Our Farm Sprouts arrived at Tollgate this week to a frosty farm and a chilly nip to the air. What a change from our hot and humid forest day last week. Apparently, fall has arrived in Michigan! This week we continued our study of trees and leaves and again pondered one of our big questions for the season. How do plants prepare for winter? Our exploring and learning this week took place in our MSU Tollgate Arboretum. An arboretum is basically a large garden where many types of trees are grown for people to enjoy and for scientific study. We feel so fortunate to have this amazing environment and resource to explore and learn in!!! We were also privileged to spend time in our new Sakura Garden housed within the arboretum overlooking our large pond. The Sakura Garden is a joint project between the local Japanese community, City of Novi, Oakland County, and MSU. This garden, opened in early September, includes a Japanese style pavilion and pergola with 17 flowering cherry trees. In Japanese, “sakura” means cherry blossom which symbolizes the beauty of spring and a time of renewal. The short lived blossoms are also a reminder of the fragility and preciousness of life.
Our Farm Sprouts started their day by voting for a Sugar Maple or a Beech leaf. Tollgate forest is composed of mostly Sugar Maple and Beech trees. We had an opportunity to meet many of these trees in the forest last week. During our sign in we practiced writing our names next to our favorite color leaf. We continued work sanding our tree cookies, visited and fed our turtle Coltrane, and took turns in both performing and watching our Tollgate Forest Theater. We discussed our smoothie snack ingredients and all the beautiful colors – green kale, purple beets, orange carrots, yellow pears, red apples, brown cinnamon, and yellow Tollgate honey. Yum! Thanks to Will and Darby from the Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) team for harvesting our veggies. Farm Sprouts enjoyed watching the colors mix as we blended our smoothie.
When we gathered as a group we continued our discussions and thought about trees, including how they stay healthy, how they grow, and how they might be preparing for winter. We acted out the life cycle of an apple tree. We read the story Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson and talked about the changing colors outside. Farm Sprouts have many developing theories about why the leaves are changing colors right now. We learned to say the word arboretum by clapping its syllables ar-bo-ret-um and explained that today we would be scientists, using a map, to go on a hunt to find different types of trees, leaves, and colors in nature.
Our transition to our outdoor learning environment gave us lots of opportunities to practice our independent dressing skills with warmer clothing needed this week. Ask your child if they know the “magic” flip trick to help put on jackets. Our Farm Sprouts gain so much confidence and sense of independence when they learn they can put on their on their own coats and other items of clothing. We reminded our students again about the importance of “stick”ing together as we travel around our large farm.
On our way to the arboretum we stopped to get duck food and tiptoed and whispered quietly like mice to see if we could find our Tollgate Pekin ducks. We each had an opportunity to pour a little food in the ducks’ bowl. We spotted not only our Pekin ducks but a pair of mallards as well. Farm Sprouts also observed and heard many Canadian geese flying overhead and swimming in our pond.
We gathered at the Japanese Pavilion to get our maps and collection vessels for treasures we might find on the way. We consulted our maps and headed out for our hunt. We visited a small, purplish Japanese maple tree and counted many newly planted cherry trees. Many Farm Sprouts wondered “Where are the cherries”? We consulted our maps again and touched the trunk of a papery, “peely” Paperbark Maple Tree. We learned that evergreen trees have needles, not leaves, and they stay green through all the seasons. We took risks and maneuvered our way through “monster grass” to find tiny pinecones at the base of an evergreen tree with small prickly needles. One Farm Sprout was excited to find the “picker” tree. We also visited an evergreen tree with long soft needles. We battled through more “monster grass” to gather bright yellow Gingko leaves and Sugar Maple leaves in different shades of yellow, orange and red. Our last task was to use our maps to find a very interesting Japanese Pagoda tree. One Farm Sprout called this the “grape” tree. To our surprise, there was a very large acorn shaped vessel at the base of this tree. Farm Sprouts found a tasty treat of apple fruit leather inside. We were rewarded for being good scientists and using our maps to navigate the arboretum. Thanks to the Tollgate 4-H Club for this tasty treat!
We headed back to the Japanese pavilion to have our smoothie snack and journal about the discoveries in the arboretum today. We also had opportunities to glue different colored leaves and objects on a large mural and create clay sculptures with our collected nature treasures.
Our last task was to visit a few more feathered friends, the chickens. We visited with a hen and had opportunities to touch her feathers and feet. We looked inside the coop and saw the boxes where the hens lay their eggs. We saw actual eggs in there!
We concluded our amazing day by reading Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson. This beautifully illustrated story is about a fox who is very concerned about the leaves falling off his favorite tree.
Thank you to Ms. Carmen for joining our program today!
“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” – Emily Brontë