Last week Tate’s 5th grade class participated in their outdoor education field trip. It’s a 3-day, 2-night trip to a state park. While the students are there, they are learning teamwork, independence, resilience and accountability. I love that our district provides this opportunity for its students at this age. 10/11 year olds are so much more capable of this type of work than we give them credit for.
I was incredibly uneasy about how Tate would handle the rigors of the trip. The teachers do a phenomenal job preparing the students for the trip. They discuss manners, practice family-style lunch, view videos and learn about the schedules of their day. The trip is highly structured, but it is also in a foreign environment, has “outside” instructors, and they are out in the elements. We talked about the trip at home, too. I knew he was prepared, but yet, it was so NEW and DIFFERENT. Those two things, alone, can be a minefield for my kid.
After discussions with his team and other parents, Hubz and I decided that I’d go down to the area where the trip was taking place and stay with Tate overnight in a hotel. We cut his trip to 2 days and 1 night. He DID get to take the bus with his peers, and he participated in almost all of the activities each day he was there.
Tate handled the trip quite well. Yes, he had anxiety. Yes, he didn’t sleep for 3 nights prior to the trip. But, he did it. I’m grateful that the team allowed flexibility, because Tate did sleep quite well in the hotel, and I know if he had been in the group dorms, it would not have gone so well.
One of the activities that the students do is to do birdwatching. Tate is a natural. His keen eye and ability to see the thing that is out of place in a background lent itself well to this endeavor. In fact, he enjoyed it so much and did such a great job explaining the birds to his peers that his team decided to have him do birdwatching both days, and it was great! He also really enjoyed building a shelter out of branches, leaves and twigs. The heavy work was perfect OT for him.
Each day that I picked Tate up from the event, his teacher told me that he handled it well and reported a few struggles, but nothing out of the ordinary and nothing that couldn’t be redirected. Also, Tate LOVED doing the table prep and bussing (they called it hopping). He was a pro, and even did a phenomenal job rinsing dishes in the kitchen.
To some, that might not seem like a big deal, but to anyone who has kids with differing abilities and neurodiversity, well, it was celebration time! If he can bus tables successfully at age 10, then what’s to say he can’t do that as an older teen? If he can follow “job” requirements and rules as a 5th grader, what’s to say he won’t be able to do that at age 18?
When we pulled out of the parking lot and headed home on his last day with his class, he thanked me for taking him. I thanked him for being a good sport. Then he told me to relax and turn the radio up. Adele was on and I was talking too much. My kiddo was brave. He was adventurous. He ate freaking turkey and mashed potatoes for dinner! The sky is the limit, my friends.
As we plod through the next few months of 5th grade and power through evaluations and testing, this experience gave me so much hope for what he’s going to be able to accomplish in middle school. He may not learn in a typical way, but he can and will learn. That much is for sure.