Fantastic field trips

Not all learning takes place within the classroom. Field trips can be a fantastic way for students to solidify or even expand their knowledge, as these examples illustrate.

Getting to know nature

When the Preschool and Kindedrgarten kids from Montessori Language Academy in Forest Park visited the Morton Arboretum this fall, they had sensorial experience of seasons and nature. They could touch plants, feel water, listen to sound, climb on the tree house during a nice fall day where nature and the playground were combined. Teachers appreciate the combination of learning and gross motor exercise all within the children’s garden.

Each year, PreK through 2nd Grade students at Da Vinci Academy in Elgin participate in a Humane Education unit. This year’s theme is Nature and The Outdoors, so the students went to the Morton Arboretum to learn about trees and their important role in the environment. The students enjoyed an educational tour through the grounds, plus time to explore on their own. “We were able to study how man and nature interact, as well as the relationships of animals and nature,” said Mirielle Strasser, PreK teacher.

Fourth graders at Lake Forest Country Day School (LFCDS) participate in the Earthkeepers program at Lake Forest Open Lands every fall. The program emphasizes hands-on learning about ecology and good environmental practices, allowing students to see first-hand how all living things are interconnected on earth, and how human actions affect the environment.

Students spend three days at Lake Forest Open Lands completing various projects in groups as well as solo in order to earn their Earthkeeper “K.E.Y.S.” Each key stands for a concept-Knowledge, Experience, Yourself, and Sharing. Students received the metal keys as reminders of what they learned.

Fourth grade teacher Kathy Morrissey noticed how engaged the children were in the process this year: “Our students were taught to stay in the moment, to really notice nature. They were reminded not to talk about other aspects of their lives while learning in nature. It helped them to get really close to the experience.” Mrs. Kelley especially enjoyed the fact that teachers had the chance to “explore with the students. We experience the wonder of learning with our students and seeing the earth differently. We are reminded to look at things with new eyes.”

The learning experience continues in the classroom daily, as students engage new habits, change their lifestyles, and share what they have learned with others in order to earn their last two keys. With their new knowledge in hand and the unique experience of nature fresh in their minds, these fourth graders have learned life-long lessons in protecting their earth.

St. Zachary School‘s preschool classes, morning went to Goeberrt’s Pumpkin Farm in Barrington. For some of these kids it was their first time to a pumpkin farm. The moms and dads and grandmas were there too. They watched a video about the farm and how they harvest their fruits and vegetables year round and when they start planting pumpkin seeds.

After the video everyone went on a hayride around the farm and through the pumpkin patches. When they got back they walked through three tents of exotic animals. The farm has a corn maze to walk through and some zoo animals to see. The kids even got to pick out a pumpkin and a couple of gourds to take home and the classroom got to choose a big pumpkin to carve. The kids liked everything about the farm, especially the animals.

St. James School first grade classes recently visited Pine Apple Acres in Huntley. They had an opportunity to explore the apple orchard, pick apples and learn about the importance of bees and the different apple varieties. First grade teachers used the trip as the basis for several science and language activities related to apples, including lessons about the importance of bees in the pollination of apple trees and other fruits, a discussion about the lifecycle of apple trees, and a visit to the science lab to dissect apples and examine them with hand lenses. Students also had an opportunity to taste several varieties of apples. The class used math skills to complete a graph showing their favorite apples. As a culminating activity, the students completed books about their trip to the apple orchard. They also wrote a thank you letter to the owner of the apple farm.

Every year the seventh and eighth year students from Brickton Montessori School travel deep into the heart of America’s Dairyland, spending a week living and working on the Volenec Dairy Farm in Loyal, which is near Marshfield. The farm is owned and operated by Bob and Sue Volenec, founding parents of Brickton Montessori School.

While at the farm, students are up at 5:00 a.m. to prepare udders for milking, attach the milk machine, shovel manure, feed the cows, and tend to the heifers and baby calves. It is not until 8:30 a.m. that they can think about breakfast. Then at 4:00 p.m., it is back out to the barn for the second milking of the day. In between, there are various farm chores to be done, bringing down hay from the hay mow, laying down bedding for the cows, replenishing feed containers. Some students even have a chance to milk the cows by hand, not an easy task. On clear nights, they can see the stars, and this year were able to take in meteor showers and a glimpse of the space shuttle making its way across the northern night sky.

Students from Park West Cooperative Nursery School visited North Park Village Nature Center for a day of fun. The primary purpose of trips like this is not necessarily factual information about nature, but rather to give some experience of being on their feet, on the move, away from buildings, among the trees and bushes, dirt roots and rocks beneath their feet (on established trails, of course), feeling branches scrape against their jackets, tromp on the boardwalk, through grass taller than a grown-up, sinking in mud at the edge of the pond, the puffs of the cattails, the flash of a red-wing blackbird, the geese coming closer to warn us away or ask for food, the knocking of a woodpecker that turned out to be a jackhammer from a construction site next door, the roar of a lion that turned out to be the Skokie Yellow Line. The combination of fresh air and anticipation of adventure made for an exhilarating day.

Acacia Academy in LaGrange Highlands is dedicated to community outreach and the socialization for their many students. A favorite field trip is to Acacia Academy’s own 2 ½ acre Nature Center. Due to the increasing concerns of Nature Deficit Disorders that are developing throughout the nation, students at Acacia offer field trips to other schools and interested parties of all ages. Acacia students guide visitors through water gardens, insect, wild flower and plant gardens, apple orchards, forested areas, outdoor sculpture displays, and “break-out” study areas.

Acacia Academy’s theme of “No Child Left Inside,” is also explored at the Morton Arboretum. The students scout out nature’s excitement and fun there while exploring the habitats and daily happenings around the Arboretum while hiking the trails. The students discover interesting interactions between wildlife, plants and more with hands-on investigations in the Children’s Garden and the maze. All of Acacia’s field trips are curriculum based and the students are prepared to gain the maximum educational benefits from their experiences.

Fine arts 

Kindergarten students from Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago visited the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to see and hear the “Mother Goose and More!” Concert, which introduces children to the best in music. The concert series inspired students to discover and hear about familiar stories (and some new ones) and learn about the composers who brought them to life. “It’s awe inspiring to be in box seats in Orchestra Hall and hear the CSO in person. Just think how wonderful it is to experience that at 5 years old.” Lynne Feeley, Primary School Kindergarten Teacher.

This October, the 8th-grade students at North Park Elementary School visited the North Park Village Nature Center to learn about local flora and fauna first hand as well as to create and photograph natural art installations. Prior to the trip, the students studied and discussed the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates outdoor installations using only found materials, such as fallen leaves and rocks.

Working in small groups, the students manipulated found objects to alter the landscape, and then documented their pieces with photographs. Before venturing into the woods, a Nature Center staff member gave the students a brief history of the area and mentioned animals they might see as they explored the more remote sections of the nature center. “The students produced some interesting and successful images. And, even though it was raining lightly, they enjoyed the fresh air and freedom of being outside in nature.” Ms. Janice Hovey, K-8 Art Teacher.

Grace Lutheran School’s 2nd and 4th grade classes traveled from River Forest to Naperville to see the illustrations by Mike Venezia painted on the outside of the Naperville Art League’s Fine Art Center and Gallery. They also met the artist. Venezia is the author/illustrator of the “Getting to Know” series, books for children on the world’s greatest artists, composers, inventors, and scientists. In the weeks before the field trip students had read many of the biographies of artists in the series and the children recognized many of the book’s illustrations in the mural. Students were able to buy their own copies of the books and Mr. Venezia autographed them. Cries of “Who’s got Calder? Who’s got Cassatt?” were heard all the way home on the bus as students read and exchanged the books.

As part of its arts curriculum, Oak Park’s Ascension School provides many opportunities for students to attend live performances of music and dance. The highlight of the music field trips is in seventh grade when students have a two part trip to Lyric Opera.

“We spend several weeks preparing for the opera trip,” says Mrs. Barbara Creed, Ascension’s music teacher. “We study the libretto, paying particular attention to the plot so that the students understand what they’re hearing. We listen to the music so that they recognize portions of the opera when they are at the performance. Then we have a tour of Lyric Opera. The staff at the Lyric does a wonderful job of explaining the opera world to the class and that helps build excitement for the second part of the field trip – the actual performance.”

As operas are performed in their original language, Mrs. Creed makes sure students can follow good translations of the more famous arias while in class. The students attend a matinee performance, usually for a presentation of an opera with which they or their parents might be familiar. In March, this year’s seventh grade will see The Elixir of Love by Donizetti.

Every grade at Queen of Angels School in Chicago visited the Art Institute of Chicago. The goal was to view the modern wing and see examples of the original works of art studied through books and projects. “As a third-grade mom, I was inspired as I heard the children’s observations; they saw so many things I didn’t see. And they were connecting what they learned in the classroom to the original works. What an amazing opportunity our kids have. ” Anne Marie Mitchell, parent.

When 5th graders from Saint Andrew in Chicago visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, they saw and discussed traditional and modern altars for The Day of the Dead celebration. The work relates back to their art and Spanish classes. In art, all students create a work of art to be placed on a school wide altar that is displayed each year in the front entrance of the school. Families and faculty also place photographs of loved ones who have passed away on the altar. In Spanish, students learn vocabulary that relates to the holiday.

Every day is a field trip at The Second City Training Center. Kids in Grade K – 12 are given Introduction to Improvisation – The fundamentals of improvisation as taught and practiced at The Second City, covering the concepts and skills of listening, stage presence, environment, and character through interactive exercises and games.

Community service 

Chicago’s Resurrection College Prep High School Campus Ministry conducted a Food Drive in preparation for Thanksgiving by collecting canned and boxed foods and monetary contributions in support of the food pantry at New Hope Methodist Church in Norwood Park. Religious studies teacher Kathy LaSorella’s senior level Prayer and Liturgy class organized the Food Drive and brought the food to New Hope Methodist Church.

At Resurrection, students are encouraged to serve others and develop into caring, compassionate and respectful while participating in a wide variety of service opportunities. Resurrection students are taught to recognize their ability to make a difference in the lives of others by answering the call to serve.

Students in Grades 4, 5 and 6 at Chicago Jewish Day School traveled to Care for Real, the food pantry at the Edgewater Community Council. Students toured the food pantry and learned about the needs of families in the local community and how this organization helps to meet those needs.

This trip was directly linked to a 6th Grade integrated unit of Advisory and Judaic Studies which combines the ideas of the Jewish response to hunger and poverty with a social action project addressing the needs of hunger in our own community. In addition, Chicago Jewish Day School families donated toiletries which students in all grades put together in bags with cards they made to be distributed to families from the food pantry. This was part of the second annual Tikkun Olam Days, two half-days of social service programs and workshops that all students participated in just before Thanksgiving.

Beyond Illinois' borders 

Sixth Grade students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Glenview journeyed to Camp MacLean, a YMCA Camp in Burlington, WI. At Camp MacLean students learn to enjoy the world around them. Through high ropes, wall climbing and adventure course activities, they learn about themselves and benefits of being part of a community.

Montessori Academy of Glen Ellyn participated in an overnight experience at Timber-Lee in East Troy, Wisconsin. Timber Lee involves both the teacher and the student in a direct, purposeful, hands-on experience in its outdoor classroom. Students in Grades 2-6 went on night hikes, studied the constellations and participated in orienteering classes.

The ropes course instilled trust, showed group dynamics and brought out the natural leadership qualities in many of the students. These qualities transferred seamlessly into the classroom. The bond brought on by the Timber Lee field trip enhanced the learning experience at school by defining the leaders, improving the group dynamics and encouraging an open mind to problem solving. The experience was punctuated by a more intense desire to learn that carried throughout the year.

Seventh grade students from Fox River Country Day School in Elgin traveled to Washington D.C. for a first-hand history lesson about our country’s founding fathers and the risks they took to provide a free nation. Their trip included visits to the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Smithsonian Institution, and more. They left with an honest appreciation for the freedoms and privileges that we enjoy as citizens of the United States. Eighth grade students traveled to the rainforest of Costa Rica, an ecological wonderland filled with rare wildlife, plants and ecosystems.

This capstone trip in their graduating year provided the perfect balance of environmental education, Spanish speaking opportunities, and community service work. Since our students have daily interaction on the school’s forested fen (part of 53 acres of natural woods), this trip gave them a perfect platform to see how a delicate ecosystem and the importance of protecting our earth’s natural resources.

Fourth- through 12th-grade students from Elgin’s Einstein Academy spent a week experiencing hands-on activities at Sea Camp in Big Pine Key, Florida. Activities reinforced their carious marine biology units. Teachers felt it was the best hands-on field trip ever, allowing students and faculty to share an incredible experience.

Unique destinations 

Students and parent chaperones from St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Evanston took advantage of a day off school to visit some unique Chicago destinations that broadened students understanding of the city and the financial markets that are based here. At the Chicago Fire Museum they learned about some of the major fires that have shaped our city and saw a landmark sculpture on the site of the great Chicago fire of 1971. They continued on to learn about Chicago’s financial markets, watching the trading floor from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Visitor Center.

Next, they visited the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, where they enjoyed seeing a million dollars and took home free samples of old money that had been shredded. The final stop was to learn about one of Chicago’s many diverse cultures with lunch in Greek town and a visit to the National Hellenic Museum. At the museum they learned about the cultural influence of the ancient Greeks and discussed Greek myths and legends. “Field trips like this enrich our curriculum by expanding on topics that we cover in social studies,” says Principal Gail Hulse. “As a small school we try to take advantage of the many cultural resources available in our area to enliven our teaching. We are lucky to have active parents who enjoy initiating trips like this.”

Students in all grades at St. Athanasius School in Evanston participate in various exciting field trips throughout the year. Grades 5-6 every other year go to Libertyville and experience paddling in a French pierogue, a type of boat used by explorers in the 1700s. Humanities Class 6-8 graders visit the new Holocaust Museum in Skokie. Grades 7-8 French students travel by Metra to visit a French pastry shop each Spring. Grades 7-8 PE students visit Northwestern University’s weight room each Spring to learn how athletes get conditioned.

After a month long investigation of trains, PreK students at The Compass School in Naperville traveled to the Naperville Train Station to see real examples of various types of trains. They were able to see commuter trains, freight trains etc. They explored the inside of the station as well, seeing where tickets were purchased, and where people wait for the train to arrive. The students brought with them clipboards so that they could make sketches of the things they saw while at the station. This documentation was used when they arrived back at school to reflect back on their experiences at the station. This field trip allowed the children to connect their learning in the classroom with real life experiences.

In the early fall the 4-year-old classes from St. Mark Preschool take a Metra Train Trip from Mount Prospect (to Norwood Park in Chicago. The students walk to the train station, and are given a special police escort when crossing Main Street. The preschool is usually able to secure an entire train car where they are able to choose either the upper or lower level seats and personally give their ticket to the conductor.

Once at the Norwood Park train station, the students take a two block walk to Norwood Park. On the way they pass a Fire Station and have been lucky enough to receive an impromptu firehouse tour, and even a visit inside a firetruck. Once at the park, it’s free time at the playground, followed by some fun parachute games, a healthy snack, and then storytime. The school’s director meets the students at the park with a car filled with games, sand toys, snacks and water. After about 2 hours it’s back to the train station for the ride home.

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