Day trips: That's the stuff!

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Trips away from the nursery can provide a wealth of opportunities for learning, both on the day and back in the setting. Julian Grenier has some ideas to get you started

Trips away from the nursery can provide a wealth of opportunities for learning, both on the day and back in the setting. Julian Grenier has some ideas to get you started

Many of my most pleasurable memories of working with young children arose from the visits we did together. I will never forget the time a child sneaked on to the surface of the moon and made a run for the astronauts at the Science Museum. And I will always remember the intense enjoyment of a child with special needs leaping into the sea and screaming with the thrill of cold water splashing all over and around him. There is something delightful and mind-expanding about taking children beyond the four walls of their settings and encountering something new together.

When children come back from trips, they play out their experiences. They draw things about them, build things about them and make many other representations of what they saw and what they did.

These exciting first-hand experiences are what Chris Athey* calls the 'stuff' that fills and alters the structures of children's minds.

Her research into children's thinking shows how children constantly take their experiences from trips back into their nursery. Trips broaden children's experiences: quite simply, they give children more stuff to think about. Just as importantly, children take their interests and patterns of thinking with them when they go out. The child who is fascinated by throwing objects up in the air will be absolutely thrilled by the Flight Lab in the Science Museum, where she can direct powerful gusts of air to propel a beach ball upwards. The experience deepens her experience and understanding of what makes things move.

The implications of these findings for practice are clear. Trips are a fun day out, but they are also an important part of the early years curriculum. They can give children fantastically rich, first-hand experiences. The children can then use these first-hand experiences back in their setting as the 'stuff' that stimulates their play, their drawing, building and painting.

Careful planning by practitioners makes a crucial difference in this respect. When a group of children from Woodlands Park Nursery Centre visited the Science Museum recently, the practitioners planned to extend the children's thinking about maps and routes. At the pre-trip planning meeting, all the parents were given a tube map. There was a discussion about how the children could be encouraged to follow the progress of the tube along the Piccadilly Line and count the stops. On the day, several children were very interested in this, and began to ask questions about the other tube lines, and how the Underground runs beneath London.

Back in the nursery, a corner was reserved to be a tube train with big cardboard sliding doors in front of rows of chairs. A tape recording of the journey played in the background, with the announcements of each station name and the swishing sounds of the doors opening and closing. There were more copies of the tube maps for the children to use. This resourcing enabled many children to play at going on the tube, to plan their journeys and to listen out for their stop. Some of the children also created their own maps to use. Careful planning by the practitioners meant that what could have been the most mundane part of a day out - the long tube journey - sparked off hours of imaginative play for the children as well as the chance to learn about maps.

*Reference: Extending thought in young children: a parent-teacher partnership by Chris Athey (Paul Chapman Publishing, 18.99)

Julian Grenier is deputy head of Woodlands Park Nursery Centre, part of the London Borough of Haringey's Early Excellence Network

Further information

  • You can read about Woodlands Park Nursery Centre's policy on educational visits at 'documents' section.
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