Would you choose to spend a few hours driving in a bus with about 25 first graders? I would. Would you choose to join them on a field trip to an apple orchard? I would. Would you flip out with the constant chatter and games that keep 6 and 7 year-olds amused? I wouldn’t. “Red one! Blue one!” “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with…”. “Let’s read my book together first. Then we can read yours. ‘Once upon a time…’” It just got better.
When my first grader asked if I would be a chaperone for her class trip, I was honoured. It’s nice when children don’t see their parents as things to cause them embarrassment. I nearly messed things up this morning, though, when I said that perhaps I would fall asleep on the bus and snore or even talk in my sleep. “Please. No!” I was told. I knew the limits to not exceed.
Overnight, I had honestly become excited about going on the ride. I had never before been on a bus trip with a group of children in the US. I had drifted off into thoughts of climbing apple trees when I was a boy, though I knew that this was not going to be part of the trip. When I was young, the idea of a trip to an orchard was not to do so with a group in a bus, but to find a field of trees and see if we could go and get permission to climb them and pick some fruit and maybe keep some of what we kept. That seemed like a bold thing to do when I was about 8 years old. We also like the idea of getting to drink some cider, waht we called ‘scrumpy’.
But, these first grade children, mainly products of city living, were so excited that they could barely sit still. It was a road trip. Once on the bus, they got into a range of well-behaved activities: reading, singing, number games, talking to each to each other, teasing… They did not need much supervision, though the presence of about 8 parents to add to 3 teachers made it easier to get control, if it was needed. Just as we were due to get an “Are we there yet?”, we took a rest stop at Cunningham State Park, which has a fantastic playground made of recycled tyres, with swings and a mini zip line, that gave the kids a chance to expend some energy and allow for their lunch time picnic to be set up. Did they love the picnic? Of course. Eating out in a park, not in the cafeteria, even if it’s just turkey or cheese sandwiches, has to be better. Better still is that after eating you can go back and have some more play.
It’s great to see the teachers work their magic with the classes. The bus came to a halt and one teacher raised two fingers in a V peace sign. The noise ebbed. “If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me at the back, clap twice.” Loud clapping followed. These children are used to paying attention and showing they can listen.
Our hosts at Catoctin Mountain Orchards are used to doing these trips, and they handle the children well. They know that a tractor ride gets the kids on your side, so load up and roll out. They tell a great story of how apples come into existence, especially about grafting onto root-stock and how that means more than one type of apple can grow on a tree. They tell about the care needed to pick apples. They tell about the threats of winter frost. But, they also tell of how, even though they are not organic farmers, they try to use a little pesticide as possible: they have great natural friends such as ladybirds, but also greater enemies, such as the now-epidemic stinkbugs.
The children loved hearing about all of that, but they had come to pick apples and once they had been given the green light, they could not wait to twist and pull off their prizes. They learned about grading and washing the apples, helped by a demonstration that used different sized children to show the differences in apple sizes. Once the grading machine started to work, we saw that those wimpy, small apples were more plentiful than those big ones. Let’s hear it for small things. Then there was the tasting of the cider–made with nothing but all apples–and learning that it was better to drink than the sugary apple juice that had many things in addition to apple. Good marketing.
But you have to take something back for those in the family who did not make the trip. I love tart apples, so it was going to be be my taste that ruled my choice–apple and blackberry pie and cranberry and apply preserve. My first grader plumped for a handy sized bottle of cider. I thought I had better buy some apples to help make the crisp that had been mentioned in the car on the drive to school. We did our bit to help the economy.
But there was still time for more play, and off the kids went again for a run around the trees and the pumpkin patch. I’d said earlier to some parents that what is so amazing with children is their ability to want to play almost all the time. Tiring for an adult, maybe, but good to see. For a teacher to manage to keep that in check is quite amazing.
Back in the bus, the parents were more subdued as their day took its toll. Children were back at games and repetitive songs. Gladly, at about 1.30pm, rush-hour had not yet started, and the drive back to school was smooth. As we got back, children with parents there were given the option to stay for a little recess time and story, or go straight home: they all stayed.
The story of the day at the apple orchard need not be told to me on the drive home; that could be saved for telling to the other parent in the evening. My pie, which I honestly hoped would tide me over for the next few mornings, was met with glee and a sharp knife and ice cream when evening arrived.
I had thought about writing about the trip during the ride but it meant missing what was going on. One brave parent tried to do her studies during the trip. I think she read 10 pages on the way there and slept on the way back. I so wanted to play car spotting games with her when she dozed but I did not stir her. Spending a day with first graders has a way of affecting how you think :-).