Susan's Blog

Friday, April 20, 2007

Learning From Field Trips

Here is my column from this week’s Brookline Tab.

Learning From Field Trips

Susan Senator

“Edge of Town”

They say we learn from our mistakes. But do I? Let’s look at my history with Brookline Public School field trips just for the sake of good examples. I have been dealing with field trips for about ten years now; having two children in the schools makes that about 20 years; add to that my School Committee experience with approving field trips for five years, and you could say that I have been encountering field trips for much of my life.

I believe I don’t like field trips.

You see, all I seem to retain from past trips are their annoying aspects: the surprising, panicky discovery of the permission slip, weeks old, scrunched at the bottom of the backpack; the search for just the right amount of money; the question of whether I can go; the dread of bad weather on the day of the trip; the preparation of the 100% discardable lunch; the calculations of work hours lost to travel time; and the trip itself, usually crammed onto the T with all those kids and all those unsuspecting commuters.

Year after year, my son Max would bring home those permission slips, announcing the trips to the Gardener Museum, the MFA, the Science Museum, the Swan Boats, and George’s Island, with other invitations in between, to Berklee College performances, plays, Hammond Pond, Wolf Hollow, or even Fenway Park. Each time, I would imagine the hassle of squeezing onto the bus or train with all those kids, having to keep track of someone else’s child along with my own, the endless walking in the wrong shoes, the shivering on the ferry because of course it rained, and I would think, “NO! I don’t want to go! Why can’t they just stay in school?!”

And most of the time, I would nevertheless check off, “Yes, I will be a chaperone,” and not listen to that screechy, whiny inner voice. Why? Because there was another voice that would break through my self-pitying, lazy fog: Max’s. Every year and for every field trip, I could count on Max asking my husband or me if we were going to go, his wide blue eyes reflecting only that, the desire for one of us to shepherd him around.

Then came sixth grade, and a door slid shut, as surely and suddenly as the departing T trains at Park Street. There were field trips, but parents were no longer asked to go along. This was middle school now, and even though they were still part of Lincoln School, everything had changed. Along with Max’s new towering height was a soft but certain distance between us that made me stop – while he kept going.

Ben, my youngest, still has many years of field trips to go. Six years younger than Max, and as different from him as night and day, he has been making his way through Lincoln School with many of the same teachers, the same curriculum, and yes, the same field trips. The kindergarten apple-picking trip, where they map their first graphs of what kind of apples they liked best. The first grade Gardener Museum unit, where many of the kids are exposed to fine art and Medieval artifacts for the first time; the second grade George’s Island trip at the end of the year, where they get a feel for Civil War buildings and where they imagine they have discovered secret passages and ghost women.

Last week I (grudgingly) went along with all three third grades to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. There were more than sixty kids, plus teachers and aides, plus one third of the parents. We snaked down Route 9 in the clammy cold, and waited for a train that wasn’t too crowded. We stood until Park Street (well, I managed to sit for a little while), and changed trains for Harvard. But everything delighted those kids. Even the carnival-colored tiles of the station were cause for excitement. The crowded train with its sliding doors and electronic tones reminded my son of a favorite video game.

We charged through that museum, taking in musty dioramas and fossil displays. We touched a frog and a snake. We gobbled our lunch at 11 a.m. Exhausted, we clamored back, from train to train, to the school. My feet were killing me from wearing the wrong shoes. My back hurt. I wanted a nap. But I kept remembering how my reticent Ben had raised his hand proudly during the Jaws and Claws demonstration. And how he – macho little third grader that he is – had let me take his hand when we crossed the street. And that it was sticky and warm.

The door is still open. Thank goodness for field trips.


Ah. The field trip. I have 12 years of field trips under my belt. Not as exciting as yours or as numerous (one per year per class) but exciting just the same. The trip to town to go to the hands on science centre and then the trip on the ferry to a farm museum and the sounds of 60 sleeping 1st graders on the way back. The trip to the wildlife park the day after an ice storm where they ‘hadn’t got to’ sanding the walks. My DD is off with the grade 8 class for a 3 day trip – and the high school band for another trip – no parents allowed. Thankfully I still have a few years left with my son.


— added by lizziehoop on Saturday, April 21, 2007 at 3:41 pm

I get those darn slips every week it seems. Field trips make me smile though. In 6th grade I went to the Whole World Fair at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston with my tiny Catholic grade school. During the trip I had a pack of cigarettes in my pocket and a “boyfriend” had a flask of vodka. I kid you not. SIXTH GRADE! How my parents did not leave me at the curb after that debacle (of course I got caught by a nun who smelled vodka instead of Ring Dings on my breath) I’ll never know. I’m not sure the Good Lord hasn’t, um, blessed me with my girls in rather a sly way, if you get my drift. 😉


word ver? “FOOS Q” sounds a bit Soprano’ish doesn;t it??

— added by naughtycatholicdelinquent on Sunday, April 22, 2007 at 12:25 pm

I’ve done OK on the field trips I’ve gone on. (1 last year, 2 this year.) Parents don’t get to travel with the class, we have to drive ourselves.

— added by julia on Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 6:41 pm