My daughter was in second class when we had to take a two-week trip in the middle of the school term. It was necessary to make the trip at this time for a variety of reasons, and of course, like most parents, we were concerned about losing school time, even though we did know that at this level, it shouldn’t necessarily be something to worry too much about in academic terms. The trip was to a part of the country that had a completely different landscape and climate than the children had been accustomed to, apart from involving meeting cousins they had not interacted with so far. When we approached the class teacher for permission, explaining to her why we needed to pull the child out of school for this period, she waved away our explanations with a smile. “Travel is the best sort of education,” she said. “She’s going to learn a lot in these two weeks — so don’t worry about missing school!” Before we left, she made up a simple workbook that she asked my daughter to fill out during the trip, with prompts that would get her to record her experience and think about the things she saw and did. So something planned as nothing more than a family trip turned into an extended lesson spanning such topics as temperate rainforests, forms of transportation, river locks, world cuisines, and much else. Not to mention communication — both in terms of asking questions and writing down the answers, and then trying to understand what it all meant. I’ve been forever thankful to that perceptive teacher, for affirming that children learn in many ways, and it’s important to make use of all the channels and modes we have available to us. It wasn’t just that she didn’t make a fuss about lost attendance, but that she embraced an expansive idea of learning from the natural and social world.
This is a theme that recurs frequently in the articles contained in this issue, from homeschooling parents to teachers who have pushed away from the boundaries of textbook and classroom learning. In some cases, it is about travelling to unfamiliar places and understanding new cultures. In others, it is about encountering nature in the raw. And in yet others, it is about looking at the familiar in new ways, about rediscovering the rich worlds in our backyards and neighbourhoods. In each of these cases, the underlying spirit is one of open-ended learning that still has a certain discipline to it, brought in by a respect for the spaces we are travelling through and the need to understand without judgment.
We’ve enjoyed putting together these accounts, and hope they will prompt you to take your own students on some short and long journeys outside the classroom…and write back to us about your experiences!