Thursday, August 13, 2015

Field Trips: Learning Through Experiencing

When I was in school, a field trip was a rare treat.  I think in eight years of grade school, I went on maybe five field trips.  When the boys were in school, there was usually one "big" trip at the end of the year.   The places chosen were generally education-based, but it seemed like they were more a day of "no classes but it counts toward attendance."  A lot of it was simply time constraints -- when it takes three hours to get to a place, and three hours back, there's only so much you can cram in while you're there.  Being homeschoolers allows us the opportunity for field trip learning.  We have a different mindset -- yes, the trips are fun, but we're there to learn, not "relax."  We've also found that it helps being on our own schedule - we aren't looking at our watches and trying to cram everything in by 2:00 to be back on the bus.  Sometimes, we only spend an hour or two.  Others excursions, like our recent trip the National WWII Memorial, leave us wishing we had another day!

Field trips bring learning to life.  Last summer, we had an opportunity to head up to New England for a short trip.  We crammed learning into every part of those two days.  On our first day, we went up to New Hampshire and explored the USS Albacore.  She's actually the second submarine with that name; the first is on "Eternal Patrol," having been sunken by the Axis forces in World War II.  It's one thing to say, "Every inch of space is put to use" on a ship, but it brings it home when you get to lay on the bunks and sit at the tables see just how used it is.

So that they don't need a space to store the game boards, the backgammon and chess/checker boards are laminated into the dining tables!

Later that afternoon, we headed up the coast into Maine and visited the Portsmouth Head Light.  Luke looked at it and gasped, "Wait!!  This is the light I just studied in my history book! The book said it was big, but it's really huge."  Seeing it in person, as well as the topography of the coastline, brought to reality just how important this simple tower and cottage were.

Andrew Johnson Burial Site
Our most favorite places for a field trip are National Parks sites.   To be honest, I have learned more in most 20-minute (or less) film presentations than I ever learned about in history books, and some change how we have looked at history.  President Andrew Johnson is often demonized because he vetoed a law that would allow freed slaves the right to vote.  However, what gets lost to history is the rest of the bill -- Congress wasn't any less sneaky now than it was then.  A proposed section of the bill that sought to instill a vindictive, military governance to  the south was what he truly wanted to veto;  however, the only way to do so was to veto the entire law.  He and Lincoln had discussed how they felt a Reconstruction should be handled, and Johnson wanted to uphold Lincoln's goal of "With Malice Towards None."   A statement that the Johnson Homestead ranger said really stuck with me, and highlighted why the parks are such a treasure. When we learn history from a book, what we learn is dependent on what fits in a book, and who is editing it.  When you visiting a National Parks site, it's a concentration in that moment in time, and from a perspective of giving you as much information as we know so you can learn both sides of a story, as well as the truth that often lies in the middle.

 Field trips aren't just about "history."  Sometimes they're a chance to see this majestic world and realize our place in it.  It is absolutely impossible to drive through the Smoky Mountains and not believe there is something bigger than you.  Many cultures believe that the presence of butterflies indicates the souls of the dead are near, and driving along the Cherohala Skyway and Blue Ridge Parkway, we lost count of how many butterflies floated by.  It's hard to believe that there could be any place closer to heaven. 

As we drove through, we couldn't help but stop at every pull-off to look over the land, and then climb to the top of the highest peak to experience the beauty of sunset.  

However, a field trip doesn't always have to be a long trek somewhere.  As I was writing this, Matthew reminded me I promised that he, Luke, and I would go out to see the Perseids. 

I downloaded a stargazing app that helps you identify stars.  We scrolled across the sky and found several constellations.  To the north of where we were laying in the yard was Pisces, and Luke even managed to add in some Latin conversation:

Luke:  Pices sunt.  Pisces nadant. 
Matthew:  Ita.  Duo pisces nadant in caelo.

(L: They are fish.  Fish swim.  M: Yes.  Two fish swim in the sky.)

Yep,  I'm impressed.  We love our road trips, but as Dorothy said, you don't need to leave your own backyard.

Posts in this series:

My Secret for Stress-Free Planning
Tip for Choosing the Right Homeschool Curriculum
Grading When There Are No Tests 
Field Trips: Learning Through Experiencing
Click the image to see a list of all 55 bloggers participating in the Hop. See how they plan for the Back-to-Homeschool season.

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