SOAVE, Italy- Hundreds of second-graders from Vicenza Elementary School stormed Soave Castle May 7, exploring dungeons, soldiers' living quarters and how the Canis Signorius or Top Dog lived.

The field trip was part of VES's focus on history, culture and society studies, said second-grade teacher Nancy Hacker.

"This was an excellent opportunity to expose the children to the world and culture around them, not just the American culture, to explore their present environment, to encourage exploration of history, thoughts and ideas different from theirs, and to increase their tolerance of the differences found in other cultures," said Hacker, who has been taking children on field trips to Soave castle for the past 30 years.

Parent and chaperone Zasheba Reeves said she thought it was good for the youngsters to get out of the classroom and see the castle. Especially as "there aren't too many castles in the USA," she said.

Hacker showed the students how the area had grown from a Stone Age settlement to a Roman fort and to the castle of today. The children were eager to see the trapdoor where the people in olden days were dropped into a dungeon. They were also fascinated by the living conditions of soldiers in the guardhouse.

"I liked the beds of the knight because they are so warm and had to sleep all together in one bed," said Norah Shannon.

"I'd sleep on the floor because the bed would have lots of people with stinky feet," said classmate Clarence Reeves.

Seeing firsthand the actual living conditions, some students seemed surprised at the difference.

"I learned that girls couldn't be soldiers back then," said Caroline Howard.

Reeves said he was glad he wasn't born a peasant, while he would have liked to have been a knight so he could ride horses, help people and shoot bows and arrows.

"Most of the children thought that the Middle Ages consist of any time before the invention of computers. 'Was that when you were a little girl?' is one question I got," said Hacker.

Once the school year ends, there's no reason to not make similar field trips as a family during the summer.

"There are so many opportunities here in Europe and Italy to broaden a child's knowledge of the world around him or her. The more they're exposed to, the more choices they will be able to make in their future, whether it's in sports, the arts, or whatever. Every exposure multiplies the number of life choices available to them so that they can find and explore their passion," said Hacker.

Soave is a 20-minute drive west of Vicenza. During the summer, Soave castle is open from 9 a.m. to noon and 3-6:30 p.m., but is closed on Monday. The walled city below the castle dates from the 1400s and hosts a market every Tuesday.