My oldest son is in 2nd grade and they've just finished up a unit on Community Helpers. Apparently, they had some people working with Junior Achievement in to help with the unit. And when we went to tour the school he'll start in next year, we found out that they also work with Junior Achievement.
Learning about a community and what makes it special should start long before second grade! Preschool aged kids are the perfect age to bring on all sorts of free field trips to learn about the people in the neighborhood and community helpers. Here's my list of fun, free activities that both you and your kids (no matter how old) will enjoy to learn about the community.
Fire Station Tours - What kid doesn't love fire trucks? They are big and red and shiny with lots of ladders and gadgets. It really is one of the best tours you can go on with your kids - no matter what age. Most tours I've been on the fire fighters tell the kids about what they do, show them where they sleep and let them climb in and out of the truck. But the most beneficial thing they do is dress up in their full firefighting gear. They come out and let the kids touch them and then slowly they take off the masks and jacket so the kids can see they are a real person in the whole "scary suit." When firefighters go into a burning building they don't want to scare the kids; they want them to know they're here to help. And by showing little kids that there is a real person in the suit, the hope is little kids won't be as frightened to go with them and at least they'll have seen the firefighter in full gear before. That's the hope.
Police Station Tours - Similar to the fire station, the police officers have lots of fun cars to climb in and out of. The police usually talk to the kids about staying safe, not talking to strangers, what police officers do and such.
** Note about Fire Station & Police Station tours - they really do appreciate any Thank Yous from the people who tour the facility. They have a limited budget for food to feed their whole crew, and generally there are some rules about accepting home made treats. Before you bake cookies, please call and ask if they can accept them. I do know they love getting grocery store gift cards so they can supplement their food budget!
Grocery Store Tours - All of the Publix Supermarkets in the Atlanta area will give tours of their stores. All you have to do is call and organize it. When my son was in Kindergarten, this was his favorite field trip. The kids get to go behind the scenes and see how the different departments work (from bakery to produce to seafood to butcher), go in the refrigerator and freezer... and even get a free cookie or sample of fruit.
Post Office Tours - I bet you didn't know you could organize a tour of the post office, did you? You do have to call and sometimes they have a cap on the number of people, but it is a fun tour. You can go see how the mail is sorted and weighed and your child may even get to meet the postal worker that goes to his house.
Target - Some Target stores will give tours to moms' groups and school groups as well. Just call and organize one. Your kids can go behind the scenes to see the incoming stock and how the store is run.
Your Local Pizza Parlor - Many pizza places will give tours of their restaurants. Again, you must call and organize the tours and sometimes there may be a limit to the number of people allowed on the tour. You may also have to commit to purchase a slice of pizza and a drink -- making this tour not quite free, but worth the money for a slice of pizza!
Just about any other place you can think of will give tours. If you have a friend who runs a small business like a coffee shop or bookstore, call her up and see if she'll organize a tour for you. Most businesses are generally open to educating kids about what they do. It's a great way for them to get word-of-mouth advertising.
My kids love going to see what people do at work and love to make the connection between how goods and services get from one place to another. They may not realize they're learning, but they are.
And when you're done, you can read Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day (the best book EVER) together and talk about what they learned and what they saw.
Mimi Jenkins is the Atlanta City Editor for The Savvy Source. You can read more of her work every day at Being Savvy: Atlanta.
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