If you are not in the classroom with them on a daily basis and really want to get to know what makes eleven- and twelve-year olds tick, then spend three days and two nights with them on a field trip. That’s what I did last week. Two teachers and I took our spring 6th graders to Cape May, New Jersey for their annual year-end trip. I first noticed their unique characteristics as we traveled on the bus — oh so loud, but interspersed with dead silence once iPods kicked in. I love to see two students sharing one headset — one ear bud each — plugged into one iPod, rocking their bodies from side to side in sync with whatever tune they are listening to.
Upon arrival, they all squeal from the bus in a burst of energy; they can’t wait to find out room assignments (you don’t share these with them until the very last minute) and get to their rooms. I love watching the boys unpack. It’s pretty simple. They unzip their bags and the contents explode onto the floor . . . where it stays for the remainder of the trip.
This is the age where boys and girls are figuring out how to break away from their parents and who they are going to be when they grow up; also, they kind of tolerate each other, sometimes talking with one another but usually roaming in packs of the same sex. There are usually one or two girls and one or two boys who cross boundaries and socialize with one another, but for the most part, they abide by a code that says you stick to your gender, we’ll stick to ours. Yet, yet, when it comes to gift shops, boys and girls love to shop and kibitz, looking for gifts to bring home to sibs and parents.
Often I found that the boys run and play while the girls talk, talk, and talk. There are those girls who do run with the boys and those boys who will sit and talk with the girls. It’s all plutonic with each gender trying to figure out the other because their gender-alike peers are asking questions prompted by “American Idol,” “Twilight,” and gobs of media.
How they love to eat. Girl or boy, vast amounts of food are consumed at one sitting . . . if they like the food. Make-your-own tacos, then watch out. Chicken chow mien, then lots of leftovers. Before the evening DVD, “Wall-E,” and donned in jammies, we treated ourselves to homemade sundaes. The dining hall had a conspicuously large tub of peanut butter on the counter, and I mentioned that I love a dollop of peanut butter on my ice cream. Well, you would have thought it was the neatest, coolest idea, eating “raw” peanut butter. I know I’ll have to deny charges of this instigation to parents when we return to school.
We spent hours on the beach exploring shells, dead seaweed, Cape May diamonds, birds that aren’t pigeons, and marine vegetation. There is a common characteristic with the almost 7th grader — girl or boy — an unquenchable interest in nature and what is going on in the world around them. Soon, this will turn around and our fully consumed adolescent will be engulfed in themselves and the idea that the world is only viewing them. So, enjoying their minimal mood swings is a big plus.
Heading home, inevitably, a majority of girls and boys start singing in unison a popular song. Turning my head (I always sit in the front of the bus. They need their bus-riding privacy . . . and I guess I need mine.), I love to see their smiling faces as they sing, sharing a common appreciation that makes them more like sisters and brothers than like classmates.