You have to love elementary school field trips, which somehow never change over the years. I went along as adult ‘helper’ for two Third Grade classes when they traveled to Plimoth Plantation to learn about the lives in 1620 of both for the newly-arrived English and for the Wampanoag Indians who made room for them.
I must have asked a thousand questions of the historical re-enactors at the English settlement, and of the modern day Wampanaog as well, who also demonstrate what the art of staying alive in the 1620s was like.
The kids asked questions too, but mostly they acted like kids.
Specifically, the boys acted like boys, in a way that took me clear back to the late 1980s when I went with children the same age to visit the gravestone of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, seen here on the left.
That day, the teacher handed out copies of Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life” for us to real aloud.
We recited it together: “Life is real, Life is earnest, And the grave is not its goal. ‘Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest’ was not spoken of the soul.”
While two chaperones wiped at tears, and the girls looked gravely at the earth, the boys all but simmered with suppressed energy, like bacon in the pan. Then one boy leaned over to another and, with a mischievous grin, whispered, “You’re standin’ on a dead guy.”
So much for ‘life is earnest’!
The boys on this latest field trip showed the same high spirits:
From the moment they got inside the gates, they ran in ever-widening circles, though the two teachers had carefully divided us into groups of six: four Third Graders and two adults per group.
The Third Grade mom I was paired with spent about two minutes assessing the situation before making policy:
“OK guys, listen up! We’re going to call ourselves ‘The Explorers’! Every time I yell ‘Explorers!’ you come running! Got it?”
It was a brilliant scheme, even though it didn’t work even a little.
The boys scattered like spilled mercury wherever we went – the meeting house, the cabin of Goody Winship, the Indian settlement…
The girls. meanwhile, remained in their foursomes, bonding, and seeking common ground and devising quiet games. Later, when we saw the exact replica of the original Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, they climbed three and four together into the wee wooden beds and hugged. It’s what little girls do.
The boys, by contrast, dashed back and forth along the length of the ship and pretend-shot one another from its cannons. I must have heard the historical re-enactor on deck say a dozen times, “Put the belaying pins BACK please.”
Now don’t get me wrong here: I know girls grow up to be explorers, and scientists, and heads of governments that make war on other governments, all careers historically associated with men.
I know boys grow up to be nurses, and primary school teachers, and experts in home decorating, careers historically associated with women.
I know too that these third graders, and in fact all third graders, will be asked as adults to demonstrate both strength AND tenderness, to function effectively in the home AND in the marketplace.
All I’m really saying is it’s fun to watch them in this early stage of life. All I’m saying is if an elementary school you know about ever puts out the call for field trip chaperones, clear the time if you possibly can, and answer that call.
You’ll come back bushed, but smiling from ear to ear.