The World Outside the Classroom
For Elementary and Middle School students, the classroom experience is not enough. They are seekers, trying to understand the wider world—the natural environment as well as the physical and social worlds built by humans—and their place in it.
Reading books, looking at pictures, watching videos, or listening to stories can help students. These are necessary but not sufficient. First-hand experience deepens understanding and makes ideas both concrete and memorable. Beyond this, travel provides a real opportunity for community building, and the development of practical life experiences beginning with planning the days, making arrangements for airline tickets and hotel accommodations, and packing your bags. It then extends to money management, navigating the subway, using a hand net to collect specimens, paddling a canoe, cooking for 20, and dish washing, as well as many chances to practice grace and courtesy. Guided by their classroom teachers, students develop practical and social skills to become increasingly independent and savvy travelers. It is no wonder that neuropsychologist Stephen Hughes said, “Montessori kids are good at doing things.”
Going Out (Direct Preparation for Overnight Travel)
In Lower Elementary, students are introduced to “going out,” an activity discussed by Dr. Montessori as a way to connect the student’s work in the classroom to the world beyond school and family. Going out is a type of outing involving small groups of students, ideally two to three. These off-campus trips are planned by the students with the support of the teacher for the purpose of enhancing, enriching, and extending learning. Ideas for going out may spring from lessons or individual interests. Parent drivers are most often utilized. Each going out has a specific purpose and may involve follow-up work in the classroom. Going out continues throughout a student’s Elementary years. Classes also take field trips, traveling as a group to special programs and events.
Lower Elementary students look forward to third grade when they get to take their first overnight trip. For some students, spending the night away from home at Camp Allen, located about an hour northwest of Houston, is their first experience staying overnight away from family or family friends. This trip is chaperoned by the four female Lower Elementary teachers and male parent volunteers. At Camp Allen, third graders spend two days engaged in a variety of outdoor education activities. The first day ends with a campfire (complete with s’mores), skits performed by the students, and a nighttime game exploring the behavior of nocturnal animals. Students sleep in cabins on stilts and use a separate restroom facility complete with individual hot showers. A teacher or parent chaperone stays in each cabin. The group returns at the end of the second day by 3:00 p.m.
Fall Adventure/Environmental Education and The Flora, Fauna of Texas
In the fall, all three Upper Elementary classes travel for four days and three nights to Nature’s Classroom Institute (NCI) in New Ulm, Texas. Classes travel by charter bus. Chaperones include the three Upper Elementary teachers and two or three parent volunteers, depending upon the number of students attending. In addition to experiencing a greater amount of independence, students enjoy outdoor team building activities and study a variety of topics in a fun, active setting. Students enjoy returning to NCI each year because of the fun traditions and team building experiences. Activities and class content change each year so that no two camp visits are the same. Learn more at discovernci.org/.
The highlight of overnight travel in Elementary is the sixth grade trip to Colonial Williamsburg. This uniquely developed and operated township serves as an ideal setting to experience and study American history. Hotel accommodations are near the Colonial Williamsburg settlement and the group travels throughout the week by chartered coach. This week-long excursion includes guided tours of Yorktown and Jamestown along with plenty of time for self-guided tours of the many sites within Colonial Williamsburg. Group favorites include the many exciting, evening programs that give students an authentic experience of life during this important time in our country’s history.