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The Field Trip Lady

by Teri Brown

With elections coming on, I figured it was time the children and I discovered political/government-type field trips. Being a presidential election year, there was an extra excitement about the elections; I wanted to be a part of that and have the children experience it as well. Government and civics is a deep, multi-layered subject and the age of my children prevented us from delving in too deeply, but the field trips we took did, in fact, deepen their understanding.
 
The state capitol is the most obvious government field trip. Most state capitols embrace group tours and many have a homeschooling day set aside for welcoming homeschoolers into the fray. Often homeschooling teens can sign up to be pages for that day and gain experience as interns. One of the homeschooling associations in our state created an Apple Pie Day. Homeschoolers from around the state baked apple pies for their representatives; other homeschoolers delivered pies to the offices of various congressmen. What a warm and delicious way to get the word on homeschooling out!
 
We went to our capitol with another family who had called for information ahead of time. We found the visitor's center to be very helpful and welcoming. They set aside time for us to view a video on the building of our capitol and the various restoration projects. The kids were kept fairly interested and the tape truly enhanced our visit. They better understood the art in the building and what the different images were intended for. Both even noticed the symbolic design on the carpet and knew what it meant. Though we enjoyed peeking into the legislative rooms, I have to admit the hit of the entire visit was the 126-step climb up to see the statue of the Golden Pioneer perched atop the capitol dome -- at least for the children. I liked the view and the Pioneer was very golden; I felt as if I had truly earned the certificate they give to all who are brave enough to attempt the climb.
 
Most people draw a blank when thinking of political field trips after they have done the state capitol, but there are actually several more worth doing. Check out your county courthouse, for instance. Children are welcome in the courthouse if they are older and well behaved. The judge presiding over the court has the authority to ask them to leave, but most courts are generally friendly and welcoming. Depending on the age of the children, an entire trial can be observed or simply one or two sessions. In any case, your children will leave with a clearer understanding of the workings and traditions of the court system.
 
The County Elections office is another option for a governmental field trip. When I called, the manager informed me that children who already have a working knowledge of the elections process will gain the most out of such a tour. Our local elections office takes care of all voter registrations, mapping functions, and setting up and executing the elections. An election takes them two months to set up and a month to finish, so the most interesting field trips are during this time. Call ahead for more information.
 
On a local level, field trips to city hall can be as in-depth or as light as you would like them to be. Our city's prefers to have small groups instead of individual families. Most will customize a tour for you, focusing on what your group is most interested in. Police issues, land use or career opportunities are just some of the focus options available on a city hall field trip. Contact your City Administrator for more information.
 
The city council meeting are often interesting to a child if there is some understanding of a particular issue. At one point we were involved with a local water issue and the city council meetings made sense to my children as they already had some experience with what was being talked about. Both the City Council meetings and the planing commission meetings are open to the public. Many cities and towns have citizen-involvement meetings which not only welcome the public, but actively courts them. Children can learn a wide variety of issues from these sorts of meetings -- involvement being one of the most important.
 
One often overlooked field trip is the informal "coffees" politicians often hold around election time. Max Williams, district state representative in Oregon, enjoys having children present at his get-togethers. Especially if the children are more informed and there for educational purposes. He also suggested that politicians would be more then happy to attend a get-together put on by a group of homeschoolers. At the local level, even talks with opposing candidates would be simple to arrange and an invaluable field trip to the homeschooler studying government.
 
For the younger homeschoolers, who might be bored with the more academic field trips, a trip to the public works department might be just the antidote. This is the reality of city government. The reason why all the men in ties sit behind their desks and push papers, is to have all the big machinery to run the city with. Well, maybe not the only reason, but it's the most interesting part of the city for little ones. It also helps put into context what the city government actually does.

Government field trips can happen any time of the year, but the best time is to go around election time. One of my favorite field trips is taking my children to the polls with me. We always discuss the issues and why I feel it is important to vote. Even when very small they seemed to sense how much this meant to me. I try to go when it's busy, so they are able to see the involvement of others. There are many different government-related field trips you can take, each enhancing the study of this complex subject. Making this subject some alive can benefit us all.

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