Sunday, May 3, 2015

Whole School Field Trip

Rule number one: stay WITH your chaperone. Rule number two: BE flexible.

I admit to being a little nervous about our whole school field trip on Friday. I mean, every student, teacher and chaperone in our school adds up to over 1,000 people setting out to hike in the woods.  The odds are, something won't go according to plan. (I think I was probably reminding myself to be flexible with rule number two!)

Our bus dropped us off in a parking lot at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. I've been here many times--it's a great venue for a summer concert on the lawn at the Filene Center or to take the kids to a puppet show at Theatre in the Woods. All these years, I never realized it was actually 117 acres of national park land, complete with several hiking trails. 

So, here we are in the parking lot. At this point, multiple grade levels are supposed to access the trails at various starting points and different directions to help spread us all out. (Can you imagine 1,000 of us hiking together? Neither could Wolf took a while before they would return our principal's calls when we were planning the trip!) Where is third grade supposed to go? I look around in vain for the rest of my  team but my bus seems to have parked by several fifth graders. You all know I have a horrible sense of direction. I will insist I drove over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and it turns out to be the Roosevelt Bridge, which isn't even close.  Whatever, they were both presidents.  You can probably guess where this is going...I look down at the black and white copy of my map.  Why are my palms starting to sweat?  I consult with my chaperones and we decide to start on the closest trail and figure it out as we go. 

Once on the trail, I am amazed to find that some of my students have never been hiking before.  Besides getting lost, I was also anxious that it wouldn't take us anywhere near the 2 1/2 hours we had allotted to complete our three mile hike. I didn't need to worry about that at all! As soon as we left the asphalt lot and stepped onto the dirt path, these kids were transformed.

"Oh, a log!  Can we walk on it?" 
"Look, I found a flower!" 
"Check this out! There's a fungus growing here."

Thank goodness for my team of amazing chaperones. As we spread out, it was impossible for me to keep track of everyone. We stopped to look at insects, rocks, and the sandy bank of the creek. We put our hands in the cool water and squished through muddy spots with our sneakers. Sometimes we crossed over the creek on a bridge, sometimes we maneuvered across hopping from rock to rock. Occasionally, we stopped to take it all in--the vast expanse of trees letting us forget, for a little while, the suburbia just outside.

When we finally reached the field, we sat for our picnic lunch. Kids finished eating and began running around playing tag or rolling down the grassy hill. Our PE teacher brought out some balls and Frisbees and different grade levels began to mingle together in an impromptu game of soccer. Carefree and laughing, they were kids being kids. As one of my students ran by chasing down a ball, he turned to me. "I never want to leave this place," he said.

Too soon, it was time to load the busses. As we headed back to school, I looked around at my class, with grass from the hill in stuck in their hair and dirt on their shoes. "This was the best field trip ever," one sighed, resting her head against the window.

As we prepare to take our state exams, teachers across Fairfax County will spend the next few weeks reviewing curriculum standards, trying to stuff our students' heads with as much information as they can remember before the tests. I am betting we'll forget many of those facts by June.  I believe that instead we'll remember the sensation of the creek water running through our fingers, the excitement of overturning a rock and finding a millipede, the sense of accomplishment when we completed the trail (no short cuts!) and didn't get lost.  I agree with my student--it was the best field trip ever.


  1. That last picture reminds me of many pics we took with our field groups at Nature's Classroom! Looks like it was a great day! (And, Paul's right - best teacher ever!)