2019 MS Farm Sprouts – Week #1 Wednesday PM

We had a fantastic first day of Farm Sprouts! We often say that maple sugaring season is our sweetest season, the special “fifth” season which falls between winter and spring. It’s all that much sweeter with Farm Sprouts joining us for the second year as a part of our sugaring community!

Maple sap is Michigan’s first agricultural crop to be harvested each year. At MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center, we tap approximately 300 trees and drill upwards of 400 taps, as sugar maples can have up to three taps depending on diameter. Our maple sugaring operation is largely run by volunteers. They spend countless hours preparing over the course of the year. Throughout the seasons, volunteers chop wood, repair and run lines, engineer improvements, work through general maintenance and repairs, meet to coordinate plans to support our educational programming, and much more. We are ever so grateful to all who support the operation, including the core volunteers who are an incredibly dedicated and hardworking group of people with which we are honored to work alongside. In a recent conversation with Roy Prentice, our Farm Manager, we determined that Wayne and Richard are more often spotted than white-tailed deer out in the sugar bush! Sure enough, we were fortunate to do so our very first week! The program provides Farm Sprouts with an important intergenerational experience as a part of their early education. It’s a special opportunity to learn a process which has been taking place for hundreds of years.

Each season we begin with a blank slate in our classroom and slowly fill the room with the children’s voices. Farm Sprouts bring their own unique experiences and understandings with them to the farm and we aim to provide them with varied methods of sharing their thoughts, ideas, and questions. The Wonder Wall is the place we capture the learning taking place surrounding our investigation focus for the season. Both teachers and Farm Sprouts create questions to drive discussion and exploration. Questioning is a skill we take care to model and encourage. You can do so as well by modeling “I wonder…?” questions based on observations you are making as you go about your daily lives. These wonderings often lead to interesting discussions, creative thinking, problem-solving, and further investigation, laying a foundation for the development of an inquiry mindset in your children, essential to building an appreciation for lifelong learning! Some of the questions our seasoned Farm Sprouts broached our first week, included, “How are we going to get the sap out of the trees?” and “I wonder why the trees lost their leaves in the winter?” Preschoolers are capable of big thoughts and have such curious minds! As we like to tell them before they “graduate” from the program, “Never stop questioning!” We hope it is a skill that they carry with them throughout their lives.

Each week Farm Sprouts sign in as they arrive. This week they stamped snowflakes near their names and voted for sugar maple or beech trees. In the forest, they learned a few techniques for identifying the two types, including bark texture and branching. Likely, the texture is a big clue which stuck with them and in the spring, we will return to discern them by their leaves as well. Farm Sprouts personalized their farm and nature journals, met our new lambs, explored natural materials at the discovery table, and prepared popcorn for our snack, noting changes in states of matter as coconut oil melted and the popcorn kernels produced steam as they heated up. During our large group gathering, we began discussions on our roles as a part of the farm community this season, how we will stay safe, and welcomed each other through singing a song.

“Gearing up” to go outside is an important process in Farm Sprouts. It’s part of keeping our bodies safe and healthy, feeling comfortable so we can learn through play and exploration, and in gaining independence. You can provide your child support and encourage in developing these skills at home as well! Of course, we are there to help your child each step of the way so they are ready to go once they step out the door.

Once outside, we tackled the summit to the top of our big snow mountain and made a few snow angels before embarking for the sugar bush on a wagon thanks to Timmy the tractor driven by Ms. Marilyn. In the forest, we peaked at the sugar shack, which we’ll spend time visiting in the coming weeks, and worked out way to identify our very own sugar maple tree for tapping. Farm Sprouts each had a chance to work the drill and will be responsible for checking their sap bucket each week. Once our tree was tapped, we took a moment to visit “Stick A-mazing World,” a special place named by last year’s afternoon group of maple sugaring Farm Sprouts. Afterward, we returned to the classroom enjoy a snack: locally grown popcorn with Tollgate maple syrup and sliced apples. It was a big hit after the hard work tapping a tree in the forest. We documented the conditions, 22 degrees and cloudy, noting on our chart the lack of sap flow. While we snacked we learned a song and read the story, A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson. Our turtle, Coltrane, has moved to a different farm and we spent some time discussing the move and our new responsibilities. He’s in good hands and we’ll stay in touch. We’ll now be caring for our rabbits in our classroom, and for a short time, several lambs, too!

If you’re interested in learning about the maple sugaring process, check out our upcoming Maple Tapping and Pancake Feast event!

It was a great start to the year. We look forward to enjoying a sugar bush snack around a bonfire for our second week to warm us up as we continue our sugaring adventures! See you all soon at the farm!

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein´╗┐

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