Field Trips and Self Identity

Museum educators Holly Denman and Alexandra Pafilis look at how field trips can provide a special platform for children as they work on developing their unique senses of self. 

Daily, we are reminded that children are individuals, growing into their potential and personality, developing their senses of self. As we watch children enter and explore Chicago Children’s Museum, we are often struck by the varying reactions, interests and temperaments of our field trip visitors. Some children eagerly burst into the nearest exhibit—passionately curious about what it could hold. Others dutifully stick close to their teacher as they look around their new setting. Some express concern about putting their lunch away, looking for reassurance that it will be waiting for them.

Field trips can be a powerful tool for fostering self-efficacy, the feeling of being a “doer” inthe world and capable of success in new situations. We love to watch feelings of self-efficacy bloom as children build structures in our Skyline exhibit. At first, children may puzzle over how to line up the wooden struts, nuts and bolts. After some tinkering, they quickly discover how to assemble the


materials into the frame of a building. As they work with busy hands and minds, they can see the results of their actions—all of a sudden they have a house that they built! Similarly, children have a chance to work with real tools—many of which they are using for the first time—in our Tinkering Lab exhibit. When children swing a hammer for the first time, they often miss the nail completely. But on the tenth, 20th or maybe 50th time, they have the technique mastered and are driving nails into wood like a pro. The healthy pride on a child’s face at that moment is a peek into a bolstered sense of ability, efficacy and confidence.

Self-expression, the ability to share feelings and ideas through word and deed, can come to life in a new way on a field trip. When children have a chance to play and create, they have the opportunity to share their thinking in a safe way, often revealing what interests or what concerns them. As children play in the Treehouse Trails exhibit, they create immersive stories for themselves, pretending to be anything from a princess lost in the woods to a bear in search of dinner. Children express themselves, their feelings and ideas, through the stories they invent and tell when they engage in dramatic play.

Field trips are packed with opportunities to try and accomplish new things and are powerful experiences for which to build self-efficacy and express themselves through play. Because field trips provide a new setting, a new challenge, and a new way to play, children can tap into a new part of themselves—the part confident enough to climb the Schooner or crafty enough to build a wooden robot in Tinkering Lab.

Take lots of pictures as children try (and do!) new things on a field trip, and bring those memories back to the classroom. When children talk about the field trip, help them remember and discuss not just what they saw and did, but how they felt about themselves while doing it.  Developing a healthy sense of self is a lifelong process, but the foundation is set in childhood. Field trips can hit the nail on the head in terms of jumpstarting confidence and creativity.

For further reading, take a look at these articles:
Remaking Schools as Socioemotional Places 

The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development 

Social and Emotional Learning: What is It?  


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