Hands-on History: 3rd and 4th Graders Travel to Sacramento

Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, California’s indigenous population included more than 150 tribal groups comprised of some half a million people. This is just one historical fact Mount Madonna School (MMS) 3rd and 4th graders will learn about when they visit the California State Indian Museum this week.

About 30 MMS students, accompanied by teachers and parent chaperones, will travel to Sacramento on October 13 for a two-day field trip that will also include visits to the State Capitol and several locations in historic Old Sacramento.

“Learning comes alive when you see the magic baskets of the nation’s First People on display at the California State Indian Museum, or pause at the life-size photos of Ishi—the last living person of his tribe,” comments Hamsa Heinrich, a longtime 3rd the grade teacher at MMS. “It is a palpable experience.”

Heinrich explains that the biannual Sacramento trip grew out of a School tradition of travelling and learning together off campus. “There are so many ways to learn,” she notes, “and getting outside of the classroom is quite positive and productive – the opportunity for ‘concentrated learning’ really inspires everybody!” When the kids return to the classroom the following week, they are ready to process their experiences and insights – and to share what they’ve learned with their school community and family through their writings, storytelling, and artworks.

 An overnight excursion to learn about California has been part of MMS’ elementary program – and Heinrich’s annual curriculum – for more than 2 decades. When she first began, Heinrich took her class each year to the Montara Lighthouse and other nearby sites to study North Coast geography and ecology; this field study was focused to meet specific aspects of the 3rd grade curricular standards. A number of years ago, the Sacramento trip, which focuses more on history – including western expansion, the railroads and gold rush – was designed and added to meet curricular standards for 4th graders.

“Learning about time is such an abstract concept for children,” adds Heinrich. “Being able to visit historic sites, see real artifacts and learn from well-informed docents is a more concrete experience that brings history alive, and helps children to better understand a sequence of time and how things unfolded.”

In addition to the trip’s explicit curricular elements, are the implicit learning that takes place surrounding issues of socialization and independence. Notes Heinrich: “New situations create opportunities to connect and expand our knowledge on many levels.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing & Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.