First of all, I learned early on that kindergartners typically do not want to hold hands with a walking partner on a field trip. Unfortunately for them, that is one of the easiest ways for a teacher to keep her class together and to check for everyone at one time. Before we left for the zoo, I taught my students the buddy system. Here's how it worked: each student had an assigned buddy whom they were responsible for. When I said "buddy," each kiddo had to find his/her buddy as quickly as possible, hold onto hands, and say "buddy" back to me. This way, they didn't have to hold on to their partners hands all the time, but I could quickly pull them together to do a count if I needed to. We practiced a few times in the classroom and we were set to go. I didn't know for sure if this would work, but I was willing to give it a try. Fortunately, it was incredibly effective for us! I used it many times while we were at the zoo, and it helped tie us together.
Secondly, I have learned that kindergartners will ask the right questions if you give them a chance. Because I have never taken a group of children to the zoo, I didn't exactly know what my job, aside from being a shepherdess, was supposed to be. The first animals we saw were the birds (bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures). We awkwardly stood there for a few moments while I tried to figure out what to say to them about these birds, and then one of the students looked at me and said, "What do they eat?" Thank you, student! Kiddos are naturally inquisitive. If I trust my students to engage in the topic at hand, they will come up with awesome learning opportunities. That's the whole reason behind why I chose to do Genius Hour with my students. The rest of the time, we would walk to an animal's cage or habitat, look for awhile, and ask questions. As they asked their questions, I did my best to answer. I didn't know all of the answers, but I told them we could look them up when we got back to school.
Finally, I have learned the value of patience. We threw off our students' schedules and routines by leaving the school for this experience. We ate later than we usually did. We were outside more than we usually are. We didn't have specials or math or Jolly Phonics or Daily 5 or *gasp* recess. It was a bit of a challenge for many of them to adjust to these changes. The most popular questions of the day were:
- When is lunch?
- Are we there yet?
- Can I have a drink?
- (and, of course) Did we miss recess?
As we waited for dismissal at the end of the day, we stood around and counted all of the animals we had seen. The students excitedly shared about their favorites and grinned from ear to ear as they relived the day. That, in and of itself, is a success!