That was what we had waited three long years for. Top off the day with dinner at McDonald’s (it was our closest one, a culinary rarity for most of us) and it was the greatest day of our academic life thus far.
I still love field trips. I chaperoned every one I could when I was teaching. We ate at ethnic restaurants, toured a Frank Lloyd Wright house, discovered Disneyland, even jetted off to Washington D.C. If there was a trip, I wanted in.
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment by middle school mayhem.
Kidding, of course. I really do enjoy them and I honestly think that field trips are one of the best ways for people to learn. You have to experience something to really grab on to it; feel it to learn it. Would you fly with a pilot who only sat in a classroom and never flown before? How about have your cappuccino made by a barista who had only looked at pretty pictures of latte art on Instagram? So should kids really be expected to grasp things by only being talked at and looking in books?
Nope; they need to experience more.
Bus Tour at Bearizona
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against books. Or teachers in a classroom: they are among the most important positions we have in society (and should be respected and paid a whole lot more) who work hard at opening up our kids minds. I am purely advocating for a good balance. And unfortunately field trips in a traditional school set-up are often on the off-side of that balance.
First, let me clear something up: I never intended to homeschool my kids. In fact, it was looked down upon growing up, questioned skeptically by fellow teachers, and dreaded by me, new “At Home Dad:” was I ever going have free time again in my entire life?!
But as we started to understand our boys, see their thirst for understanding coupled with a pure joy for the outdoors, we saw some potential. We toured schools: public, charters, Montessori, Waldorf and they were good. Some were great. But most had almost no recess, short lunches, and an increased focus on math. In Kindergarten. My five year-old son was going to get to school at 7:30am, come home at 2:30pm, and somewhere sandwiched between those seven hours of math they would eek out a 15 minute recess and a 20 minute lunch.
Nope. Not doing it.
This along with the fact that we had already tagged along with Lanna on a couple conferences where we discovered Denver and Northern California. Our family loves the outdoors, to travel, to explore; now we were going to lock ourselves into a school schedule?
Nope. Not doing it.
So, we homeschool. Yeah, I like to post all the pictures with dreamy tag lines like “Why not go to the woods for science class?” Or “PE today was balancing on a log across a stream…” Some of you are gracious (Thank you) and some of you might want to punch me in the face (sorry, not sorrry) but it really is why we’re doing this. Trust me, it’s not always so fairy-like and we do sit down and get after it: we have Kai reading on pace with the world’s first graders and he is doing math. Just not seven hours of it.
Meet n’ Greet at Bearizona
We also do lots of field trips. We’ve done a couple fun jaunts into Sedona, AZ to look at all the crystal shops and hike a couple red rocks and up to the Flagstaff bike park where the kids tested out some off road skills. We took a five minute tour of the local one-woman post office where we now live. We did a longer day trip to Bearizona (stop reading this a go there now. For real.) and drove through enclosures of buffalo that were bigger than our car and bears eating out of a giant elk carcass. The boys threw fish to otters, held an armadillo, and got buzzed by low-flying hawks.
And now they can tell you when the red rocks were formed, what “momentum” means, the name of the smallest flying raptor in Arizona, the target length of a skunk’s spray, and if black panthers are the same as black jaguars. They touched that skunk, rode bikes on a flow course, and ran around barefoot on million year-old rocks.
They felt it. And they learned.