For a look at how one field trip was born in our classroom, led us into the community, and then brought us back to the classroom, come with me on our excursion to a local restaurant owned by the parents of one of my kindergartners.

After conversations about our school's nutrition program, my children became interested in food and how it's prepared. They started asking about restaurants and then Jessica, Lauren, and Evan began creating them in the dramatic-play area. Soon everyone was joining in.

What better way to learn more about restaurants than by visiting one!

Building Background

Before the trip I asked children what they knew about restaurants - which wasn't a great deal.

"Some have bad food," said Michael, "and some have good food." "When you look at a menu you see all kinds of food," offered Kurt. Jessica said that she didn't really know much about restaurants at all.

Then the children shared what they would like to learn about restaurants: "About the food they give us." "How they get food so fast." "How they make dough." To get the answers, we created interview questions they could ask the people at the restaurant.

The children then thought about the kinds of information they wanted to gather on the trip. What does the restaurant look like? How is it set up? How many people can eat there at one time? What's in the restaurant? After we talked about how to get this information, we formed four groups. Each group would work with a parent volunteer and be responsible for a particular task. One group would draw maps of the restaurant, another would read the menu and draw the items on it, the third group would interview the chef, and the fourth would count the number of tables, chairs, and plants in the restaurant.

Being There

We took the school bus and, as planned, got to the restaurant when it was closed so that we'd have it to ourselves. After the children put their jackets in the coatroom - a first for many of them - they broke into their groups and got busy drawing pictures, making maps, and counting tables.

When they were finished, the owner gave us a tour of the restaurant. The children loved getting to see what was behind all the counters -- especially the pastry case! We took lots of photographs and asked lots of questions.

Many of the children had been to the restaurant as customers, and they were thrilled to go behind the scenes and visit the kitchen. The children explored the area, asking about all the tools and utensils, and they had lots of questions for chef Ernest.

"How do you make food in a hurry?" asked Lauren. "With a lot of help from people in the kitchen, my fast hands, and good utensils," the chef said. Michael wanted to know why Ernest had become a chef. "I like to cook and learn new techniques," he explained. "Why do you make food?" asked Mateo. The chef replied, "I want to make good food for people."

Then he showed us the huge oven and told us how hot it got. The children wondered why the cooks use such big pots, and the chef explained that they must cook for lots of people at the same time.

With the interview over it was time to make the pizza! Squishing and kneading the dough was the highlight of the day for many of the children - and some of the parents too. While the pizza baked, we got to see the pastry kitchen, where all the desserts are prepared. That made us all hungry - fortunately, it was time to devour the delicious pizza!

Building on the Experience

Back in the classroom, we had a group meeting so the children could talk about the trip and what they had seen and done. The groups took turns sharing the results of their investigations and showing the maps, drawings, menus, and other things they had made.

Over the next several days, the children continued to record and build on their experience in a variety of ways:

  • Small groups used the maps to come up with plans to recreate the restaurant with blocks. They voted on which plan to use and got busy in the block area.
  • Some children made charts and graphs to record the information they had collected about the number of chairs, tables, and plants in the restaurant.
  • Others made menus, using invented spelling and illustrations of the food items from the restaurant. which they then used in the dramatic play area.
  • As a group, the children developed questions for our school's cafeteria staff. We interviewed the staff and then compared the information about the cafeteria with what we had learned about the restaurant.

After working on these projects, we gathered again to discuss our experiences. In this group meeting, we revisited the list of what the children knew about restaurants before the trip and then listed everything they knew now. Had they learned a lot! "A lot of people come to eat there," said Jessica. Added Cara, "First one person, then another, then more people, and it starts to fill up and you have a crowd of people!" Evan said, "You order from a menu." "If you're a chef, you cook," chimed in Kurt. Isaac said, "Waiters and waitresses work in the restaurant." "Food is kept in a large refrigerator," said Amy. Mateo added, "There are a lot of tables and chairs in a restaurant."

Sharing and Remembering

After a few weeks of exploring the theme, I compiled the photographs of the trip and children's drawings, maps, menus, graphs, and other creations in a documentation panel -- which is now on display in our room.

The panel not only tells the story of the trip but also lets parents know what children experienced. The children continue to look at the panel, remembering all the fun they had and recalling what they learned and did together.

After The Field Trip

No matter where you go, the learning continues long after the last child is off the bus. Here are a few activity ideas:

  • Sequence of events.  Begin this activity by asking "What did we do first when we went to the library?" Invite children to draw the things they did on the trip. Then work together to sequence the drawings. Display them at children's eye level so they can revisit the trip.
  • Creative expression. Suggest that children construct the place you visited with blocks. Or add new props to the dramatic-play area to help children act out their new experience. After a visit to the fire station, for example, children can reenact how a firefighter gets dressed for a fire (pants, shirt, boots, coat, tank, mask, helmet, gloves); after visiting a bakery, they can pretend to make a loaf of bread.
  • Writing and documentation. Prepare a log for children's drawings and comments about the trip. After a post office visit, you might provide a log that says "This is what we saw when we went inside the post office" and provides room for children to draw what they saw.

You can also make a class book. Children can sequence the photos of the trip and then dictate comments to include in the book.