Tag Archives: Education

Who Learned More on the Overnight Trip: the Chaperone or the Kids?

I recently chaperoned a two-night third-grade field trip and lived to tell about it. Previous field trips have left me exhausted and irritable, so I was nervous. Never having experienced an overnight camp as a child, I set out with another mom, our kids, and a carload of more crap than we needed not knowing what to expect. I felt certain we’d get no sleep, I’d be grumpy, the boys would be wild, and it would rain to the point where we’d need canoes to get around. I was wildly mistaken, pleasantly surprised, dry, hot, hungry, tired, and eager to learn.

Here’s a recap:

1. I learned how to read a compass and follow a course through a horse pasture. Each point we found led to another point and so on. Thankfully, we found nothing else.

Thanks to a compass course, at least I know what to do if I get lost in the woods now, or a horse pasture.

2. I learned there are more than 70,000 types of U.S. soil. The kids talked about viscosity, porosity, horizons, and permeability, which is not “when you get a perm,” in case you were wondering.

3. A field of geese is an open invitation to a gaggle of boys who just had to sit quiet and still for 30 minutes and listen to a cool bird presentation. They couldn’t upset the birds being shown inside, but no one said anything about the geese outside, who I’m pretty sure won’t return to that field for a while.

4. I learned that a dark, quiet, blow-up astronomy dome showing the night sky offers a perfect place to catch up on missed sleep. Just be aware when the instructor points the laser in your direction and you’re suddenly in the constellation spotlight.

5. I learned that I can’t sleep to the sound of 11 sleeping bags swishing and plastic mattresses scrunching all night after day one, but after day two, I can sleep through almost anything.

6. When given the option, boys who don’t have their moms with them will not shower for three days, regardless of how sweaty they’ve gotten, how much grass and sand they’ve rolled around in, and whether they splashed around a little too much in the stagnant water in aquatics class.

7. When allowed to go through the dining hall line alone, boys will return with a plate full of carbs, cheese, and not much else. When you point out they could have made a salad with the lettuce, they tell you they didn’t see that.

8. When asked about the coolest thing they’ve ever done, half the kids say going to that camp, fishing for their first time while there, or catching their first fish there. I learned that for some, in their short lives, it was a lifetime experience.

9. Third graders are really smart. They knew answers I didn’t expect them to know and made conclusions I didn’t expect them to connect.

10. During the course of our stay, the parents struggled a bit to keep up, wished for better sleeping accommodations, cursed bathroom stalls that required feats of contortionism to use, and yearned for gourmet food. I didn’t hear the kids whine, fuss, or complain about the heat, the long days with no breaks or snacks, the gross food, or little sleep. For them, it was thrilling hands-on learning outside the classroom.

The camp may have been geared toward kids, but I know I learned a lot.

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Field Trip Anxiety: Two Nights, 80 Kids Equals Panic for This Chaperone

A father and I talked on the school playground the other day about an upcoming overnight third-grade field trip we are chaperoning. We both admitted to being a little nervous about it. We’ve both chaperoned field trips before. But as the conversation continued, I realized he had not thought this overnight thing through as much as I had.

I began to talk about kids who may not have ever been away from home before and homesickness and worry about how to get them to sleep.

“Gee, I hadn’t thought about that,” he said.

I talked about how exhausted I am after just a few hours on a regular field trip and what will two nights and three days of constant yammering and nonstop drama and incessant whining do to me?

Then I mentioned that I hoped the stomach bug that was going around didn’t plan a surprise attack in the bunks one night.

His face scrunched up. I’m sure he wanted to run from me.

“I was excited for this trip, but I hadn’t thought about all this,” he said. I think I took a pin and popped the air out of his balloon.

I think too much. There’s no doubt about it. I can think a topic to death. I think about every possible terrible thing that could happen and how I can possibly handle it, and then I’m pleasantly surprised when things go smoothly or things are just boring, as my life so often turns out.

But I must say I was surprised that this father hadn’t thought about these things because being with so many other people’s kids for two nights will be a challenge whether or not anything catastrophic happens.

The last field trip I chaperoned didn't require sleeping bags, just snacks evidently.

Doesn’t he remember what a normal field trip is like? The last field trip I was on, I had five boys in the rain for four hours with no snacks. In the end, I’m not sure who was grumpier, the boys or me. For four hours they griped, whined, complained, and fussed about being hungry. Like zoo animals, I really was not supposed to feed them. My blood sugar was getting low. I get headaches when I don’t eat. I had a snack. But I didn’t have enough to share with five boys and I felt too guilty to eat in front of them. So we trudged through mist and misery. The boys didn’t want to look at the historic buildings or listen to people dressed in colonial garb talk about life with no computers and no TV. They saw corn cakes cooking in the fire and wanted to reach their weak arms over and steal one out of the hot pan. The only respite of the morning: a paper-thin Moravian cookie that made our mouths water more and our stomachs pretty stinkin’ mad.

When lunchtime finally did approach, the boys had only strength enough to mosey across the entire colonial village back to the bus squatting, giggling, and cocking their rears side to side in an all-out potty-talk fest. “Pffft this” and “Pffft that.” “Oh, that was a good one!” I did not have energy or patience for this. My stomach had turned inside out and through a forced smile I begged them to catch up to me, stop that nonsense, and COME ON! My hands were shaking and food was minutes away. No silly boys and their bathroom talk would keep me from my lunch. I was ready to ditch them.

That night, my conscience got the better of me. “I feel bad,” I told my husband. “I kind of yelled at the kids today.” I decided that in the heat of their third-grade foolery, they probably hadn’t noticed or cared.

I hope this trip next week goes smoother, though I’m bracing myself for no sleep, cranky homesick kids, and whatever the days may bring. I’ll sneak snacks if I have to, for my own sanity. And I’m gearing up for lots of fart jokes. Please send happy thoughts my way.

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Homework: It’s a Bad Word in My House

Homework may be the word most dreaded by school kids every day, but it’s also one of the most dreaded words by this mom. It ranks up there with lice and vomit, two other words I don’t want my kids to come home from school and tell me about. Though those ailments may have much worse consequences in the short run, homework provides day in, day out gut-wrenching exhaustion in the long run.

Some days my first- and third-grade kids come home, finish homework without so much as a whimper, and scoot out the door like a scene from a 1950s television show. Many other days, though, someone fusses, whines, cries, or screams over homework. Sometimes that someone may even be me. As far as I can tell, no quick remedy exists to cure this homework repulsion. I’ve tried every approach and tactic I can think of, failing miserably in the process and often wanting to crawl under the table myself and join my daughter in a fit of tears. But I hold my head high as long as I can, keep my voice calm, and tell myself that if their teachers can get two dozen kids to do their work each day, surely I can get two through a half hour of skills practice.

When my kids get home from school, they’re tired. They’ve practiced things like subtraction, division, writing complete sentences, and reading comprehension all day. When faced with homework that requires them to do this yet again, sometimes they lose it and they take it out on me. And tears flow. They squirm. They writhe in agony as if some unknown force pulls their limbs in every direction. They collapse in despair, bodies sprawled across the table too weak to hold a broken pencil. They ask for my help and then get mad when I calmly explain the work. They want me to do it for them and get madder still when I don’t comply. They spend 40 minutes fussing about homework and it could have been done in 15. It doesn’t add up. My kids obviously need a refresher in math skills.

Homework, not my favorite time of day. What I've found is that distance helps.

My son and I then argue over whether other parents check their kids’ homework. He says they don’t. I say who cares. He needs to know what he got wrong and why.

Between the storms, we have had success. So what worked best to break out of our writhing, squirming, under-the-table-and-screaming afternoons?

1. Freedom. Letting the kids decide when to do their homework helps. If they don’t want to do it when they walk in the door from school, no problem, as long as they do it before dinner.

2. Location. If they want to do their homework in the kitchen, living room, bedroom, heck, even under the kitchen table or in the bathtub, I really don’t care.

3. Routine. It takes my kids time to get back into the routine once school starts. They come home from school, shove food down their throats, and run upstairs to play before they settle in with their books. If we have somewhere else to be one afternoon, such as soccer practice, I know we’re in for a rough afternoon come homework time because it messes up their routine. We have a routine, even when they choose when to do their homework, and we stick to it as best we can.

4. Time. It simply takes time for my kids to adjust when a new school year starts, not weeks but months. They do a lot in a day and they have to get used to a schedule that requires a lot of them again.

5. Independence. Once my kids were old enough, I let them do their homework alone if they understood it. Then I check it when they finish.

6. Love. I joke about it because humor helps lessen the sting, but when all else fails, a hug gets us all through those really rough times. Sometimes we just need to stop the craziness, sit on the couch, and snuggle and laugh. Refocusing breaks us out of the funk.

I tried other things that didn’t work, such as getting mad and frustrated. My kids tried things too, such as putting down any answer because their teacher doesn’t check that homework. The funny thing is, we’ve all learned lessons. I don’t know how long homework will cause an upheaval in our lives each year and when my kids will just accept it and always do it without a fight. I simply haven’t done my homework on that.

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Redshirting: Why We Think We Made the Right Decision

It was during this time two years ago that I was really starting to stress. We had to decide whether to send our daughter to kindergarten in the fall or hold her back a year. Her late August birthday meant she would probably be the youngest in her class or the oldest if we held her back. She turned five the day before kindergarten, and we sent her.

For my husband, there was never an issue. He had a late September birthday and he did fine. She would go. For me, every possible outcome needed consideration. Nearly everyone we knew suggested redshirting, a common trend of holding kids back from school a year, giving them what’s considered the gift of time.

My husband and I thought this practice was a bunch of baloney. She could already read. She knew her numbers to 100. And kindergartners spend a lot of time on numbers to 10. And shapes. And lots of other simple things. But there were factors to consider beyond kindergarten. Could holding her back guarantee that she’d get into gifted programs? Or could holding her back eventually backfire? Would boredom cause a child who didn’t feel challenged to act out in class?

Faced with this decision? Do your homework. Know your kid.

My gut told me to send her, but it didn’t keep me from constant worry about whether we were doing the right thing. I spent hours searching and reading about other people’s opinions and experiences online. I could never find much supporting what my gut told me and what my husband already knew: My daughter needed to go to kindergarten. Why hold her back? She was ready.

I found articles stating boys with a birthday of January or later should be held back. Really? My son with a February birthday has never had a problem. Strangers I talked to facing the same issue, even friends who weren’t, looked horrified when I revealed we planned to send our daughter to school on time. I felt a lot of pressure.

People told me that holding her back a year would give her confidence. She’d be the smartest kid in the class. But it felt like cheating.

My husband just always shook his head. “She’s going,” he’d say. And I knew he was right, but I still needed validation.

I worried that if everyone else held their kids back, she would be behind. She would be so young. But in the end, that was really all I worried about. I knew she could do the work. I had to believe in her. Deep down, I knew giving her a chance to show what she is capable of would be best for her. Challenge isn’t a bad thing for kids, and parents shouldn’t be scared of it. Challenge and struggle are different.

Some of the most successful people I know were not the kids who were the best in class. They weren’t the valedictorians or the kids who had it easy in school. They were the middle-of-road kids who learned to work for something. Challenge is good.

Having things come too easily can backfire. Not having to study, not having to work hard at first. I know those are skills you don’t want to learn in high school or college.

I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten classroom every week, so I knew what my daughter would face, and I knew she could do it. I asked teachers about kids with late birthdays and I got mixed answers.

I asked the principal. He said his oldest daughter had a late birthday and they sent her on time. They’ve never regretted it. I could have hugged him. Finally, someone understood. Someone else had guts.

Two years later, my daughter is in first grade and finishes all of her work on time. She follows directions. She behaves, sits still. She understands her work. She tells me everything about her day. She moved up to the highest reading group this year. She is in a class with kids who are a year older than her, and she does just as well as they do. And she’s also not the youngest. Two other girls have birthdays later than her. Sure, it all depends on the kid, but I didn’t do it because of a date and I have no regrets.

In the end, we knew that none of this would stop our daughter from being a doctor or a lawyer if she wants to be. And we decided that her “gift of time” would be better spent at the end of her eighteen years. Instead of an extra year of preschool, because she will be younger than her peers, she can take a year off to travel, to study, to work, to start her life. That is the gift we gave to her.

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