Piece of Cake
It's the accumulation of a million-and-one small moments that make a school great.
I got the chance to witness some of that behind-the-scenes magic at my eleven-year-old's new school this week when I volunteered to accompany his class on their first field trip of the year.
As any veteran of school field trips can tell you, school trips are when you get to see what is really holding your kids' school community together: cement, icing sugar, or crazy glue. You see, when you're on a field trip, everyone is at their most spontaneous and hyped up. That can be a bit freaky, if you're not expecting it. Kids are getting high on the adrenaline that floods their systems anytime they're allowed off school property. Hyper-caffeinated teachers are doing their best to counter that kid-adrenaline with every tool in their teaching tool-kits. And then there's the added stress of having a handful of parent-spectator-helpers along for the ride.
It's not always total bliss for the parent-spectator-helpers, either, I can tell you. I've been on field trips in the past where I was totally preoccupied by the sound of my own watch ticking. ("Let it be over. Let it be over.") One particularly sanity-testing trip comes to mind: a nursery school or kindergarten trip to a pumpkin patch. I hated the thought of having to tell some justifiably outraged mom or dad that I'd lost their kid in the corn maze, but it looked like the trip was going to end that way. Luckily, the child in question turned up just in time for our group to hop on the bus. No damage done except to my aforementioned sanity.
This week's field trip was a cakewalk in comparison. I had even offered to drive a group of five pre-teens to the local museum so that the school could save money on transportation. The kids were hilarious. (Not quiet, but hilarious.) So getting there was a blast.
When we got to the museum, they settled down enough to learn what they were supposed to be learning -- not like mindless drones, but like kids with a genuine interest in learning. (This tells me a lot about how they're being taught.) And when they did start to get rowdy -- as you'd expect them to do when they were given the chance to explore darkened tunnels by themselves -- the teachers got them back under control without playing drill sargeant or anything like that. (Again, very impressive, particularly when you consider that every child in this group is dealing with some sort of special need.) They made it seem like a piece of cake.
And speaking of pieces of cake, let me tell you about a special tradition they have at this school that's so simple and yet that speaks volumes about who they are and how they feel children should be treated.
Whenever a child has a birthday, some of the other kids in the class bake a cake for that child. That cake is served at lunch and the entire class sings happy birthday and everyone eats birthday cake together. Then the entire class heads out on a field trip that is planned to take advantage of that child's interests. When it's your birthday, you are truly the star of the day -- and all learning and activities centre around things that you love. Those activities become all the more interesting and motivating to the other children because they have something to do with you, their friend.
It's not rocket science (although the kids did learn about volcanoes and dynamite and other things that explode while they were at the museum on my son's birthday). It's all about celebrating what makes each person unique and special – while enjoying an enriched day of learning and lovingly prepared chocolate dessert.
Piece of cake, like I said.
I'm so grateful my son's teachers get it.