Last week, two of our third graders took a trip to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C. They were accompanied by one of our Elementary class parents, Susan. What follows (when you click on "Read More") is Susan's account of this unique Montessori experience, as seen through the eyes of a chaperone. Thank you, Susan, for sharing!
Natalie Newell, Director
I received a phone call from a child asking if I would take two students to the National Museum of American History. They suggested a date, but indicated they were flexible. I agreed and we chose a date together. I received a note showing the time and day I was expected, along with a helpful list of what I should bring (car, Metro card, lunch). I arrived at the appointed time and Ms. Alicia provided instructions for Going Out chaperones. The instructions advised that my primary role was the ensure the safety of the children. To that end, I was asked to keep my distance, walk several paces behind the children, and not intervene or offer assistance or guidance unless safety was an issue. The boys were ready to go and used a printout to navigate me correctly to the Metro station. While one child had a Metro card, the other needed to purchase one, which is not as easy as it should be with Metro's farecard machines. Through trial and error, the boy obtained a card and we boarded the train to Glenmont. While on the train, one child noticed the Metro map and looked at it for a long time, eventually pointing out where the transfer station was and calling the other child to look. When we got off the Red line train at Metro Center, the boys sat on a bench and waited for their next train without realizing that they needed a different platform. Since safety was not an issue, I stood to the side and gave them some space. After about six Red line trains came and went, one boy saw a sign saying other colors were on the lower level platform, so they went down the escalator and got on the correct train.
Exiting the station was another adventure since neither boy had enough money on his farecard. They had a lengthy, educational experience with the Exitfare machine and we were finally on our way to the museum. As most of you know, the National Mall is a confusing place, made more confusing by extensive construction on the sodded areas. While the boys had a map, it was not much help to them. I had to direct them to stay together and safe a few times when, for example, one boy began crossing the street while the other was looking at the map. After walking a fair amount, the boys seemed frustrated. I gathered them together and told them perhaps signs would help. One boy discovered the beauty of good signage and, after convincing his partner to let the idea of the map go, we found our way to the museum. They were thrilled!
They had a well-defined plan for the museum and investigated three exhibits. They took notes and pictures at each exhibit. The boys found a place to eat lunch and we ate on the outdoor patio. They were surprised at how much time it took to arrive, but how little time it took to see an exhibit. We toured the museum again and then headed out. Apparently, the memory of how we walked had faded, so we ended up walking quite far from the Metro station. At this point, everyone was tired and the boys were separated, walking both ahead of and behind me. I gathered them together, told them they had already navigated some difficult situations, that I believed they could do this, but they had to work together. I reviewed some strategies with them, such as asking an adult for help and looking at signs. I also pointed out some National Park Police working nearby. One child found a map and, helpfully oriented by the Capitol and National Monument, we found our way back to the station.
Back at Metro Center, they immediately knew to change platforms so we went up the escalator. One boy noticed immediately that the train was to Glenmont and we needed Shady Grove so he took us up and around to the other platform. We were almost there! We arrived back to the parking garage and they directed me back to school. After I turned the car off, I told them they did a great job, accomplished everything they set out to, and persisted through a variety of difficult situations. When then saw their friends, they were tired, but exhilarated and clearly proud of their accomplishment.
As an observer, I can tell you these boys received a rich, educational experience that day. They were forced to rely on themselves and each other in a way they are not accustomed to with parents or other guiding adults nearby. They remained determined and positive throughout the day. The lessons from the actual museum may be important, but far more important were the lessons on planning, scheduling, navigating, and working as a team to do something big outside the classroom. I was in awe of their attitude and energy as they progressed through challenge after challenge. As a chaperone, it was hard not to intervene and direct them, but an experience like that can only result in a sense of accomplishment if children are given the space and time to work it out themselves. I can understand why a non-parent Going Out chaperone is so crucial because the boys felt that distance from me and did not feel personally slighted that I was unwilling to assist. It was a lovely day and I felt truly proud of these nine-year-old boys.