Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"You Raise Them To Be Independent"

You raise them to be independent, then you’re terrified when they are. ~My mom

The sailcloth of our Woodland Park community of children is woven from our day-to-day shared experiences: routines, expectations, rules, art projects, sensory table play, building, dramatic games, and songs. But every now and then we need to unfurl that sail and test ourselves by sharing extraordinary experiences, like field trips.

Occasionally, our destination requires carpooling, but the best field trips are the ones we can get to by either walking or taking public transportation, usually the bus, but when our new light rail link started running a few years back, we made an entire day of just riding the bus, the train, then the bus again. In fact, when I survey the kids at the end of the day, it's normally the travel they say they remember most.

Our maiden voyage each year takes place in October and is usually some version of visiting a pumpkin patch. As the big day approaches, invariably some parents tell me their children are nervous -- these tend to be the parents of the younger kids, and that makes sense. They've come to trust our school, but we can't expect them to have complete confidence in the stability of our little boat on the high seas beyond our safe harbor. Even more nervous than the kids, I know, are parents who are trusting the rest of us to bring their child back safe and sound, which we've been doing for well over a decade, but I know that doesn't make it any easier.

I look forward to field trip days, which typically come about once a month. Frankly, I enjoy being able to skip the usual set-up that goes into preparing for a normal school day, often taking the opportunity to sleep in a little. And I know I'm going to need to be as alert as possible. Being out in the world with 20+ preschoolers is a huge responsibility, even if they are already experts at keeping their adults in sight and avoiding the most significant danger we'll face: traffic. There's also the constant concern that someone will be left behind, despite our yellow field trip t-shirt, our constant counting, and our many chaperones. I'm always drained at the end of a field trip day, as are the kids. As are the parents, even those who didn't chaperone.

It's stressful, but worth it. The things we learn or experience are wonderful, of course, things like rowing a boat together at the Center for Wooden Boats or discovering coyote scat in the Magnuson Park wetlands, but the real value is in the adventure, which is, after all, the story of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are. Often we go places to which the children have already been with their families, but when we go there together, getting there under our own power, sharing an experience, it becomes something we "own" as a community, becoming a common resource for our every day routines, expectations, rules, art projects, sensory table play, building, dramatic games, and songs.

And while field trips help bind us together, at the same time I know they are hard on the parents who are left behind, those who are preparing those meals that will still be hot when we return. In many cases, these field trips are the first time they've sent their kids off into the world like this, as part of a group, on public buses, going to public places, having experiences amongst the Wild Things. It's hard, I know, but the only thing that really helps is experience.

Like their children, parents will feel more and more comfortable as the year goes on. Like it or not, the older our children get, the farther out into the world they will go, increasingly without us -- believe me, as the parent of a 16-year-old, I know! We raise them up to set them free, and as a parent, at some level, it will always be terrifying.

That, more than anything else, is why we take field trips: it's another baby step toward independence for everyone.

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