A Kindergarten Field Trip with Knives and Nudity*

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*In France:

Dear Free- Range Kids: I was linked to  your blog article on parents volunteering in US schools and the need for police background checks in certain cases and wanted to write you to tell you about my 5-year-old’s last field trip.

A sign-up sheet for a class field trip to a winery owned by one of the student’s parents was posted outside my son’s kindergarten classroom door.  They wanted to have at least 3 parents in addition to the teacher and the teacher’s assistant.  You just put your name on the list and show up.

On the day of the field trip, 25  4- and 5-year-olds were bused to the local winery, given razor sharp shears and allowed, under adult supervision, to harvest grapes after the owner explained how and why this is done.  The children helped pile the bunches of grapes into a trailer attached to the back of a diesel tractor. Then they climbed on top of the grape heap  and rode the tractor to  the building where they press the grapes.

Once inside the building, the grapes were transferred into a huge container. Children who wanted to participate in the grape pressing took off all their clothing, were given these kind of paper underwear briefs, and jumped into the pile of grapes to extract the juice.  Picture 20 or so kids belly flopping, stamping and diving head first into a gigantic pile of grapes!  It was crazy, messy, unhygienic and maybe even a little dangerous.  And fantastic!

After the fun, the kids were given small towels to clean off with.  The visit ended with a tasting of grape juice (not the juice they just produced of course!) and homemade cookies that one of the parents had thoughtfully provided.

All the parents who participated found the trip informative,  fun and an essential part of the community’s culture.  All were French and not one batted an eye at the choice of activities during the trip.  It was totally normal.

As an American ex-pat I just kept reflecting on all the elements of the field trip that would have been just impossible in the US.  Just any parent can sign up to volunteer?  SHEARS in the hand of 4/5 year olds?  Scrambling on to a grape-filled trailer pulled by a tractor with obviously no SEATBELTS!  Children taking of their clothing?!!! Being helped to clean themselves off nude, by a relative stranger?!!!

But you know what? It was fine, no one got hurt or sick and the kids left with  great memories.  My son couldn’t stop talking about it for days.  Raising my kids in France makes me feel like they are getting somewhat the equivalent of the childhood I had growing up in the 1970s in America.  I am thankful that the French have decided, pretty much collectively as a culture, to dismiss most of the danger hype that can surround raising children today. –

Sincerely,

DeeDee Maine, mom of two, married to a Frenchie

It’s so true no public school in the U.S. could sanction almost any of this, and it is our kids’ loss. A toast to France! – L.

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Hey kids! We’re off to a field trip, French-style!

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24 Responses to A Kindergarten Field Trip with Knives and Nudity*

  1. Vicki Bradley March 6, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

    Sounds awesome! What a great experience for all involved!

  2. John B. March 6, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    Wow, it’s great to hear there is still some place on earth where kids can have fun without some adult getting fired and sued (Actually there are several places, the USA is just not one of them).

  3. BL March 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm #

    Sigh.

    I don’t remember ever doing anything quite like this, though our church (when I was around 10 years old) used to go gathering apples to make cider. We rode on some sort of flat wagon to get to the various places.

    Vive la France.

  4. Michael Fandal March 6, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    Delighted to hear about a positive story about today’s France especially about children. I can visualize the smiles and hear the laughter of the kids and their jumping for joy. Au S. A. N. T. E’

  5. John B. March 6, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

    A few years back, I came across some youtube vids of a guy in the Philippines who lived across the street from an elementary school and who got to know many of the kids. Donald became somewhat of a mentor to the kids and got a group of boys interested in mixed martial arts. So Donald bought each one of the boys MMA gloves from the local sporting goods store and after school he would teach the kids MMA moves and arrange bouts between some of the boys on school grounds. He posted some of the bouts on youtube so before visiting the Philippines back in 2010, I contacted Donald and Donald then arranged a visit by me up to his small Filipino village. Donald introduced me to some of the kids who seemed to live for that moment after school when they could tussle with each other under the close supervision by Donald. From what I saw, no kid got remotely hurt and Donald refereed and supervised each match very closely. Donald was a married man with a young daughter and after the after school MMA bouts, he’d have some of the boys over to his house for lemonade.

    Well, I couldn’t help but think what would happen if this scenario unfolded in the United States. Can you imagine how out of proportion this would have been blown up in the national media? The headlines would have read “Stranger arranges brutal after school flight club involving children”. Donald would have been arrested and charged with “child abuse” and the school administrators would have been fired and maybe even put in jail because the bouts happened on school grounds. CPS would have been called and a Judge would have ordered each kid involved in the after school fights to undergo a complete medical evaluation. It all would have been so hyped up in the media that the American public would have wanted to lynch Donald. Typical American over reaction.

    But the truth of the situation was that none of the kids got hurt and all had great fun and gained some much needed confidence from learning a few MMA skills.

  6. Linda Deschênes March 6, 2017 at 1:27 pm #

    Sounds truly awesome, DeeDee! We were at an museum exhibit in the Netherlands with our young children (5 & 8). There was an exhibit on body art and tattoos. Of course there was nudity, and it was just part of the exhibit for all to see and experience. We commented on how in Canada this exhibit would have been placed off to the side, with a warning at the door to “protect” our children from seeing penises and breasts. Instead it was an interesting exhibit about body art in different cultures, and a learning opportunity for all. Expanding mind views through travel!

  7. Dan March 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    Here in the UK a scant 16 miles from France at our closest point this too would not be allowed, while we are not quite as bad as the USA (we are probably closer to Canada in attitude) we are still subject to the same paranoia….
    The shears might well be permitted here, but the riding on the trailer and the nudity definitely not….

  8. Ariel March 6, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

    Two statements related to the article but not each other: 1) being helicoptered at home, I got varying free-range chances at school. 2)the field trips where your parent was one of the chaperones seemed so cool; idk why, it just was.

    In fourth grade we went to the genessee county village museum (a place set up to look like colonial America and people would reenact different aspects of life from then). We came past a hedge maze and some of us wanted to go through it and some wanted to keep going, so our teacher told us how to get to the next “exhibit”, and about half of us broke off from the group and went through the maze.

  9. Ariel March 6, 2017 at 2:04 pm #

    Forgot to say too (cause the whole point of my post was “the field trips where you got to break off and do your own thing were the absolute best”.) :
    In second grade (1995) we went to Becker Farms. We got to ride a hay wagon, and pick apples w/o help unless we asked for it. Obviously, part of whatever we picked wound up being our snack on the bus back to school. No drowning hands in sanitizer, no “wait til you get back to school to wash the apples, they’re dirty”.

  10. Moro March 6, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

    That sounds like a great experience for the kids!
    …I, on the other hand, now have to worry about whether nekkid kids were stomping around in my wine.=p

  11. Peter March 6, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    Actually, my first thought was, “Child labor!” I assume they had to pick a fair amount of grapes for the demonstration to work. So there are the kids out in the hot sun picking grapes–how horrible!

  12. donald March 6, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    I love to hear stories like that! Children are PEOPLE!

    They are NOT FedEx packages
    They are NOT legal landmines
    They are NOT something that adults should be frightened of
    They are NOT fragile helpless creatures

    In America, working with children is like walking on eggs!

  13. TheOtherAnna March 6, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

    Haha, and they went to a WINERY and participated in making an alcoholic beverage 😉

  14. SteveS March 6, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    Sounds like a great time for everyone involved. I think that some parents get helicoptery because they see stuff in the news and think it is everywhere and it is likely to happen to them. Rare events seem commonplace. I think this is also true of some people on the other end of the spectrum. People see asinine policies, bad CPS workers, and overly protective school and assume that is happening everywhere. America is a big place and is not particularly homogeneous. Policies and practices that exist in urban areas may be radically different in rural parts of this country. While there are some over the top schools in my state, there are also some that don’t require background checks and there are some that allow kids to engage in activities that other schools would never allow, such as trap shooting and target shooting.

  15. Becky March 6, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    Awesome experience for the kids, and love that nudity is not taboo. I was wondering why 4/5 year olds are in Kindergarten though–seems young, but maybe their K is more like our pre-school?

  16. Emily March 6, 2017 at 4:10 pm #

    >>Awesome experience for the kids, and love that nudity is not taboo. I was wondering why 4/5 year olds are in Kindergarten though–seems young, but maybe their K is more like our pre-school?<<

    Here in Canada, junior kindergarten starts at age four, and the age cut-off is really late–it's December 31st. So, I have a friend whose son just turned three in November, and she went to the local public school (coincidentally, the same one where she and I met in kindergarten, when we were five, before junior kindergarten was a thing), to enroll him in junior kindergarten for this coming fall. I have a feeling that Son is going to be fine, but my friend is going to be a nervous wreck about it.

  17. Felix March 6, 2017 at 4:16 pm #

    >>Awesome experience for the kids, and love that nudity is not taboo. I was wondering why 4/5 year olds are in Kindergarten though–seems young, but maybe their K is more like our pre-school?<<
    Kindergarten in France and Germany basically resembles daycare, or what you'd describe as pre-school, just that there is no forced program trying to teach kids stuff by force. Which doesn't work anyways. There however are educational elements, like that field trip.

  18. Jason March 6, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

    I have to say that story sounds odd to me for a number of different reasons.

    Beyond that, my impression, based only on my trips to France (primarily Paris and its suburbs), is that parenting is less free-range than I would expect, at least for pre-teens. Teens were definitely on much shorter leashes than in the U.S.

    I noticed lots of parents and nannies meeting elementary-aged kids at dismissal time to walk them home, and not too many walking home themselves, particularly in the center. Middle-schoolers, on the other hand, took off by themselves, usually in unruly mobs.

    I also witnessed an incident on a train where a woman began screaming rather violently at a man who had glanced momentarily at her ~10 y.o. daughter. That’s also something I would expect to see here more so than in Europe.

    On my most recent trip, I stayed with a couple expecting their first child, and talked at length with them about free-range and the differences between our two countries. They pretty much agreed with my observations, that French parents are pretty protective of young children, telling them not to talk to strangers, keeping them within sight, etc., but that they give kids more and more freedom as they get older, and don’t treat 16 year-olds like children.

    The schools, even the “high schools”, are locked up behind doors and gates, with the students’ comings and going carefully watched over by staff.

    Of course, more suburban or rural settings are likely to be more relaxed than big cities, and they definitely don’t have hang ups about nudity, etc.

  19. JTW March 7, 2017 at 12:55 am #

    ” I was wondering why 4/5 year olds are in Kindergarten though–seems young, but maybe their K is more like our pre-school?”

    Kindergarten in Europe (at least most countries) is 4-6, primary school 6-12, secondary (high) school 12-18 (or 16 depending on the level of secondary education), college/university 18-24.
    Small variations between countries of course, especially in the naming of the schools.

  20. DeeDee March 7, 2017 at 3:59 am #

    In France the “Maternelle” school, which is public and free, starts at 2.5 years old ( depends on the school and the district) but most parents put their kids in at 3. The “petite” class is for 2.5-3 year olds, the “moyenne” is for 4-5 year olds and the “grande’ section is for 5-6 year olds. These ages are approximate, it depends on the DOB of the child. Sometimes you can have mixed classes with “petite/moyenne” or “moyenne/grande”. I chose to say Kindergarden in my letter because in my son’s class they start to teach a bit of writing , alphabet, and numbers which if I can remember correctly is about what they do in the US. Before the “grande” section it is like a day-care program.
    Those kids were pressing some of Bourgogne’s finest wine!!! We live in a wine village outside of Dijon, so it’s not at all like Paris and I’m sure parents here behave differently than in the major cities. For example, many parents here leave their babies/kids alone in the car when running a short errand ( and no, nobody would dare call the equivalent of Child Protection Services for such a thing).
    It is true that the schools usually have high walls and fences around them. I did find that strange too when I moved here. My other son’s school put up an extra barrier last fall after all schools were put on high terrorist alert following the multiple attacks in Paris and threats made to specific school districts. There was a talk given at the school about these new extra security measures and I think the principal of my son’s school put it correctly when he said ” We want everyone to be alert, but not give in to panic and fear.” That’s a translation but accurately sums up the vibe over here.

  21. Jon March 7, 2017 at 6:03 am #

    @Jason.. While things have sure gotten worse, it wasn’t THAT long ago in 2004 when I last visited France. A group of us, all around 20 years old, were on the beach and were just randomly invited to join a family there with a few kids, because we were American tourists who (gasp) actually spoke French. Well after a while we said goodbye and went to swim and their 3 6-9 year olds ran off with us and wanted to play. We were off hanging out with the kids all over the beach and nearby businesses for a good hour, completely beyond eyesight of their parents, before we had to drag them back and get going. Their parents were thrilled their kids had a great time with the new friends they made. Nothing like that has ever played out stateside, and if it did we’d be on the news in a kidnapping panic, if now that I’m older I wouldn’t be too scared to even let a kid I had known less than an hour follow me away from their parents without oking it. That afternoon is one of my best memories from the whole month of travelling around Europe.
    Everyone did seem more uptight in Paris, but the rest of the country not so much.

  22. Library Momma March 7, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

    The closest my son got to this was when I took him on a field trip to a matzah “factory.” The kids did get to wear paper chef hats and watch an unprofessionally acted skit about Passover. While they did kneed dough and watch their matzah bake in an oven, there was, sadly, no razors or nudity!

  23. Eric S March 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

    http://gph.is/1WeOQBD