Hay is for horses! To continue our investigation into how plants and animals prepare for winter and what animals need to survive, we focused our attention on our largest animals at the farm this week – horses! This was a big experience for all of our Farm Sprouts, even for the few who have been around horses previously. Richard Louv states, “Other species help children develop empathy.” Providing young children with opportunities to care for and interact with animals supports the development of self-confidence and self-esteem in young children, in addition to many valuable skills. How do horses stay healthy and strong? How do we keep our bodies healthy and strong? We found out we have a lot in common with horses!
We signed in this week by tracing the first letter of our name or our entire name in the sand of a miniature horse arena. We also voted for maple or oak leaves. We’ll be heading into the forest next week and plan to explore our largest plants on the farm – trees! We’ve seen an increased interest in insects these last couple weeks, so the forest will be an ideal place to narrow our focus to discover some of our smallest creatures living on the farm. We’ll also consider how trees grow and how trees support the survival of animals, including humans! Some animals eat and store the nuts of trees to help them survive the winter. How do wild animals prepare for winter in comparison to our farm animals? There is so much to discuss and learn as we explore these ideas! There are many systems in place and it is interesting to discover the connections between the plant and animal life that call the barns, pond, pastures, and forest at Tollgate their home. There is always more to learn!
It was time to harvest the lettuce we had grown. We noted the differences in growth between our greenhouse lettuce cared for by Farm Sprouts and our farmers compared to the pots cared for by nature. The greenhouse lettuce was by far was the healthiest lettuce for each of the groups, which sparked conversation about why this was the case. We utilized scissors as a very authentic fine motor development task to harvest the lettuce and then worked as a group to prepare a “Tollgate Horse Smoothie,” which included foods a horse would enjoy as a treat. The scraps from our smoothie and a bit of lettuce went into our compost container to feed to our horses a little later. We proceeded to try the smoothie as we geared up for our walk to the horse arena to provide us with the strength and energy of a horse for the work and play that we had in store. We also harvested more sunflower seeds and explored some other seeds discovered around the farm.
MSU Tollgate Farm Horse Smoothie
2 local apples (Tollgate)
2 organic carrots
½ cup lettuce (grown by Farm Sprouts)
1 cup coconut water, chilled
½ organic lemon, juiced
1-2 Tbs. local honey (Tollgate)
1 cup ice
Before we entered the arena, we talked about another food horses enjoy – hay! We held up two small bales of straw and hay. Most actually thought the straw bale was the hay, so they may now have a little better understanding of the difference between straw and hay. We noted the hay smelled a bit sweet and is green, not yellow. We grow our own hay for our farm animals at Tollgate and harvest it in preparation for the winter season, when our pastures may be covered with snow and the animals need the additional forage to support a healthy diet.
Our first chore was to brush the horses. We learned the difference between a curry comb and a body brush and went to work! We noticed the soft fur. All of the children participated in this authentic work. Ms. Nicole also showed us a hoof pick and we compared our bodies to the horse’s body. We also talked about mammals and their attributes. We know that mammals have warm bodies, make milk for their young, and have fur or hair. We can name several mammals now on the farm and recognize that we are mammals, too!
It was then time for rides and our Invitations to Play. This week’s invitations included the sensory table filled with another food horses enjoy – oats! We had scoops, troughs, and horses to accompany the oats, as well as a bit of hay. We had a wooden horse, a straw horse with a real saddle, and stick horses available to ride in our green arena. We also had a spectator area and Farm Sprouts enjoyed journaling on their experiences.
The bravery, joy, and raw emotion were so apparent on the faces of the children. This was such a big experience and accomplishment for many, as the majority of Farm Sprouts were getting up on a horse for the first time. We chanted, “We are strong! We are brave! We are adventurous!” All of the children worked with the horses, cared for the horses, and rode a horse, whether it was a straw horse, stick horse, wooden horse, as well as a real horse! So for all, this was a powerful, independent experience to build self-confidence and self-esteem. Farm Sprouts fed the horses a snack after finishing with their rides and play.
After our time with the horses, it was time to turn back to the plant world. We hiked out to our pumpkin patch, through our C.S.A. garden, to explore the life cycle of a pumpkin. We found seeds, vines, flower blossoms, both open and closed, the small fruit just beginning to form, as well as green and orange pumpkins. Pumpkins in nearly every stage! We dissected a pumpkin to answer some of the questions we heard, such as “What is the gooey stuff for?” Farm Sprouts also had the opportunity to pound nails in a pumpkin, a super popular activity that will surely return next week.
On our hike back, we found a praying mantis! After washing up our hard-working hands, we munched carrot sticks like horses and listened to a story, Leaves by David Ezra Stein, in preparation for our adventures in the forest next week. Give your Farm Sprout(s) a big hug! They are amazing little people!
Many thanks to Nicole Simmons, our Animal Care Coordinator, and Deb Morgan, our 4-H Program Coordinator, for their support with this program. Interested in horses and 4-H? Check out Oakland County 4-H or visit our summer camp website for more information about our camp offerings, including horse camp!