In our lives most of us travel the same path every day, experiencing the same people, same places, same sights, sounds, and smells. If we are lucky, there is comfort and support in the delightful familiarity of these things.For children, these foundational blocks are especially important. The predictability of routine creates a safe haven in which developing young minds can learn and experiment.

But in following the same path, day in and day out, we exercise only those parts of our minds and bodies these familiarities support. These parts of us become highly polished and shiny, hardened and strong with use. The path becomes so clear and easy to follow we do not even notice the other paths veering left or right, gently growing over with the weeds of neglect. Our assumptions about the world around us are supported by the institutions and relationships that give them birth, and we cannot see past them. Even should we want to, the single-minded focus on the track of daily living can simply be too strong to realize that there is anything on the other side.

Exploration

Do you remember your first field trip? Can you recall the anticipation and excitement of breaking the bonds of daily routine and experiencing something new?  When done well, the humble field trip is much more than the sum of its parts. It is so much more than sandwich baggies filled with cheques and permission slips, so much more than school bus etiquette and name tags, so much more than just a day away from school.

To be clear, a field trip can be anything that spirits you away from routine. It needn’t be limited to schoolchildren, although it is particularly beneficial for young people to see the amazing diversity of place, thought, and experience that this beautiful life can provide. To build trust that the world outside their regular routine can be a fun, interesting, and safe place to spend time. It needn’t be expensive either; a field trip can be as simple as literally choosing to walk a different path, to take a different route to school or work, and to notice the new people, plants, birds, and buildings you encounter.

New experiences help the brain live in the moment, quieting the chatter of the wandering mind and making room for joy. Recent psychological studies show that experiential purchases bring more happiness than material purchases. In fact, a 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science found that even the anticipation of an experience brings joy, much more so than anticipating the acquisition of a new possession.  When you do decide to spend a few dollars, planning a field trip to your local museum, park, art gallery, aquarium, or conservation area may be one of the best ways to wring every last drop of joy out of that money.

Perhaps the very best thing about the humble field trip is that it is the little sibling of travel; and travel, big or small, is the place where a broader worldview begins. In the words of Mark Twain

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So, when was the last time you treated yourself to a not-so-humble field trip? When was the last time the children in your life had the chance to experience a new place, either through school or with you? When was the last time you planted the seeds of curiosity and felt the delightful exhilaration of novelty?

Because you have to plant the seeds before you can reap the benefits. Tolerance, environmental appreciation, and the self-confidence born of being comfortable wherever you find yourself in the world all start with a field trip; with getting off the path you tread every day, once in awhile. So get your boots on and get going, we already have our backpacks on and are heading out the door. As our students at Crawford Lake and Mountsberg Conservation Areas often tell us “It’s going to be the best day, ever!”

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Last modified: July 14, 2016

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