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Teaching Kids Life's 'Giant' Lessons Outside the Classroom

What you can learn playing hooky

To whom it may concern,

I hope this letter helps explain why my son and daughter were absent from school yesterday. They were living history instead of reading about it in a textbook.

A ticker tape parade. A jubilant gathering at the stadium. The Giants won the Super Bowl and we took our place in celebrating this bit of history.

I didn’t think twice about saying yes to letting them skip school.

My older children whine, “You didn’t let us go to the Giants celebration four years ago.”  

What changed? Am I burnt out and a more lenient parent for these children? I know I am older, but I think also a bit wiser for my change of heart.

Like the lifelong learners I want my children to be, I have learned that textbooks and lectures are important but life lessons are just as valuable.

In the family movie Dolphin Tale, the main character is withdrawn, lonely boy struggling in school. He spends his vacation enrolled in a summer school class. Soon he begins skipping school after he meets a marine biologist and volunteers helping care for an injured dolphin.

The mother sees her son excited, engaged and learning science by actually doing, touching, seeing and exploring. It is a shining example of differentiated learning.

Mom asks the teacher to let her son seize this opportunity and let this experience become his “class.” She promises he will produce a research paper and presentation. The teacher says no — it's outside the box — untraditional.

Mom takes the risk and let’s her son continue his studies in a “real life classroom.” In the final scenes of the film, we learn the teacher will indeed give him credit for the class. Movies have happy endings.

My school system now has a policy of one field trip a year. When my children first entered the district students were taking upwards of three trips a year. We live in the New York metro area and have educational and cultural institutions that are revered worldwide yet our students remain tethered to their desks.

When I travel to Europe, I marvel at the school children I encounter in museums learning firsthand about artists and sketching their own interpretations of masterpieces. They visit the Eiffel Tour and learn about architecture and math. They are learning about history on the streets of Brussels.

One November I took my children out of school days before the scheduled teacher’s convention break. We were taking a family cruise. I remember feeling guilty breaking the rules and having them miss school when the kids weren’t sick. 

I confess the vacation was fun and created family memories but it also provided valuable lessons. We visited tropical islands where we learned about nature. We learned about business and the local economy touring a nutmeg plant. We met local people and observed cultures different than our own. My children practiced their table manners and expanded their culinary tastes each night in the dining room. They were learning outside the classroom and could bring back the experience in the next writing assignment.

Do I have any guilt that they have extra homework today to make up the class work they missed?

Not at all.

In between helping them with the English essay I will be checking out the date for Yankee’s Opening Day. See you at the stadium.

Sincerely,
Lynn 

Nora O'Sullivan February 10, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Great article. I agree with you that field trips and a day out of school can occasionally be more rewarding than the classroom. Luckily, my principal is a huge fan of educational field trips and allows us to take the students on multiple trips each year (Broadway shows, dinners, museums, etc.). I think it's important to remember not all students come from families which enable them to have life experiences such as those you taught your children the day of the parade or during vacation. Instead, a day spent at home is often not spent doing something engaging or educationally stimulating. In fact, I find that most of my students miss school due to a family conflict or another unfortunate situation. Some children's parents do not have the educational background themselves to provide their kids with such "valuable lessons." Therefore, the only safe, educational or life lessons they are exposed to are within the walls of the school building. So my side of it would be, more schools should frequent the "playing hooky" approach by taking their students out to get the hands on experience. Those parents, like yourself, who are able to provide their children with these types of experiences should be strongly encouraged to do so and should NEVER feel guilty about it! These experiences are not only memorable and fun for you/your children, but provide them with real-world connections to their textbooks.
Randi Pomerantz February 10, 2012 at 12:20 PM
I couldn't agree more! Great article once again, Lynn!
NLTITAN February 10, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Sorry - disagree! HISTORY is when there is a parade for our military men and women coming home from Afganistan and Iran!!! Bloomgerg said it was too expensive. Winning a Super Bowl IS NOT HISTORY! History is "man on the moon", etc.
Ed February 10, 2012 at 02:11 PM
How is it history? Was it the first Super Bowl played? Was it the first indoor game? Was it the first time an NFC team beat an AFC team? Was it the highest scoring game? The lowest scoring game? The closest game? The game with the most offensive yards rushing and/or passing? The first time someone won a second MVP trophy? The first time a team won two Super Bowls in a row? Was it their 7th Super Bowl win? First ticker tape parade for a winning sports team? First celebration in a stadium? The answer to ALL of the above questions is a resounding NO!!! So, pray tell, exactly HOW is it HISTORY???
Mike De Vito February 29, 2012 at 02:53 AM
Well said Lynn! - also - can I be one of your kids!?

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