What goes on behind the scenes in the neighborhood? Take learning on the go and let children find out. In the restaurant kitchen. At the factory. Behind the counter. Get out and about all around the town and turn your community into a classroom.

For the second day in a row, Jessica, Lauren, and Evan were playing restaurant. "I want spaghetti and meatballs," said Lauren. Jessica wrote "S G T E  N D  M E T B L S " on her pad and went to the play stove to put some pretend food on a Styrofoam tray. Jessica handed the tray to Lauren. "I hope you like your food." Jessica* then turned to Evan and asked, "What do you want for lunch today?" Evan enthusiastically replied, "A hamburger!"

Observing this scene in the dramatic-play area, I saw that the children had some knowledge of what goes on in a restaurant but that there was much more they could learn. It was also clear that their recent interest in restaurants was growing - and that in their play was the seed for a community field trip.

Why Take Field Trips?

Community trips can be a lot more than just an afternoon out of the classroom. Whether they're to the small corner store or the big airport, field trips help our children:

Develop observation skills. Young children's greatest learning tools are their senses. Learning about themselves and their world through observation, they see, smell, taste, touch, and listen to the things around them to gather new knowledge. Field trips offer a firsthand experience that books, pictures, and discussions cannot provide.

Broaden knowledge of their community. Neighborhood trips enable children to expand their understanding of and respect for other people. They discover cultural similarities and differences between community workers as they interview the neighborhood shoe-repair owner, born in Ghana, and the florist, born in Korea. Social studies come alive as children expand their worldview, learn about different jobs, and meet adult role models. All of these experiences add to children's real world knowledge, giving them new information to use in their play. After talking to restaurant workers, Jessica, Lauren, and Evan invited classmates to role-play a chef, hostess, and cashier in their restaurant dramatic play.

Gather and use new information. A community field trip reinforces children's prior knowledge, while helping them learn new things. Trips provide children with opportunities to discover and name new objects, increasing their vocabulary.

Field trips also enrich the classroom environment and children's experiences in it. The items children collect to study become materials for art projects and new props for dramatic play. Upon returning to the classroom from a restaurant or post office, children will make restaurant signs to add to the dramatic-play area, write letters to friends, sort and classify materials, count play money, make graphs, build structures, and read maps and menus. Children's newfound excitement and learning make their way into many curriculum.