In Germany, kids between the age of two and six head to the great outdoors on school field trips, where they swim, pick berries, camp out, and roast marshmallows. What sets these excursions (called Kitafahrten) apart from your typical excursion is that they last several days and nights without parental accompaniment. Collective responsibility and low crime rates in Japan make it possible for young kids to run errands around town without their parents. In Germany, the same commitment to developing independence and a sense of cooperation, problem-solving, and discovery of the natural world makes the Kitafahrten a valuable experience for tots. A sharp contrast to the helicopter parenting that takes place in the U.S., the yearly Kitafahrten provides a chance for children to work, play, and learn together in nature with the guidance of their teachers.
The name kindergarten was coined by a German man in the 1800s named Friedrich Froebel, and these overnights follow his goals of imbuing young children with independence, self-confidence, and growth through natural play. While some children are inevitably homesick on the trips each year, many love the independence and experience in the great outdoors with their friends and classmates — and they keep busy cooking meals over a fire or tending to animals on a farm. Parents are typically notified when the group arrives at their destination, and then only in the event of an emergency. The trips, which generally last two to four days, often go without a hitch, and the empowered kids come home tired, dirty, and confident in their abilities to navigate the natural world.
As a parent in the U.S., I love the idea behind the Kitafahrten and any school activity that promotes outdoor play and exploration, but I simply cannot picture sending my now five and seven year-olds on an overnight trip when they were still in diapers, as some of the children in Germany were. The trips, which are especially popular in Berlin, would undoubtedly prove to both me and my children that they are capable of doing much more than we give them credit for in terms of preparing their own food or just “roughing it” in general. And regardless of how my kids felt about the trip (and I know my five year-old would probably have a blast while my seven year-old would absolutely refuse to leave my side), I would probably end up spending the entire time they were gone checking my phone for texts from their teachers or trying to stop myself from sneaking to their campout spot to make sure everyone was okay. Perhaps if the children were slightly older and more developmentally prepared to fend for themselves both emotionally, physically, and socially (or if parents were included on the trip as some schools in Israel do for camping excursions), I would feel more comfortable. Until then, feel free to call me-and, likely, many others- a helicopter parent.