We had a wonderful first day of Farm Sprouts for the fall season! We follow an inquiry-based, project approach to learning in our program. Through this approach, children develop a variety of skills, including scientific thinking, mathematical reasoning, early literacy, and collaborating with others. During the first weeks, we focus on getting to know one another, establishing routines to develop comfort and maintain safety in an outdoor environment, and work to discover the interests of our groups. Our big, essential question for the fall season is, “How do plants and animals prepare for winter?” We develop driving questions to support our essential question based on the interests of the groups and what is happening on the farm.
It is important that our parents and caregivers sign in and out each day and we also involve Farm Sprouts in the process. They will sign in for the day through an early literacy activity and will also vote. The early literacy activity usually revolves around letter recognition and formation. This week Farm Sprouts stamped their names on craft sticks to be used as plant markers for pots. They signed in by voting for ducks or chickens. Ducks were the popular choice by all of the groups! Voting supports us in finding out the children’s interests and also gives them a voice in what we learn. We essentially create a bar graph and use math to count the number of votes in each column as we work on developing the concept of greater/less than. We often care for our turtle, Coltrane, as a part of our welcome routine as well. Caring for animals supports young children in developing empathy and many other valuable skills.
During our large group gathering, we sang “Buenos días” and a song to help us learn each other’s names. We also talked about languages and how we speak a variety of languages at the farm. Our program includes children who speak Spanish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Korean, and English! We will incorporate basic Spanish in our program as well as some greetings in other languages. It is not only the people at the farm who speak different languages. Everyone giggled when we asked, “What language do cows (and our other various animals) speak?” (Moo!) Finally, we discussed how everyone needs to go potty at farm. We found out where our restrooms are located and had some interesting discussion about our human toileting practices compared to the practices of our animals. What if cows wore clothes and used the toilet?!
We boarded our “Farm Train,” the way we move around the farm to stay safe and together, and made our way through the Children’s Garden. We discovered creatures like bees, grasshoppers, frogs, and roly polies, and worked on using our senses of smell and sight to notice what grows there. Near to the Children’s Garden, we gathered in our outdoor classroom space set up with three Invitations to Play. We explored animal coverings and a sensory table set up as a small world farm, as well as planted lettuce seeds. While working on the farm and what the farm animals need to stay healthy and strong, one child said, “I’m a better farmer than I thought I would be!”
For snack, we tasted broccoli and cauliflower, grown right here at Tollgate Farm! The afternoon Farm Sprouts learn basic food preparation skills to prepare their own snack as a part of Mini Garden Kitchen. The majority of our snack ingredients will be sourced locally on our site with support from our Sustainable Agriculture Program. We involve children in the entire process, including growing, harvesting, preparing, and tasting! These experiences on the farm encourage children to try new foods. Most gave either the broccoli or cauliflower a try and some devoured their serving and asked for more! Nothing beats fresh produce. We each shared our favorite fruit or vegetable. Favorites included broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, oranges, and pears. All were excited to be eating near an apple orchard and expressed a love of apples, so expect to see us devote some time to apples and their life cycle in the coming weeks!
Following snack, we shared in a story. In preparation for our animal chores of the day, we read, “I Went Walking” by Sue Williams or “One Duck Stuck” by Phyllis Root. We then headed out on a duck hunt! On the way, we dropped off our lettuce pots near to the greenhouse as well as in other locations chosen by the group as an experiment to compare growth. We took a look inside the greenhouse to discover very little growing inside during the fall season. There were pea shoots and some bins of squash being stored inside.
We peeked into a shed to find out where we keep the feed for the ducks and made our way to the pond with a scoop in hand. We quietly approached “the waterfall” and heard some gentle quacking. There we came upon three Pekin ducks! They were a little unsure of us, but were interested in the food and stayed nearby so we could observe. We noted them “nudging their feathers,” as one child stated, and will think about why birds might want to do that as we watch birds and their movements over the season. Farm Sprouts decided they were interested in crossing the waterfall, so we developed a system for crossing and discovered many wonderful living things on the other side, including milkweed beetles, sunflowers, and a pond view that elicited a discussion on sharks and whether they may inhabit the pond (it was decided they do not, since the water was likely not salty.)
We closed the program with a wagon ride around the farm. Ms. Brooke thanked Ms. Melanie and Ms. Marilyn for all they have done to prepare for the season, as well as the operations crew, including Roy Prentice, our Farm Manager, as well as Mr. Joe and Mr. Norb for their incredible support. Also, thank you to Mary Jane for volunteering with us this first week. Ms. Brooke welcomed new families and welcomed back familiar faces as well. Some of our children will be participating in their third or fourth seasons with us between the spring and fall! We look forward to another great fall filled with fun and learning and feel grateful to have you, our families, as a part of our farm community this season! We parted for our wagon ride with the following quote:
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.” – David Sobel