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I think that “The Garden State” should be renamed “Land of Field Trips.” Here’s a small sampling of the field trips I took as a student and a Girl Scout in New Jersey:

  • “Grease” on Broadway
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Places where George Washington slept
  • A chocolate factory
  • The Colorforms factory
  • The Bergen Record (where we saw them placing metal type!!)
  • Prentice Hall
  • Bell Labs (punch cards!!)
  • The Clearwater (Pete Seeger’s boat on the Hudson River)
  • Tenafly Nature Center
  • Stokes State Forest
  • Hunting for fossils along streambeds
  • Sandy Hook National Recreation Area
  • The Statue of Liberty

The schools I was blessed to attend had enough money to pay for regular field trips, and there was a nearly endless supply of natural, cultural, and industrial venues we could visit. When I was in high school, our band took bus trips to Montreal and Orlando, and my church handbell choir visited California and Tennessee.

Field trips expanded my world. Visiting California introduced me to the state where I chose to attend college and decided to live, and visiting factories influenced me to major in industrial engineering.

Late August, 2001: Atop the Empire State Building

My Mom was the great Girl Scout leader who organized all of the factory tours and some of the more obscure outings. Her energy and enthusiasm for new adventures inspired me to create “field trip” experiences for my own children and for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. When my daughter posted a picture of herself viewing a painting at the Getty Museum this weekend on her Facebook profile, I was pleased to see that all those trips to museums resulted in a young woman who appreciates art. Besides museums, I took my kids to restaurants, grocery stores, and even language and music classes in different cultures. Even though they’re in college now, we took a few hours over winter break to walk around Little Tokyo. Like New Jersey and neighboring New York, Los Angeles provides many great field trip opportunities.

When my kids got to school, their field trips included not only traditional locales such as the California Science Center and the Chumash Indian Museum, but when they were younger they toured a grocery store, a pet shop, and the post office.

I was reminded of this today when I read the New York Times article, “A Field Trip to a Strange New Place: Second Grade Visits the Parking Garage.” It features a fabulous teacher who introduces poor children to places that may seem commonplace to us, but are exotic to children whose parents don’t have the resources to get out much. I chuckled when the article pointed out that some of the kids hadn’t even been to New Jersey. Imagine! The teacher then ties what the kids learn on the field trip into her lesson plans.

I bet that these trips will have a huge impact on these kids. I remember more about the field trips that I took than all the other days of school combined. I wish that all kids could go to cool places like the Museum of Natural History or experience a multi-day camping trip, but I hope that schools and parents realize that if they find the beauty and learning potential in the places around them, they can create lasting memories for kids that might influence them for a lifetime.