I get my son about 50% of the time. That means one week I have him, the next week he’s with his father. So when there is a volunteering opportunity at school, I’m the first to sign up because it means more time with him.
A few weeks ago his first grade teacher emailed me and asked if I wanted to volunteer for the local University’s Nature Trail field trip. I immediately moved my schedule around and said YES!
YES YES YES! NATURE!
Would I prefer a field trip to Target so I can show them where they hide the pictures frames that are on sale? Yes. Yes, I would. But here we are.
This morning I helped Abe’s teacher wrangle 36 kids onto a big yellow school bus at 9am. Luckily the ride was only about 10 minutes and despite the fact that children inexplicably feel the need to scream words at each other on a bus, it was smooth sailing.
We arrived at the Nature Trail and immediately headed into a big, wooden yurt where some college students and a ranger gave the kids warnings like, “Don’t touch anything,” and “Don’t yell,” and, “Try not to be 7.”
All the children agreed to these rules and then immediately ran screaming into the woods to climb trees.
Our first stop was the picnic tables where we would explore different “nature stations.” With 8 tables and 36 kids, we could fit about 4-5 kids at each table and then rotate. The teacher assigned me a group of 4 students, and let me tell you…I lucked out. My students were quiet and studious and lovely. I think the teacher knew I would call kids out if they started acting like idiots, and she didn’t want to have to hold me back.
Our first station revealed 7 bugs frozen in some kind of resin square. Bugs in squares is what we were looking at. There were actual live bugs crawling on our table, but we were looking at bugs in squares. It took me the entirety of our time at the first station to realize there was a little script on the table I was supposed to be reading out loud to teach the kids about the bugs. So my group just looked at bugs in squares with no explanation for 10 minutes and then we moved on. Star performance.
Our second station required we write down the answer to some questions about the food chain. Eight pictures on the table showed us things like a bird, a bug, a fish, some grass, and the sun. The students quickly put the pictures in order and then began answering the questions on the mini-quizzes provided at the table. Until the last question… “What bug eats animals?”
“Ms. Salem? Can you help us with this? Which bug eats animals?”
They all stared at me. I pulled out my phone and started to Google.
Google gave me results like “animals that eat bugs” and “how to cook bugs”, but nothing telling me which bug eats animals.
“Do you guys wanna know how to make marinara sauce? I can teach you that…”
Eventually a ranger came over and explained that the Giant Water Bug eats fish.
Because who doesn’t know that.
Our third station consisted of fake bugs that we had to measure with rulers. It was dumb. The fake ant was bigger than the fake scorpion, which left all the kids asking me if ants really grew bigger than scorpions. (I Googled that, too, just to be sure they didn’t…)
Station four had Giant Water Bugs in a bucket of water. Learning about the Giant Water Bugs at station four before going to station two would have been awesome for my personal level of self-esteem.Station five had leaves. We looked at leaves. We counted holes in them. We smelled them. We talked a lot more than I ever have about leaves.
I don’t even remember stations six through eight. It was a lot of looking at things I usually step on.
THEN we got to go on the NATURE TRAIL!!! YES NATURE! The Ranger handed out small clip boards with a piece of paper full of questions to each child. He told them they were to read the questions as we go because he was going to answer them during our walk. I considered raising my hand and telling him that was going to result in 10-15 children walking directly into trees and possibly the lake, but I decided it was a good chance for a show so I stayed quiet and let it happen. (And it did happen.)The Ranger guided us along the path and showed us wild blueberry plants and as the path neared the lake’s edge, he pointed at the turtles and the lilly pads. It was very pretty.
Then, the Ranger stopped. “Guys! Quiet! Look!”
And there he was. A long, black snake hanging out at the base of a tree. You guys, it was really exciting. He stuck his tongue out at us and nodded like, “Yep. Hey guyth. Yep I’m a sthnake. Jutht thitting under this tree here.” I liked him. He had pizzaz. He had style. He was waaaaay more interesting than bugs in squares.
The children, of course, all heeded the Ranger’s warning and ran screaming past the snake.
When the nature walk ended, we landed back at the picnic tables for bagged lunches. I sat next to Abe and his friends, which was cool because he talks to his friends now. It’s not like before when they just burped and laughed and showed each other the food in their mouths. They say stuff like, “My gummie fruit is similar to yours,” and, “One time my dad ate liver.”
The best, most amazing part of the entire field trip, though, came in the last 5 minutes. We boarded the bus, and Abe sat in our seat closest to the window. Slowly, he began to lean on me. Then, he slinked down a little. A little further. A little more. And then…boom.
My baby 7-year-old fell asleep in my lap.
The entire trip was totally worth those moments. Giant Water Bugs and food chains be damned.
My kid still wants to sleep in my lap after the field trip.