Sunday, September 2, 2012

Concrete Experiences

Field trips are expensive. And time-consuming. And incredibly tiring. And I think we're going to do more of them.

We just had a run of daily field trips--DH was away last week, and I needed to get the stir-crazy toddler out of the house every day or risk losing my mind--and I think this fall we're going to switch from Park Day to Museum and/or Cultural Institution Day. Kiddo is old enough now that he's able to react to at least some displays and exhibits, and he has enough of a speech baseline that we can really converse about what he's seeing. Also, to his credit, he has a great attention span and interest level for a little dude. We went to Griffith Observatory and he sat through the entire 30-minute planetarium show, exhibiting interest and reacting appropriately throughout. Yes, maybe he just liked watching TV on the ceiling, but I think it bodes well for future such outings.

Truth be told, I am a vocabulary fanatic. If there's one thing I want to do for the kiddo before he fully escapes my clutches, it's build the most complex word-based brain framework that I possibly can for him. Research shows, and I personally believe, that understanding the meanings of many words allows for deeper learning throughout life. (I could refer you to actual science-y papers so you think I'm really educated and stuff, but in lieu of overdoing it, I will simply point to this perfectly adequate Q&A.)

ANYWAY, I'm told that concrete experiences help reinforce book-learned word knowledge, as well as presumably building separate neural connections about the time and place of the concrete experience. I want my kid to have those opportunities! And if I'm being honest, I might as well admit that I am terrified of my kid not having those opportunities.


Because of articles like this 2009 piece from the New York Times about how Harlem kids are taken on special outings to farms so that they can encounter sheep and wool and eggs and chickens in situ, so when they encounter questions about multiplying cornstalks on a standardized test, they won't go, "Wuh?," which is apparently a genuine thing that happens. (This whole article makes me want to sit on a concrete floor rocking back and forth and humming.)

In the same vein, my parents are docents at the Getty Villa in Malibu and my dad just told me this: As part of their educational mission, the richer-than-Croesus Getty pays for school buses to bring kids to tour the museum and gardens. As you may know if you've been there, the only way to get to the Getty Villa is along Pacific Coast Highway. Apparently it is common knowledge among Getty staff that many of these Southern California schoolchildren are amazed to find themselves confronted with the ocean, which they have never seen before. They live in SoCal, and the Pacific Ocean is...I can't even deal, people! Aaah!

FWIW, Hart & Risley indicates that vocabulary-building via direct instruction and hands-on experience is effective, although it doesn't seem to alter overall vocabulary growth trajectories.

Long story short, we are lucky enough to live in a vast megalopolis full of cultural institutions that can reinforce learned words and introduce new ones, and I think this year we're going to pony up the $15-$20-$25 admission fees (plus parking, sigh) and go see some more museums and zoos and stuff.


  1. My mom works at a high school. A private high school where no one can blame the lack of exposure on lack of money. She talks with kids who don't know what things like a cheese grater are. Kids who have never lit a match. I'm working on those things with my kids. And other concrete experiences. You might like this book. I have an old one so I still check online for current prices and times.

  2. If you do any traveling, you can get a membership to a museum that participates in reciprocal admissions programs like ASTC or ACM. Some museums will charge you half-price admission if your residence is within 90 miles, but that's still cheaper than paying full price. Most museums, however, only care that the museum that you have a membership to is more than 90 miles away.

  3. When I was teaching in East Palo Alto, the superintendent canceled all field trips, even though we had already written grants to pay for them in the first place!!!