In her riveting autobiography, The Story of my Life, Helen Keller wrote that Annie Sullivan would take her beyond the walls of her room to explore nature and deepen her understanding. In that environment Helen came to learn and grow. It undoubtedly had an impact on her because the book provides a detailed account of the learning that took place. Helen Keller’s recollection of this has stayed with me. Her experience has impacted my teaching as I consciously strive to provide diverse learning opportunities for my students. This is never more evident than during this exciting time of year in first grade. Now is when we normally begin our investigations into non-fiction writing.
We have been exploring features of non-fiction texts for the past month and at present the students are having a go at creating these texts themselves. In keeping with our Reggio Emilia philosophy, the children decide their own topics of study. This year there are three groups studying plants, the zoo and pizza. The explorations will develop in different ways, but all will include trips.
Our first excursion was this past Tuesday. I took the plant group for a walking trip to Home Depot to select seeds, buy soil and examine planters and pots.
The wonderful thing about my teaching situation is that I work with a co-teacher, Lauren. We have decided through the years that during non-fiction investigations one of us will ‘cover’ the class while the other spends the day (or part of the day) taking an educational trip with one small group of students. In the past this has manifested in Lauren taking trips to The Coney Island Aquarium, Brooklyn Botanical Garden and The Museum of Natural History. I have taken children to the Central Park Zoo, The Bronx Zoo and Times Square.
Remaining flexible and open to possibilities (or thinking 'outside the box') has created a new avenue to learning. I recommend this to any teacher with the available resources; staffing, organization, time and stamina. Who knows, one day one of my students may write a book detailing their trip to Home Depot in first grade. Just saying.
It is the function of art to carry us beyond speech to experience.