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. –
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.