Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Story Of A Life Well-Lived

Field trips are a fundamental part of what we do at the Woodland Park Cooperative School. Our 3's, 4-5's and kindergarten classes get out in the world together at least once a month, often more. I favor the sorts of excursions that we can make on public transportation because not only does it make things cheap (children 5 and under are free), but the kids are generally excited about a ride on the bus, even if they do it regularly with their families, often declaring it to be their "favorite part" of the outing. This is why we sometimes schedule field trips that are just riding public transportation -- bus, train, trolley, and monorail.

Yesterday, our 3's class took our second "Fremont ramble" field trip of the year, in which we just roamed around our neighborhood for a couple hours. I'm rapidly coming around to understanding that this is the best kind of field trip, one that keeps us close to home. I'm reminded of the "field trips" Mister Rogers used to take in his Neighborhood. It's the sort of thing that traditional schools might struggle to pull off, but being a cooperative, we had no problem creating a child to adult ratio of better than 3:1, which is what we enjoy on a typical day. So when traffic is heavy, as it often is in Fremont, we have plenty of adult hands to hold as we cross the busy streets.

We started off headed for a visit to the beloved Fremont Troll, but decided to first check out our new pocket park, The Troll's Knoll, which is tucked up against our end of the Aurora bridge. We've been watching it come together over the course of the last several months, but for most of us it was the first visit.

We were pleasantly surprised to find a brand new community pea patch at the top of the hill complete with a pair of soon to be installed large galvanized steel tubs that made terrific thunder drums. A sign indicated that one could "earn" a pea patch of your own by volunteering time and labor. I can't wait until those beds are full of green things.

We also discovered that The Troll's Knoll features a nice, grassy hill down which we ran, proving once again that one needn't install yet another garish, primary-colored "playground" to make a pocket-park fun. I can imagine regular trips here just to run down that hill.

The Troll is an old friend.

We clambered on his hands and slid down the long slope into which he's been installed, leaving long, smooth butt imprints in the dusty ground.

On the way down to the ship canal we stopped to watch a pair of diggers and a dump truck removing the last of the dirt from the deep, deep hole in which the Tableau Software headquarters will sit. If this is all we had set out to do, it would have been enough. We had already done and seen so much and we were only a couple blocks from the school.

When we got to Canal Park, we stopped at picnic tables near the houseboats for a snack of oranges and pretzels, still under the Aurora Bridge which by now soared mightily overhead.

A group of us discussed the nets that are currently hung under her. There is maintenance being done and we speculated that the nets where there to protect us in case one of the workers dropped a hammer from above. We then began to spot holes in the net through which hammers might potentially drop. This is where the famous Burke-Gilman mixed-use urban trail begins to track the ship canal and we thought it wise that the cyclists had thought to wear helmets, you know, because of the hammers.

We chose to finish eating at precisely the right moment because as we rounded the corner we found the Fremont Bridge drawn fully open to allow a large Coast Guard vessel to pass, probably on the way for maintenance somewhere around Lake Union.

It was both pulled and pushed by smart yellow tugs.

We waved at the seamen and they waved back at us.

Now it was time for us to climb the four-flights of stairs onto the Fremont Bridge itself. These are grated stairs, which I know make many adults irrationally nervous, especially as they near the top and can look down to see the ground far beneath their feet.

We called up and down the stairs to one another: "I'm standing on you!" and "Hey, you're walking on me!"

Once on the bridge we crossed it to the Queen Anne side, peering down into the water and cautiously stepping over the three-inch gap between the two side of the span that opens many times every day. We then pulled a U-turn and returned to The Center of the Universe.

Back down the stairs we went before continuing along the Burke-Gilman, the canal on one side, plied by rowers and small boats, and the offices of Google, Adobe, Getty Images, and the aforementioned Tableau, among others, on the other.

We arrived at the crazy concrete stairs, a privately-own public space amidst the offices, and there was no question we would climb them, but only after we'd stopped to sniff the calla lilies. At the top we found sculptures that we immediately labeled "astroids."

Of course, we climbed them, all the while bickering with one another, "Hey, you're pushing me!" "Give me more room!" "You're going to make me fall!"

We found the shrubbery full of excellent dens, cubbies, and forts.

It was an excellent place for a bit of impromptu hide-and-seek. We challenged ourselves on the stairs and railings.

On the way back to school, we paused to bask under the Fremont Rocket, hoping it didn't decide to launch itself as we stood there.

There were no toys anywhere along the way. There were no screens. There was no curriculum, no learning objectives, and no worries that we were falling behind on our test prep. No, what we were doing was so much more important than any of that: we were out in the world together, our world, experiencing it, sharing it, figuring it out.

The kids were engaged the entire time, asking questions, answering questions, explaining, theorizing, imagining, arguing, laughing, and we were doing it upon more or less their schedule. There were many flowers sniffed along the way.

This is what education is properly about, engaging the real world and the things and people we find there at the pace of our choosing. That we can do it in the company of our loving parents makes it even better.

We went out into the world, found both familiar and unfamiliar things, had a "wild rumpus," then returned tired, hungry, and satisfied. It's the story of a life well-lived.

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Diane Streicher @ Diane Again said...

This is exactly the way that hundreds of thousands of families, including mine, approach education every day. We call it "homeschooling" for lack of a better term, but the process has absolutely nothing to do with staying at home or "schooling." It's all about exploring the real world with a pack of friends and some adults who will hold your hand when you need them. This is a marvelous way to grow human beings and I wish that every kid could experience this not just during early childhood but throughout their first two decades.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,
I loved this one. Your comment about the Troll Knoll reminded of a story you may appreciate:
There is a park I have visited with groups of children from a couple of different EC centres in central Wellington, New Zealand. The children and teachers in the various EC centres in the area all visit each other and sometimes meet at the park, which because it has a long and fairly steep hill, (maybe 6 ft high) is known to the children as "Roly-poly Park" :-)