My son's elementary school is the one (out of five in our school system) which has managed to twist the Superintendant's arm into letting us (110 or so 4th graders plus teachers and chaperones) go to the 4H Center for 3 days of school. It's an educational experience that I wish every child could have. In fact, it's a shame that every adult doesn't get to go as a chaperone.
When we arrived the excitement was high. Boys ran wild looking for their rooms, and girls wandered their way too. The buildings were obviously not fragile, since these rooms see kids just like ours almost every day.
While the kids were in an Orientation session, the teachers and parents met with leaders from the 4H Center to determine rules for our group. Things like "one snack per child" were confirmed and they asked us about meal prayer. Neither the staff nor the teachers are allowed to lead a prayer. Parents or students apparently do have that legal option. A parent immediately volunteered and there were no objections by the rest of us. I'm sure there were non-Christians in the student body, but the pre-meal prayer was very comfortable for most of us. With administrative tasks out of the way we settled into education.
They divided us up into tribes so we'd have manageable class sizes. We were dubbed the Chickasaw tribe, which started with Ornithology. Our tribe had a Korean boy who had just moved to the US a few months ago. Watching the other boys help him out was nothing short of incredible. We learned what allows birds to fly and what types of beaks different birds have, and various other things. We each got our own binoculars and went in search of a bird. 2 o'clock in the afternoon with screaming kids all around doesn't make the best condition for bird watching, but our Instructor barged on, undeterred. They had built a "bird blind" for viewing a group of feeders nestled in a low corner. As we entered the structure this group of 18 kids got so quiet you could've heard a pin drop. It was fascinating to see them pointing out birds to one another. We visited the raptor cages to see injured birds they are caring for at the center. The great horned owl didn't seem too impressed by our presence. His expression suggested we'd best leave before he ripped out of his cage.
Our second class was called Team Initiatives. The class was about teamwork, and featured games similar to those you might see in leadership classes for adults. The group was given a task and had to come up with ways to solve the problem. There's always a leader in a bunch, and this group was no different. These tasks require input from several people to solve, however. They did an excellent job of listening to one another's ideas and trying different ways to solve a problem. If you doubt the ability of 4th graders to work together, you should have been there to see it. Our Instructor for the course had them eating out of her hand. They learned teamwork, integrity, strategy, and persistence...and had a great time doing it.
Meals at the Center are served family dining style. The kids set the table and brought food to the table. Bowls were passed and each person served themselves. At the end of the meal the waste from our plates was collected as solids and liquids, then weighed. We had a total of 16.5 pounds of waste from our first meal (spaghetti). It was explained that wasting food wastes energy, food, and money. Several skits were done at mealtime enforcing this concept.
After a short break we went out in a field for a campfire with more stories, skits, and educational fun. Kids circled 'round the fire while adults roasted marshmellows and made s'mores for all the kids. Yes, that's lots of marshmellows. Our Principal was seated on the ground next to the fire, assembling s'mores until she was club-fisted with melted marshmellow goo. I can't imagine a Principal more dedicated to her students.
After cleaning marshmellows from our paws we assembled for "sports night." My tribe went to volleyball and played boys against girls. I was afraid it'd be ugly, since the boys were seriously outnumbered, and girls tend to be more mature at this age, but the boys won handily...even tho we weren't keeping score. :)
We moved to basketball for a bit and divided the group into 2 even teams. We figured a full court game would wear them out before bed. Turns out they were pretty tired and we had an injury quick with short, tired fuses in abundance. To solve the problem another adult and myself played against the remaining kids. Basketball is a game where the height advantage allowed us to do that.
I shared a bunk bed with a teacher in the boys' dorm. As we were getting ready for bed we had them write in their journals about what they'd seen, done, and learned for the day. During journal time, I witnessed a pair of Korean boys working together. They would communicate in Korean, then the one whose English was better would spell words out in English. It was neat to watch.
It took a while before the lot of them went to sleep and the homesick gave way to exhaustion, but when the last one dropped we did as well. Apparently one of them had a dream that someone had stolen his sleeping bag, but he managed to find one for the rest of the night after waking us at 3:30 in the morning.