Friday, May 21, 2010

Riding The Train

We might be down to our final few days of school, but the 3-5 class still managed to wedge in one more field trip yesterday, this one being what I consider to be the mother of all preschool field trips. No matter where we go together, when we return to the school and debrief, it is almost always the bus trip the kids want to talk about. This field trip was special because it had no destination at all. The entire purpose was to ride mass transit.

On Monday and Wednesday, I prepared the kids for what to expect:
"We are going to leave school and walk up to the bus stop together. Then we are going to get on the number 5 bus, ride it downtown and get off. Then we're going to go down some long escalators that will take us underground into a giant tunnel. Then we're going get on the train. Then we will ride on the train, underground. Then we will come out into the light and see Safeco Field. Then we will ride the train through Sodo and up onto a bridge, make a big turn and go right by the Tulley's Coffee building. Then we will go into a dark tunnel in the side of Beacon Hill: the station inside Beacon Hill will look like a space ship. Then we will come out of the tunnel and ride the train to the Mt. Baker station which is built on a bridge. Then we will get off the train and go down a looong escalator, walk under the train tracks, then go up a looong escalator on the other side. Then we will get back on the train, go back into the tunnel, go back past the space ship station, go back over the bridge, go back through Sodo, go back past Safeco Field, go back under downtown, get off the train, ride the long escalators back out of the tunnel, get back on the bus, and come back to the school."
For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Seattle, our still less than a year old light rail link connects downtown to the airport via southeast neighborhoods, including a stop not too far from where I live in Seward Park. It's still something of a novelty to most of our citizens given that we're decades away from links to other parts of the city, including the northwest neighborhoods in which most of Woodland Park's families live. Few if any of the kids had yet ridden this new link so it was an exciting proposition to get out and explore it.

We set out with 27 children altogether, our full roster, plus 5 siblings, and 11 adults. We'd been buffeted by a wet, windy storm the night before and with overcast skies still overhead, everyone was dressed for rain. Before setting out, I gave them my usual talk about being careful about cars, something about which these urban kids are already expert. These children are about as likely to run out into the street as a kid from my childhood neighborhood would have been to play with a rattlesnake. We're good at teaching them about the most likely dangers.

I love riding busses with children. Their enthusiasm reminds me of the wonderous miracle these things are, rather than simply an impediment to my driving. And while I'm sure that some of the commuters were annoyed by our giddiness, there were enough warm smiles thrown our way to tell me I'm not the only one who likes the reminder. You start by trying to get the kids to sit properly in their seats, but how do you tell a kid he can't press his nose up against the bus window or sit up on his knees so she can see better? The familiar world is utterly transformed from the coach of a bus. You start by trying to get them to stay in one seat, and most of them do, but how do you tell a kid he can't switch to a seat on the other side when that's where the action is? Instead, you help him make the switch at the next stop, teaching him how to do it safely.

Our downtown stop at 3rd and Pike is one of the more notorious intersections in our city. Even though it's right by Macy's, and two blocks from Pike Place Market, we've all witnessed drug deals, fights and heaving guts in that vicinity. The area is a popular hangout for street kids and panhandlers, people with whom you sympathize, but also around whom it's hard not to be a bit wary when you're responsible for 26 preschoolers.

Of course, the only thing kids noticed as out of the ordinary was the smoking. "That guy is smoking," Luna whispered almost the moment our feet touched the pavement upon disembarking from the number 5. Later, on our return trip, she waited for the bus while quietly counting all the smokers she spotted. "Teacher Tom, there are 4 smokers . . . No, five!"

The downtown transit tunnel was dug years ago as a way to get some of the busses off the surface streets, but has now been converted to also handle trains. The Westlake station (as is true of all the downtown stations) is well-lit, clean and about as palatial as an underground train station can be. I'm sure many of the kids didn't even know this place existed.

Our group wound up scattered around the train car, but all the kids found seats near windows. Orlando got to sit next to a large man with a grill in his mouth and tattoos on his face. His mom Valerie is convinced that this will be the part he most remembers from the experience, but I don't know about that. From the inside of a moving train, even more so than from a bus, the world outside is transformed into a wonderland, even the close walls of the tunnels are noteworthy. The kids chattered and giggled all the way to the Mt. Baker Station, where we decided to eat our snack. Several of the kids found pennies on the ground.

The train was much fuller on the return trip and some of the kids had to stand. Or rather, I should say they got to stand. I took up a spot near one of the doors with Finn P., Annabelle, Sarah, Charlie L., and Charlie B. Try as I might, I just could not convince them about the need for holding onto something, and as smooth as the train is, the stopping and starting was still enough to knock them off their feet more than once. Of course, that then became a game involving them falling to the ground at every bounce or wiggle of the train, although they would snap back to attention at each stop when the doors opened in front of them. Alex later told me that she'd been "surfing" on the train and "didn't fall down at all."

We arrived back at school only about 10 minutes late. The whole thing had gone like clockwork, just as one would expect from a well-run mass transit system. When I tried to release them more or less on time, they objected en mass, demanding I read them a story the way I always do.

The End.

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Carrie said...

Tom, this is my first visit to your site and it is wonderful! I can relate to your experience with the children riding the bus and rail systems. This was a wonderful example of following the interests of the children. You are truly inspiring.

Scott said...

Tom, I can imagine what a fun experience this entire trip was. But my favorite part of your post was the end: "they...demanded I read them a story the way I always do."

No matter what has gone on, you cannot forgo the leaving ritual! They must have their story.

Maya Catching Butterflies said...

I love how you explained to the kids where they were going. It reminded me of the scene from the movie Elf where Will Ferrell describes how he entered the city by way of the Lincoln Tunnel. In this movie Ferrell wins the hearts and minds of everyone he encounters -- much like you. BTW, Elf wore tights too.

I've enjoyed our six years at Woodland Park and will miss it very much.

Unknown said...

That sounds like the most perfect field trip. And you sound like the most perfect teacher. Thanks for reading the story...

Eva said...

Best field trip ever! Josephine will be talking about it for weeks. She screamed to Daddy last night that "we went to Chinatown!" and told him that he MUST go on the train.

Jenny said...

We took our first graders into Washington DC today and the bus ride is almost as exciting for them as the show at the Kennedy Center. I love the looks on their faces as we cross the river and see different monuments.

I would love to take a trip just riding buses and metro and such. That is a fabulous idea.

Juliet Robertson said...

What a lovely trip. My son, Joe and I often go bus hopping when in a city just so we get to see the real parts. We simply get on and off buses when we feel like it. Usually in the UK you can buy a day ticket very cheaply.

I also love penny walks. This is where you go for a walk and every time you reach a fork or junction you flip a coin. Heads, you turn right, tails you turn left and you just see where you end up. It's great for getting to know a local neighborhood.

Have a lovely holiday. Hope you've got good plans for the summer.

Best wishes

BarbaraZab said...

I'm so jealous; we aren't allowed to take field trips (insurance.) Every year we try to interest a parent in organizing field trips outside of school but most years we have no luck. *Sigh* And we have a lovely brand-new light rail, too. *Double sigh*

Play for Life said...

Oh what fun ... a trip to nowhere in particular. Now that's my kind of trip!
WE too find our train trip excursion (field trip) into the "Ian Potter Gallery" right in the heart of our beautiful Melbourne Town has always been our most popular outings over the years as so many of our children have never ridden a train (or bus for that matter) before coming to kinder! Tom your trip sound AMAZING.
But tell me ... did you happen loose one of your children on the corner of 3rd and Pike where you've all witnessed drug deals, fights and heaving guts ... which is a popular hangout for street kids and panhandlers, people with whom you sympathize, but also around whom it's hard not to be a bit wary when you're responsible for .... 26 preschoolers. Did you not start out with 27?! Whoopsee!

But hey don't worry, I'm sure they'll rock up back home when they get hungry ...hee, hee, hee!
Donna :) :)

Let the Children Play said...

Tom, this brings back childhood memories of school holiday day trips with my Grandmother. We would catch a bus to the train station, walk to the ferry wharf, catch a ferry, and then a bus back home. I still remember how excited we were about these simple trips.

We did a similar thing with our kids last year - we walked to the bus stop, caught the bus to the nearest station, caught the train to a station with a park next to it, had lunch and did the whole thing in reverse. There is nothing boring about catching public transport with a class full of preschoolers! I bet your kids will talk about it for ages.

SurprisedMom said...

What a great trip for your preschoolers. I bet it is the talk among the students for a long time to come. I think you taught them so much by taking them on public transportation and opened their eyes to the city around them. It must have been so fascinating to them to see everything they saw. I think the trip was pretty spectacular for the adults with you, especially being able to view familiar surroundings through the children's eyes.

Unknown said...

What fun! We don't have mass transit here. I love that this trip had no destination, and the journey was the point of the trip.

I sure have missed hearing about all the great things you're doing with your friends! Glad to be back "in the loop"! LOL! =)

kristin said...

oh, this is my idea of a PERFECT field trip.

i love it.