Saturday, June 20, 2009

better late than never

Wednesday was Erin's final field trip of the year. I've been meaning to chaperone a field trip with her class for the past two years but that always involved taking a day off of work or finding childcare for the twins on one of my usual days off and neither of those things are very easy to do, generally. But when I got the notice for this trip I realized I needed to be sure to some arrangements this time.

Erin's entire village and another entire K/1 village (three classes per village, 60 kids per village) were all going to the zoo today, and there was a request for 30 chaperones, one for every 4 kids. Getting volunteers is never a problem. In fact, there were so many volunteers this time that they turned a number of them down. I suspect that I was chosen because Erin's teacher knows that I had never come along before.

My group of four included Erin, naturally, and three other first graders whom I already knew pretty well. My group, waiting to board the bus:

When we went out to the front of the school the teachers and the principal kind of gathered together and talked and no one was boarding. A few minutes later, still no one was boarding. And a few minutes after that, we were still standing there.

Apparently, two of the 5 buses reserved (a grade 2/3 village had a field trip that day too) had broken down and the replacements sent were smaller than the ones reserved, so suddenly there wasn't room for everyone. That was an interesting problem to see since the entire rest of the school district finished for the summer the previous week. There should have been plenty of buses available to fill our needs. So most of the many parents got together and carpooled in private vehicles while a few "lucky" ones like myself rode on the buses with the teachers and kids as originally planned.

I never was a bus rider to school but I did ride them on many junior high marching band trips, and lemme tell ya, nothing has changed. The vinyl seats with brown duct tape repairs, the barely functional windows, the dried gum everywhere, the smells, the drivers who look like they are on step 8 of some kind of 12 step program, the noise, the lack of adequate suspension, the rattling. In fact, I think these were the very same buses I rode on as a kid.

When we arrived at the zoo we had a special lecture with some keepers in an amphitheatre sort of place. The keepers brought out a few animals and talked and answered lots of questions.

And unlike field trips I remembered, we didn't have to shuffle around the zoo en masse with Erin's village or even with Erin's class. Instead, each chaperone took their four kids and was free to roam the zoo as they wished, catering the experience to what the kids wanted to do, stopping for lunch when and where we felt like it, since each kid brought a sack lunch and I carried them all in a backpack. That was great.

We had a map and the kids got busy studying it and off we went. "G" I'll call her, the other girl in my group, was insistent that we go see the Meercats. Okay, G, no problem, but they are all the way on the other side of the zoo and we'll get their eventually but let's work our way over there by stopping to see other things on the way, I reasoned. This satisfied her for a few minutes at a time, but that I had to repeat that logic to her at least 10 more time in the next 2 hours.

As we went from exhibit to exhibit I thought I'd try to challenge the kids:
"On what continent would we find these animals?" because on the exhibit signs they showed the native continents as an unlabeled silhouette and the specific region highlighted in red. Too obvious.
I asked them if they knew what "nocturnal" meant. They knew.
I asked about omnivores vs herbivores vs carnivores. They knew.
The characteristics of mammals? They knew.
I asked if they knew what a predator was. WAY too easy.
"Did you know that birds are closely related to dinosaurs? In fact, many scientists will say that they are dinosaurs?" Not challenging either. Okay, so, apparently, the big section they just completed in class about animals was pretty thorough. I tried.

G: "When can we see the Meercats?"

As we wandered we encountered other groups from school and the kids would quickly chat and compare notes on what had been seen, what was up ahead or what was just passed, and then my group would emerge from those conversations with a new sense of urgency to find the next cool thing that their classmates just mentioned.

Finally, yes, we made it to the Meercats, and G got Erin to pose in Meercat fashion with her for a picture.

And as anticipated as that was, after about 30 seconds G wanted to move on.

The kids had fun looking at all of the exhibits, with some more interesting than others, but nothing was so captivating to them as this:

A reptile keeper hand-feeding a monitor lizard canned monitor food (who knew there was a market for such things? But there it was, clearly labeled). The kids sat there mostly silently for nearly 15 minutes. I think I have to get one of those.

On the long bus ride home at least half the kids fell asleep, and most of them very quickly, yet the volume level didn't decrease one iota.

Can't wait to chaperone more field trips next school year, though I think I'll volunteer to drive.

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