Saturday, July 16, 2016

Notes from school Field trip - 31 May 2016

Field trips are the best! - I am interested as a parent, as a teacher, and as a desk worker welcoming a break from adult responsibilities.

I work half a day, and then drive homeward to board a yellow school bus headed to the Kortright Centre, an outdoor education 555-acreage space with 14 lettered paths. We drive clear off the Toronto map into Vaughan. Even though we aren't truly city families in North York, we are still urban-oriented, and car-culture oriented. We are probably more adept at recognizing business establishments and manufactured objects than we are with signs of nature. The intersections become more and more sparse as we approach through wooded rural roads. We take care of lunch quickly, and head into the least where we have no signs of cars, electricity, or infrastructure. There are trees and more trees, paths trod in, a lettered signpost where paths diverge - we could easily be lost on our own. 

We are warned of and shown poison ivy. 

Although it seems we are wandering, there are certain places to go for certain things. We are in search of insects to gently scoop up, observe for a time, and release. We spend long enough in the shaded leaf-driven area that even the adults overcome their squeamishness and distance, and crouch close enough to the ground to brush leaves aside with twigs, to follow the scurrying paths of small six-legged or eight-legged or multi-legged things. 

The kids are absorbed, flitting from place to place, brushing against one another, comparing specimens, showing, telling, sharing. My son and I alternately keep close to each other, and lose each other (though a few feet apart), and come together again. It's one of those pursuits in which each individual in the group has the same task, but it is essentially a solitary pursuit. 

The time stretches out - the more you look, the more there is to see. The sunlight streams in and out of the area, an insect bites someone, an insect escapes and is caught again, there's something to look at over there, and here, and there again. 

We seem to still have time, but we start heading back, and take a detour. On the way, a child manages to catch a blue butterfly, briefly. Then, it's a wild wild thing, and an adventure in itself when we go off the path and head straight up a grassy hill. As we reach the summit, we are in a field with tall grasses, brambles, and slow-diving dragonflies. There are supposedly grasshoppers here as well. The kids catch insects again, and I'm sure I see one I have never seen before, certainly never noticed before. 

Again, time seems slower out where there are no bells or announcements, but teachers still have timelines, and we head back for the long drive back to school. We have been out too late, and the parents are waiting. 

*So that was this afternoon! Was it an extension of the classroom, the way Forest Valley was, with outdoor centres, a facilitator-led classroom component, and a guided nature walk? No, but it was an experiential, immersive experience. It may do more for the kids in terms of deepening their appreciation for and interest in the natural world. It is a good trip leading into the lazy summer days, when you can make a project of something already in your environment. 

At Forest Valley, they may have learned more, but at Kortright, I think they may have experienced more. Forest Valleywas much more of a facilitated experience, while Kortright was more open-ended. A few kids voiced at times that they were scared, because they didn't know what to expect, and there was some discomfort in having to wait for a water break or a rest break that they pushed through. 

For my son and I, the Friday before, we had taken a walk in the neighbourhood and found 21 striped-shell snails, who we relocated to our back deck to watch them undulate along within a few clear containers. On the walk home from the field trip, he stops and crouches to observe some small living thing - a fuzzy centipede. Later, we release most of the snails back again to their damp leafy home under the hedges. We keep a few for our garden and give them water. We walk with our makeshift walking sticks on a familiar circuit of our choosing. In the past we enjoyed the backyard, a world unto itself, safely fenced in, but these days, we venture beyond the house gates, into the neighbourhood - we see kids from school, parents from school, a world opening up.