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Family Field Trips

Field trips are a great way to make abstract facts more accessible. They expose children to worlds they might never otherwise see. They build the informational knowledge base so that when students encounter a new topic in school or a difficult passage on a standardized test, they have a richer sense of meaning from which to draw.

Yet, in this economy, it’s harder than ever for schools to take students to the latest exhibit at the zoo or museum. But that doesn’t have to stop you. Create your own educational excursions while the kids are on vacation.

Brian Abbott, at the DeWitt Community Library, suggests several books to pair with local attractions for kids ages 7 to 11.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo (www.rosamondgiffordzoo.org). Abbott recommends Out and About at the Zoo by Kathleen Deady (Picture Window Books) to teach elementary-age children about zoo animals and their habitats. For toddlers, I adore Dear Zoo, a lift-the-flap book by Rod Campbell (Little Simon), and Goodnight Gorilla, a funny, nearly wordless book about an impish gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Puffin). If you don’t want to go the zoo, let it come to you with “Zoo to You” on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at 2 p.m. at the DeWitt Community Library (Shoppingtown Mall, 3649 Erie Blvd. E., DeWitt; 446-3578). See live animals from the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in a library setting.

The MOST, aka Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology www.most.org). Abbott suggests several books that might accompany an adventure to the MOST: Out and About at the Planetarium, a book to teach us about the night sky by Theresa Jarosz Alberti (Picture Window Books); Nancy Krulik’s No Bones About It (Grosset & Dunlap), about a third-grade field trip to a natural history museum; Museum Trip, by the ever-imaginative Barbara Lehman (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children), where a boy fancies himself inside the exhibits; Dan Gutman’s Ms. Krup Cracks Me Up! (HarperCollins), about a strange trip to a natural history museum; and The Best Seat in the Second Grade, by Katharine Kenah (HarperCollins), about a boy who brings his hamster along to the science museum.
For more fun, the library teams up with the MOST for “OCPL Family Field Trip to the MOST” on Wednesday, Aug. 24, from 1 to 4 p.m. With registration through the library at 446-3578, families with school-age children get free admission to the museum and an IMAX movie.

Everson Museum of Art (www.everson.org). Abbott offers Booming Bella, by Carol Ann Williams (Putnam Juvenile), a funny book about a girl whose loud voice nearly ruins the class field trip to the art museum. One of my all-time favorite books to pair with museums is E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Atheneum), a great book for ages 9 to 12 about a spunky little girl and her brother who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There’s also a wonderful book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith called Seen Art? (Viking Juvenile), about a boy looking for his friend named Art inside MOMA in New York City. The illustrations and humor will appeal to pre-schoolers, while older children will be able to engage with the philosophical debates around the meaning of art.

Check out other neighboring museums, such as the Erie Canal Museum (318 Erie Blvd. E., Syracuse; eriecanalmu seum.org) or the Onondaga Historical Association (321 Montgomery St., Syracuse; www.cnyhistory.org).

Fulton Jazz Festival (www.oswegofultonchamber.com). In addition to the museums in town, don’t forget about the seasonal festivals. There are hundreds of books that explore different aspects of jazz history, music and culture, but one of my all-time favorites has to be Jazz, by Walter Dean Myers, beautifully illustrated by Christopher Myers, for kids in grades 5 to 9 (Holiday House). Older children might enjoy learning about the Harlem Renaissance by reading poems by Langston Hughes. Allow the music to punctuate the beats of the poems as you read them aloud.

Don’t forget that you can keep your trips simple; make jaunts to the beach or the garden educational when you combine them with books. My daughter loved Eric Hill’s Spot Goes to the Beach (Puffin) as a toddler and still likes to revisit it before trips to Green Lakes State Park beach or Jamesville Beach. If you plan to do any gardening, Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius (Puffin) is a must. It’s one of those life-changing sorts of books kids age 4 and up will enjoy and learn from. Get scientific and bring along a book about bugs or rocks on your next hike.

Finally, with all of this reading, you will need to visit your local library. Abbott loves The Best Book to Read, by Debbie Bertram (Dragonfly Books), for that trip. He also suggests the Magic School Bus series (Scholastic Press), a string of books all about school field trips with a lot of information and a little magic thrown in.

Pack up your own magic bus, or Subaru station wagon, head to your library, and enjoy Central New York with your own family field trips.           ■

Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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