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Overnight Trips, Practical Life learning

In children’s house, young children receive specific lessons on such things as how to pour water, systematically clean surfaces, or care for a living plant. Elementary students build upon the practical life skills by taking care of jobs in their classroom and around the school. Pets are fed, pencils are sharpened, compost and recycling are properly discarded, the floor is swept and the environment is loved. The overnight trips add a strong dose of independence to daily practical life learning. The trips act as a capstone experience to each elementary year.
In upper elementary, the ‘big trip’ planning involves three months of learning about the destination, preparing to travel, as well as helping plan parts of the trip. The curriculum covered civics, the history of Washington DC and the significant sites. On Tuesday, we had our first ever Washington DC Expo. It was a great success! Children presented topics of interest in various persuasive communication styles. Letters, speeches, petitions, political cartoons and zines were created, drafted and redrafted. We learned that children feel passionately about topics such as gay marriage, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the right to listen to music in school, and gun control, to name a few. This week, students also met within travel groups, talked about museums and places of interest, then collaboratively mapped out a specific travel plan for Tuesday and Wednesday. Furthermore, they have planned their food choices, started to make packing plans and prepared for time away from home.
Many would agree that students return from an overnight trip standing a little bit taller. These trips are a rite of passage for students at Lexington Montessori School. Each level’s trip builds upon the previous. The lower elementary students will return from 2 nights away at the URI Outdoor Education trip this Friday. They will be tired, excited and have many stories to tell. On Monday, the upper elementary class will return from 4 nights and 5 days in Washington DC. They too will be exhausted and probably talk about ‘bunk time’ as a highlight of the trip. The middle school students traveled to Puerto Rico earlier in the year; they practiced their Spanish speaking skills by being immersed in a Spanish culture, worked closely with the Nueva Escuela Ponce de Leon, and managed to have some warm weather fun. Teachers and chaperones for each of these trips prepare themselves to be able to provide gentle nurturing and proactive guidance.   Our goal is to help children feel capable, independent, safe and loved during the extended learning experience.
The overall goal of the school travel is to provide children with a real life situation where they can come away recognizing and appreciating his or her ability to make a meaningful contribution to a community. That may mean that students practice self care as an important group member, or that they take patiently care for each other, or that they experience and think about caring for a greater world community.
Many may also agree that the hardest part of an overnight trip is for a parent. They practice waving farewell and giving their child a subtly-heart breaking, supportive smile, as he or she takes one of many steps towards becoming a joyful, independent person.

- Tara Hartley, Upper Elementary teacher