By: Cass Aitken (12/15/11)
There are so many awe inspiring and mind blowing activities that go on in the Elementary building. I have had the opportunity to witness a few (the Great Lessons, and the children’s oral presentations about their research), and I hear about many more from my two daughters. Most of the time, quite honestly, I am not sure what they are talking about. I have a hard time imagining my young daughters simplifying fractions, writing plays and baking. But there is one activity/lesson that I have had the privilege to witness and help facilitate…the “Goings Out”.
I know many of you probably have your own memories of class field trips from your grade school days when we would pile in a bus with teachers and parent chaperones, headed for fun and educational places. But in all honesty, as students we really didn’t care where we were going. We were excited about getting out of school for the day and eating lunch from a brown paper sack.
A “going out” in Montessori Elementary is nothing like that, rest assured. It is an amazing and fun learning experience for the students and for the adults alike. I have had the privilege to make many trips with small groups of 1-3 students. We have gone to the library, the grocery store and the pet store. Most trips last from about 20 minutes (that is our record at the pet store, yet to be beaten) up to about an hour. On one trip to the library I literally had to pull two totally engrossed students away from the research books about penguins (I felt bad, but someone had to get back to make lunch!). As the adults, our job is mainly to be chauffeur. Every now and then you may have to quietly offer a suggestion or intervene, but very rarely. Really, these students are very well prepared for their task at hand and are very independent and mature.
It is fun and amazing to watch them interact with one another and with outsiders, and to see how they use their critical thinking minds to problem solve. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to take three students to the store to get the ingredients for cookie baking and decorating. After searching the aisles a few times they could not find the needed supplies. (I bit my tongue.) They decided it was time to ask for help from an employee. It was so much fun to watch them figure out who was going to go up and ask for help. The employee was very helpful and receptive to the idea that I was just there to observe and that they were her real customers. She talked and interacted with only them. The students were very polite and excited when she helped them locate all the supplies.
Then the next task began: to figure out if they had enough money to pay for all these supplies. They found an empty aisle and sat down to do their calculations. They realized they did not have enough money for all the stuff in their basket. Someone suggested that they put some stuff back. (Tongue biting on my part again.) The communication that went on to figure out what was critical and what was not was astounding. They discussed the pros and cons of each item and listened patiently to each other’s ideas. They were a true team. They then decided as a group to put the black icing back (they figured they could make their own with leftover orange icing and some food coloring if need be). They then recalculated their purchase and were so excited to see that they now had enough. At checkout they were even more thrilled when they realized they were going to be able to take lots of change (along with the receipt, of course) back to Ms. Anna and Mr. Fred.
Back at school all the students greeted them with great enthusiasm and couldn’t wait to see their purchases. The whole trip took 25 minutes. Not a lot of time, but such an important part of the whole Montessori Elementary process.
Oh, and I forgot to tell you that the students have the responsibility to make all the arrangements for their going out experience. They call the adults to request help and arrange a mutually convenient time for both parties. It has been great to see their confidence, independence and phone etiquette improve with each opportunity.
If you ever have the chance or are thinking of volunteering to take an Elementary student on a going out, please don’t pass it up. All parents, Primary and Elementary alike, are invited to share in the joy of this experience with the Elementary children. You will be blown away. The students are amazing and so grateful, and it really takes very little time.
For more information about volunteering to take the Elementary children on going outs, please contact the school office and watch this short training video by Miss Anna.