Environmental Education Field Trip Program
Maharishi Children's School, Washington, DC, 1986-1988
Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road
In the summer of 1986, the Maharishi Children's School's Early Childhood Program Director, Starr Stixrud, invited me to start a field trip program for the 4 and 5 year olds of this small private school in the Washington, DC area, which served children from 8th grade down to a parent-toddler program.
I envisioned and developed this program as one for the kids to experience intimacy
with the 5 elements of nature, with their 5 senses, in the context of the 4 seasons. I wanted them to develop this
familiarity with the world around them primarily for the sake of pure experience and for the love of it. In addition,
so that when they got older and studied these aspects of life with more abstract, intellectual principles, they
would already have a basis - - in a first-hand, physical-body, experiential way - - upon which to build further
understanding. I wanted to emphasize the goal of education, as I see it, of ensuring nurturance of process, connection, and flow within the students'
hearts and minds -- both within each student, among them, and with the world around them.
In the two years I was in charge of this program, I planned, arranged, and led 150 expeditions.
This program is an example of what I am talking about in my treatise Communities of Learning: A New Story of Education for a New Century.
Among the trips were going to natural places, doing hands-on arts creations, visiting a small airport and toured small airplanes, the city dump, the NASA visitors' center, historic re-creation farms, taking rides on a restored canal boat including going through locks, etc., etc. Surprising though it may seem, we went to only one museum in downtown DC - - National Geographic's Explorers Hall.
When I give slide presentations at education conferences, I often include photographs of the kids on these field trips. People always exclaim about what a wonderful way to have children learn about their world, and what IS that school that would have such a great program, and could their own kids to go there too??
In the first year of this program, the kindergarten teacher Kate Vetter and I took 10 five-year-olds on a field trip every week - - some of them all-day trips - - exploring all possible nooks and crannies and interesting people of our area. We didn't realize at the time how much overkill it was having the two of theml as their field trip leaders. This was one lucky bunch of kindergartners. At the end of that kindergarten year, the kids came up to Kate and me, very full of themselves, and announced to, "Miss Vetter and Lisa, we have decided something. We have decided we can go on field trips by ourselves. We have it all figured out: Shannon can carry the canteens of water, Jora will carry the snacks, Gabe will carry the Band-Aid box, and Matthew will pass out the maps to everyone when we get back to school. So we don't need you anymore." Kate and I looked at each other, giving the "thumbs up" sign of having done a good job . We turned back to them, and said, "All right kids, go to it ! !"
The photograph above is of that kindergarten class the fall after their kindergarten year together, on a field trip to Oxon Hill National Children's Farm, September 1987. The title of this photograph is "Showing off our mud -- boys' fronts, girls' backs." This was taken after these kids' year together as kindergartners, the first year of the environmental education program. When their 1st grade teacher received this group of kids for 1st grade, after the first week of class she asked me, mystified, "I have never seen such a cohesive group of children. What did you and the kindergarten teacher DO last year?" I answered, "We went on expeditions together every week, all year. We approached the program as giving the kids an experience of wholeness. We wanted to honor, address, and satisfy the entire range of their needs - - for emotional and physical safety, and for both structure and freedom. They became a real working team. And we all loved each other."
A significant factor for this program's exuberance was that I was NOT an all day, every day instructor, but rather a resource faculty. Therefore I was always fresh and strong when going to the school to join the regular teachers to take the kids on adventures.
Kenwood Neighborhood, Bethesda, Maryland.
Many years ago, local gardeners got shoots from Japanese Cherry Trees from DC's Tidal Basin
to graft onto their local trees. People come from far and wide to walk here and enjoy them.
Elinor Hall's 1st Grade Class at Oxon Hill Children's Farm, September 1987
After sliding down the stream bank
at Oxon Hill Farm: The 1st graders and Lisa:
"Showing off our mud: boys' fronts, girls' backs"
Many more photographs to come, including of the Kennedy Center in downtown DC;
a sheep farm, an airport, old-fashioned cider mill, etc.