One of the tough things about teaching is that you are so strictly tied into the school calendar. In the middle of winter, when I’d like to be heading for the sunshine state, I’m stuck in the classroom. Truth is, ten months a year classroom educators are just about as tied to a static location as anyone possibly can be.
Early in my career I discovered an effective way to get out-of-town when bad weather or boredom set in. I plan an imaginary jet trip. Don’t scoff until you’ve tried it. The first time I attempted it, I admit I was young and green and would try anything. My third graders were learning about New York City. In an attempt to make the experience more creative than simply reading from a textbook, I dreamed up taking an imaginary jet trip to the Big Apple. I really talked it up to the children. In fact, I made it so real several of my students just mentally cancelled out the word “imaginary.” Parents were calling the school to tell the principal or me that their children were afraid to get on the plane. I had a lot of explaining to do.
On the day of the “flight” the children arrived with their suitcases packed and their dads’ belts in tow. We were going to use those dads’ belts as seat belts on the plane. Beforehand the children were given a weather report of the intended destination and some advice on what they might want to pack. We always pretended we were going to spend the night so pajamas and favorite sleep items came along. One of the most interesting activities we did while flying’was to unpack each child’s suitcase and examine what they had chosen to bring along.
For our flight the classroom chairs were arranged as seats might be on the inside of a jet. We used tickets, now generated by a computer which made them very realistic and provided a great souvenir. Students acted the parts of all the airline personnel. We had a pilot and co-pilot complete with earphones and hats for realism. We had ticket takers who stamped the tickets and baggage claim agents who tagged the luggage and took it away to the rear of the plane. We usually used a wagon for a baggage cart. Flight attendants welcomed the passengers aboard as they walked over a couple of steps we had arranged next to the plane. Attendants then instructed the passengers to stow items under their seats and checked to make sure seatbelts were securely fastened. They also served a snack while en route. Personnel in the front office of the school used the intercom to welcome the passengers aboard the flight and invited them to sit back and relax as they flew.
We never had a plane crash, but we did one time encounter quite a bit of turbulance.
We were comfortably belted into our seats and watching a slide show of New York tourist attractions when the school fire alarm went off. I silently cursed the office personnel who I assumed were doing this as a prank. The alarm had sounded shortly after they had come over the PA system to welcome us aboard. They knew all my students were belted into their seats. But in front of the students there was nothing to do but struggle along with them to help them unfasten their dads’ belts one by one.
We were by far the last class to arrive outside. Finally we received the “all clear” signal to reenter the building. I was doing my best to recreate the imaginary mood of the flight and had everyone buckled back in and almost calm when the fire alarm went off again. I couldn’t believe it. The first time might have been funny, but his was downright irritating. It took us even longer this time to make it to our designated safe location. I later learned that the fire inspector had indeed paid an unexpected visit to our school. Because of my class we had flunked the inspection. The fire official had waited a short time to give us a second chance, but we flunked again, royally. Oops! Apparently creativity has its price.
While I first used this activity in the elementary grades, I admit I have used it successfully for just about every age group. It has become a yearly tradition in my classroom. My senior early childhood education students get very involved with setting up the plans and activities for our laboratory preschool. If I’m not teaching in an inflexible social studies curriculum, I allow my student a lot of freedom to choose the destination. Two popular trips during the winter months are Hawaii and Disney World. The students have fun pulling out their summer clothes to pack in the middle of winter, along with sunglasses, bathing suits, suntan lotion, and beach towels. Some even come to school in shorts, a feat in Ohio in the winter months. One of my seniors, wore a grass skirt and strategically placed half coconuts over her blouse. That picture made the school yearbook. If we travel to Hawaii, we make grass skirts from green plastic trash bags and learn to dance the Hula to Hawaiian music. We get out our beach towels and “sunbathe” during preschool story time. We play beach blanket bingo, during which students pretend to sunbathe on a towel until the music stops and then run to a new towel. We cut open a fresh pineapple for snack. We make leis to wear home. Since camcorders and video cams have become popular, we can usually watch a video of our destination and parents love making their own recordings of our trip. We always reboard our plane and fly home just in time to meet them.
Coming Home Again
The variations are as endless as your imagination, and so are the opportunities for learning. When I taught in the primary grades, if we were traveling to China, I had a parent bring in Chinese food for lunch and we ate with chopsticks. Going to Mexico? Learn the Mexican Hat Dance, eat Mexican food and break a pinata. Take a look at your curriculum. What do you need to teach that you could make more realistic and more fun by imaginatively traveling to that destination? Invite in a guest speaker with appropriate costumes. If you’re studying a particular era in history, turn your classroom into a time machine and travel backwards in time. Bring your classroom alive. The sky is the limit.
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