Upper Elementary Field Trips: A Passage to Abstraction

May 09, 2016
namc montessori upper elementary going out field trips abstraction. children at laptop planning
The child's development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behavior towards him. We have to help the child to act, will and think for himself. This is the art of serving the spirit, an art which can be practiced to perfection only when working among children.
—Maria Montessori
The Advanced Montessori Method, p. 257.

Two years ago, my choir group decided to go to Germany to sing throughout the Rhine River region for 10 days. We decided that this was a good opportunity for a family vacation, so my husband and son arranged to meet me after the tour to go to Bavaria. Since the choir trip was planned for the group, I did very little by way of preparation. Conversely, my family planned together for months for our trip to Bavaria, excited to decide where we would go, what restaurants we would try, and the day trips we would make. And although we were only in Bavaria for 6 days, I remember more about that shorter leg of my trip than I do about the choir tour. Being an active participant in the planning made all the difference for me.

Planning as a passage to abstraction

This means that it is not enough to set the child among objects in proportion to his size and strength; the adult who is to help him must have learned how to do so. If the adult, through a fatal misunderstanding, instead of helping the child to do things for himself, substitutes himself for the child, then that adult becomes the blindest and most powerful obstacle to the development of the child's psychic life. In this misunderstanding, in the excessive competition between adult work and child work, lies the first great drama of the struggle between man and his work, and perhaps the origin of all the dramas and struggles of mankind.
—Maria Montessori
The Secret of Childhood, p. 208.

namc montessori upper elementary going out field trips abstraction. girl roasting marshmallows

Upper Elementary Field Trips: The Importance of Planning

In the Montessori classroom, children receive the keys to the universe, but outside the classroom, they experience how it works. Giving children opportunities to experience the world and connect with their community is vital to helping them become independent and socially responsible citizens. Planning these real-world activities is a big part of the Montessori experience. At each stage of the children’s development, the adult participation in the planning and implementing of going out activities becomes less. By the time they are in the upper elementary environment, the majority of the going out activity should be planned and carried out by the students.

Planning for a going out experience requires a lot of abstract thought. It requires the students to think beyond the idea of where to go and to fully prepare for every aspect of the outing.

There are a number of things they need to consider: schedules, people to contact, cost, transportation, chaperones, weather, meals, snacks, etc. This is big picture work and it requires the students to think beyond the immediate and forecast into the future.

Sometimes plans go awry during a going out activity, but these often end up being great learning moments. I remember one such moment during a multi-night campout that was arranged by a group of 45 upper elementary students. Unfortunately, the committee responsible for food did not plan well, and we ran out of food at several meals. Grumbling tummies and hungry friends certainly influenced how meals were planned for our next trip! Another time, the student planned a great trip to the planetarium, except they hadn’t arranged transportation. The morning of the trip required those students to execute some fancy footwork and last minute phone calls.

At the Montessori upper elementary age level, the teacher’s role in planning going out activities is that of guide. She can offer help, but that doesn’t mean taking over and doing the work for the students. It would have been very easy for me to rush in to arrange transportation for the planetarium, but what would that have taught the children? All sense of responsibility would have been lost. Instead, they felt immense joy and satisfaction when they were able to solve the problem on their own.

How do we give up the responsibility of planning? We do it in small, incremental Montessori steps.

We model how trips are planned. We present lessons about researching costs and comparing the pros and cons of different types of transportation. We provide templates students can use for creating budgets, schedules, and permission slips. We watch, observe, and offer our assistance when students need it. And we step back when they assure us everything is under control. After all, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
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