Once a month, I take a group of kids on outdoor adventures. These trips are designed to get kids outside hiking. The trips are sponsored by a group called Inner City Outings (ICO). ICO partners with the Sierra Club, REI and others to offer these trips to kids that normally wouldn’t have opportunities to hike and enjoy nature. They provide the snacks and any equipment that may be needed. It’s a great opportunity to get to know kids and take them on fun adventures.
In March, we went to Governor Nelson State Park, a small park on the north shore of Lake Mendota. I didn’t quite know what to expect on this trip as I had never been to the park. I didn’t prep the kids on what they would see, but I did tell them to bring binoculars if they had them. What happened when we got there was truly unexpected.
On the way into the park, a second grader name Jane pronounced, “It looks like Africa.” For a second, I was stunned. Then, I realized that she was right. The park’s landscape is oak savannah, which in March, does look surprisingly like the African savannah. The grasses are matted down and gray. There’s no green anywhere. And scattered about the landscape are huge trees, in this case oak trees.
Her statement told me a lot about Jane. First, Jane is an observant second grader. She’s looking all the time. While she had never been to Africa, she remembered an image of Africa in a book and was able to make a connection – a significant connection – to what she was actually experiencing. Second, Jane is likely a visual learner. If I see that she is struggling with language (she’s an ESL learner), I can try using visuals to help her learn.
The comment also points to the value of taking kids on field trips. I believe that Jane is going to remember this connection for a long time, if not forever. I remember the field trips that I went on as a kid: The Milwaukee Zoo, Cave of the Mounds and the Milwaukee Museum. I don’t remember much else about my elementary school days, but those trips are etched in my mind. I didn’t get to travel much as a kid, so to get out of town and see something new was a really big deal.
I also experienced a similar moment when I finally saw a glacier in person, after first seeing one in a book in fourth grade. Standing at the foot of the glacier, I felt that connection was complete. While I don’t know if Jane felt the same way, I do know that something clicked in her mind in that moment. She saw something in real life that she had seen in a book. She had a positive “mind” moment when something she had read about became real. I believe that this experiential learning is critical for kids, especially for kids with few opportunities. Who knows? That one trip could ignite a thirst to seek out other things she sees in books.
I’m grateful that I can offer these opportunities to kids and I can’t wait to go on the next trip.