The Profound Power of Class Trips

By Dianna Guldi

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There are many profound intentions behind class trips at Waldorf schools. Starting in third grade, Detroit Waldorf School students leave campus, and most often leave the city, for an overnight class trip. This continues and grows in length every year until it culminates in eighth grade, when the class and teacher have traditionally traveled far into northern Ontario for a wilderness trip with professional survival guides that is a true bonding experience as well as a rite of passage.

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Of the many wonderful aspects of Waldorf education, the class trip is one of my favorite events for many reasons. It builds a tighter bond among students and classroom parents, brings real-world experiences into the curriculum and provides the opportunity to deepen our relationship with nature while removing ourselves from the fast-paced technological world of today.

Many Waldorf schools include class trips as a hands-on learning opportunity for older children. Although, many classes go to the same locations, nothing is set in stone. Each classroom teacher can choose a destination for the class trip that makes sense for that year.

Class Trips Through The Grades

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At DWS, third-graders go away for one night, usually to west Michigan, and the itinerary becomes part of the housebuilding and farming focus of third grade.  This is a time when the children are becoming solid and confident on the earth. We often go to Tillers International, a farm devoted to training people to use draft animals and to make their own tools.  There we learn to guide oxen, make rope, see blacksmith demonstrations, and participate in other hands-on experiences.

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The fourth grade curriculum is woven beautifully into the class trip where many visit historical forts and spend time in the Great Lakes, experiencing the special places of our state. Through the years, the class trips deepen everything students are learning in the classroom.

A fourth and fifth grade favorite is the Dark Sky Park at the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula. That is a wonderful class trip, as we spend time in the night staring at the stars, directed by a wonderful astronomy expert, Mary Stewart Adams. She connects the stories behind the constellations with the storytelling approach Waldorf brings to every stage of learning and also prepares us for astronomy in the sixth grade year. My class visited the Dark Sky Park in fourth grade and Sleeping Bear Dunes in fifth grade where we explored the dunes and visited a biodynamic farm to deepen the interconnection we have with the world.

Dianna Guldi   sitting on a ledge in Hocking Hills.

Dianna Guldi sitting on a ledge in Hocking Hills.

For the teacher, it can touch in ways that you don’t even realize. For instance, when we visited Hocking Hills in sixth grade, I knew the meaning of the trip in regards to the curriculum of earth formations and bonding of our class community, but there are always special happenings that become magical surprises.  As we entered a gorge one day, there was an inspirational moment relating to sound, which completely related to our physics experiments. My first thought was, how beautiful it would be if we could appreciate this phenomenon of sound in this magnificent gorge. I gathered the students around to give them a task that I thought would be challenging, as it would take away them away from the social realm they were so very much enjoying. As I began my directions with the purpose of finding a quiet place of their own to experience sound, I didn’t even complete the sentence before the students excitedly rushed to find their own cozy corner. It seemed to be from my perspective, a magical experience for all. Never would I have anticipated such an extraordinary moment. 

On that same trip, we came across fiddlehead ferns. When these plants unfurl, a beautiful logarithmic spiral is expressed, connecting to the geometry the children have drawn and experienced.  The message for the students was that what we learn in the classroom exists and is relevant in the real world in ways that you never imagined.

As a teacher, you not only build on the curriculum from past years, but also become inspired for the years to come. There are all of these wondrous happenings that you can connect through the years.

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As I mentioned before, these trips are also a wonderful example of getting away briefly from our fast-paced world. I feel like all Waldorf teachers would agree, getting away from screens, from the world we live in today, and really truly being able to bond, is one of the best benefits of our class trips. This is especially important in the middle school years where students are opening up to the technological world as never before. This year, we are convening at the Up North home of a class family, in an effort to keep it low-key, fun and educational by deepening environmental awareness as we prepare for our big adventure to Temagami in September.

Eighth Grade Trip to Temagami - A True Bonding Experience

At Detroit Waldorf School, class trips typically take place in the month of May, when spring has sprung and the ground is thawing. However, there is one great exception: the eighth grade trip either happens in late August or a few weeks after school begins in September.

There is a different reason why we go at the beginning of the school year in eighth grade. As the oldest grade in our school, and at a time when children are contemplating where they go in the world after leaving the warmth of Waldorf, we begin eighth grade with this incredible bonding experience, that challenges their comfort zones and prepares them for the unexpected.

Eighth grade is really this time of entering young adulthood. You see this transition, around mid-year, where they are getting ready to embrace this different consciousness coming along. The eighth grade trip is really a rite of passage as they are about to enter into a larger world.

Every eighth grade student has deep feelings about the trip.  There are those who aren’t excited about the trip, who may be scared or don’t want to go. There are others who are gung-ho and eager. No matter who they are or how they’re going into that experience, every student I’ve had has come out of their eighth grade trip with some lifelong learning experience. 

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It’s a time of personal growth, for sure. I’ve had students that needed to build an awareness for others. On this trip, it’s vital that you work as a team, a community. Each evening there is a reflective ceremonial time around the campfire where we sit in a circle and talk about the day: What we learned, what went well, what was challenging. At this ceremony, a student who had hastily left his canoe partner to reach the end of the island, realized the effect that action had upon his classmates that day. It was profoundly meaningful that it came from his peers in a meaningful and constructive manner.  It was there that he realized they were the ones who had to pick up the slack where he left off in order to support the whole community.

I had another student who was extremely fearful. It was hard for that student to portage with all the heavy equipment. There may have even been tears. But at the end, the student felt such a sense of accomplishment, and gratitude to classmates for holding the space for others who are struggling.

Other students are cocky and headstrong, thinking it’s going to be easy for them, and once on the trip, they realize it’s harder than they thought. That’s a personal reckoning of the soul, and it’s humbling.

Wherever the students are at the beginning of the trip, by the end of this incredible bonding experience that they have with their classmates, there is something they are going to take away with them and always remember.

One last thought about the eighth grade trip: it gives students a peek into this larger world, where they are headed. They are so comfortable here with all the teachers, and on the eighth grade trip, even though the class teacher goes along, we are a standby. The survival guides run the show.

They realize they are on their own but that they also have to work together to make progress and get through the trip to the final destination. It’s an incredible metaphor for eighth grade and the progression of childhood.

Class trips are profound in their power and impact in so many ways.

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For grades three through seven, parents accompany the class, and connections between families are deepened, enlarging the “village” around the class.  In eighth grade, students are gaining independence and family members do not accompany them into the “wilderness.”  They learn to trust other guides and themselves – a necessary step into a larger world they will soon encounter.

Also on these trips, students discover and explore and form new bonds as well as exercise creativity, imagination and independence that is sometimes unique to these trips. I remember one trip where students were working well putting up tents and preparing foods together.  Three boys went to play by the water and happened across some old fishing line. They decided to make their own fishing pole from a stick and a bobber. They caught a live dragonfly and started fishing, and with patience and perseverance, they caught a fish! They ran up to the campsite excitedly and were lovingly received by their classmates who had been setting up.

When we step away from technology and the busy-ness of our daily life, we can bond with one another and see possibilities. And we can get silent with ourselves and really be in the moment, we learn new things about ourselves, too. Class trips are a wonderful way that all of us in our Waldorf community come together, grow closer, rediscover ourselves and our children, and form new ideas about what we want our lives to be about. They are truly priceless.

Dianna Guldi is 7th grade teacher at Detroit Waldorf School