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An Empowerment School Field Trip for 4-Year-Olds  

luke and gingerbread house

Often in traditional school field trips are agreed upon by my school staff, teachers, and parents. Children are often invited into the process shortly before leaving or not at all. In the Empowered Partnership Paradigm of Education, field trips are developed with the children to promote concepts such as self-leadership, inquiry, community involvement, and purpose.

        Here is one example of an empowered field trip with high-level thinking from the young children involved. We used a basic Experiential Learning Cycle: do, observe, think, and plan, repeat. (http://www.learning-theories.com/experiential-learning-kolb.html)

Minimal Preplanning:

        With young children, it is important to provide a spark or insight that ignites their interest. I chose to expose them to some of the option for field trips in the area and allow them to choose. The Asheville area has a plethora of opportunities for young children to explore. We chose to visit the Omni Grove Park Inn’s Gingerbread House Competition for a field trip. Older children may be able to come up with the field experience on their own.

        We discussed our field trip to provide some scaffolding. How long would we need? When should we go? What skills or guidelines might help us along the way? We decided our purpose of the visit would be to get ideas for our own gingerbread houses. We would need take a camera and go on a Tuesday so we can create our own houses on Thursday.


        We gathered our camera, lunches and jackets and headed to the Grove Park Inn. During the trip, we had many unexpected learning adventures that goes to show that you can have fun and learn so much too!

        We learned about photography when the boys took over the camera. We learned about shapes, directions, spatial awareness as we explored the inn.

        We grew our social skills as we integrated with the other visitors and guests as we looked at the gingerbread houses.

        We learned about researching as we took notes for our own creations.

        Finally, we learned resiliency in real time when one child got really upset when he didn’t get to climb on a wall. It is important to really listen to a child when he has strong emotions. I let him talk about what was important to him about climbing on the wall. He thought climbing would be fun; he would be high up like a superhero. I said that I totally understood why he would think that way, and that would be fun but dangerous. I was lovingly clear on the safety issue and got a win-win with him. “Is there another way to be a superhero that is safe?” I asked. He said he didn’t know, so I asked him if superheros could step on all the diamonds on the carpet without touching all the other shapes. He loved that idea and we all moved on empowered. This  resiliency communication process can be a powerful support that helps children move through emotional challenges by allowing expression and validation of one’s feelings without judgement.

Reflective Observation:

        Young children reflect through conversation, art, and play. When we returned to school we discussed our trip. We came up with a essential question for our next steps: HOW do we create a gingerbread house? WHAT do we need to do this? WHY is it important to us to do this activity?

        We decided to watched some videos to help us understand the process, materials, and skills needed to make our own gingerbread houses. The boys were thrilled and totally engaged. We dug deeper into the history of gingerbread decorating and read several versions of Hansel and Gretel too!

Critical Think:

        Now we answered the essential questions with our knowledge from experience and reflection.

        How and What: We would use graham crackers, icing, and candies to make houses. We would use ice cream cones and green icing to make trees. We would also like sprinkles for decoration. Snow would be fun to add so we would like to find something white. We brainstormed that marshmallows would be fun and yummy!

        I posed a guiding question here: What would if feel like if we ate all of our materials?

The boys thought and decided that it would be delicious! I did not push my thinking on them knowing that they had a good foundation for healthy choices due to their parents’ and my modeling.

Plan and Do:

        We made a concrete list of what to buy and went to the grocery store to find our materials. We agreed upon 5 candies and some icing that we would need to make.

        Back at our Learning Lab, we planned the process together. First we would need to set up our table, gather the candies, and make icing. Then we would need to construct our walls and roof. Highlighting the power of empowerment, the temptation of eating candy created a space for practicing decision making, delayed gratification, and healthy choices.

I posed a question, “How much candy do you think we should eat?”

The boys thought. “FOUR!” Jeremiah said.

“Four pieces?” I asked wanting to make a clear agreement because I know how tempting sugar can be.

“5, 6, 7!” they bargained knowing I was open to their ideas.

“Ok, so we can eat 7 pieces? How will you feel if you eat 7 candies?” (Making a body-mind connection helps the children become aware of the outcome of choice on a deeper level.)

“GOOD!” They cheered. (Often this is where we would teach the child about our nutrition values, but I was curious if they were already empowered enough to stick to the agreement and self-monitor.)

“How can we keep track?” I asked.

Luke grabbed a baggie from the table and held it up.

“You want to put your candy in a baggie?” I asked.

“Yes! They exclaimed.

I wrote each name on a baggie and let them manage their intake.

        During the build, the boys used their knowledge from the field trip, reflection, critical thinking, and planning . They carefully added items and even tried some of the ideas from their research.They used their baggies and counted out the pieces they wanted to eat.

        The freedom to self-monitor allowed them to not give in to temptation or they were so focused on the creation that they didn’t even consider nibbling. The real evidence is what happened after we finished. They boys sat down to eat their candy. The each ate a few pieces. We mindfully discussed the textures of the candies and after about 4 pieces they stopped and asked for their lunch!

        The boys were so connected to their bodies and had enough empowerment skills to know that they needed a different type of food. I noticed their actions to help bring awareness to their process.

“I notice you are ready for your lunch. Are you finished with your candy? (Shake heads no and continue opening lunch boxes.)Tell me what you think you want to eat now.”

Luke holds up cantaloupe.

Jeremiah hold up his sandwich.

I can’t help but smile. “Do you think those will help you feel good?” I ask.

They shake their heads yes and dive in.

I reflected on the process that lead us to this powerful experience. Empowerment education which includes healthy foundational values and authentic experiential learning can develop high-level reasoning skills in children as young as four. The importance of this ability will evolve with them as they continue to be faced with tough choices and temptation throughout life.