Spring Farm Sprouts 2017 – Week #7 (PM)

Compost and honeybees were the hot topics of the week for Farm Sprouts. We made many great connections to build new levels of understandings of the nutrient trial and life cycles occurring within our Michigan farm community.

Farm Sprouts signed in by stamping their names on labels they can place by a flower or plant they have grown or would like to care for in their gardens. It’s important for young children to explore literacy in real world contexts. How does literacy enrich our lives? At the farm, we use labels in our gardens to help visitors and staff identify the great variety of plants growing at our site. Knowing the name of a plant can help us find resources to learn more about it and to care for it properly. We’ll stroll through the gardens surrounding our pond next week to see how we use labels at MSU Tollgate Farm.

We concluded our decomposition experiment. For some, it was puzzling at first to notice that the natural materials they had placed in their bags had disappeared! The plastic bags contained a scoop of soil and materials such as flowers, food scraps like asparagus and carrots, leaves, rocks, bark, etc. The next week we made it rain in the bags by spraying water inside and then the bags were moved into our greenhouse, where we know it is hot. We utilized tools such as trays and tweezers to inspect our bags. As a group, we took a close look at some of the objects and described how they had changed using our sense of sight, smell, and touch. We noticed earthy smells, slimy textures, and white mold growing on some of the materials. We discussed how natural materials change over time. Farm Sprouts have really become fascinated with compost this season and this experiment provided an experience to really begin to understand the process of decomposition in relation to composting to help a garden grow.

How do honeybees help a garden grow? Tim McGee, a Master Beekeeper and Educational Leader at MSU Tollgate Farm, joined Farm Sprouts this week and we greatly enjoyed having him come to share his hobby and expertise. We learned about clover, the construction of hives, and the life cycle of a honeybee. We compared honeybees to wasps and built on our understanding of how bees make honey. We also used our sense of smell to find out why a smoker is used by beekeepers to calm bees so they can work at the hive. Farm Sprouts spent time journaling these discoveries and their new understandings. Many placed a great deal of time drawing details to document their learning, from the different sizes of honeycomb for drones, worker bees, and the queens to the different aspects to the honeymaking process. Many thanks to Tim for joining our program this week!

For our garden snack, we had berry-spinach smoothies with local spinach grown through our C.S.A. Program and local honey harvested by Mr. Tim! We also churned our own butter to open up a discussion about mammals, milk, and the food products that come from milk.

Tollgate Farm Berry-Spinach Smoothies
1 cup spinach
1 1/2 cups frozen, organically grown strawberries
1/2 container whole milk yogurt
1 tsp. vanilla (or use vanilla whole milk yogurt)
1 Tbs. local honey

Next, we made our way to the animal barn to care for our animals. We helped with milking one of Toggenberg goats, collected three eggs from the chicken coop, and spent time interacting and observing the behavior of some of our other animals. One of our other jobs was to take our goat kids and a lamb for a walk. A walk gives the goat kids and lambs experience in wearing a lead so they are accustomed to it as a part of their role on an educational farm. We were able to observe their behavior and anatomy and practice social skills, like taking turns and working together to accomplish a task. After observing sheep behavior and shearing, it was really special to touch a lamb and have the opportunity for hands on interaction. During our walk, we discovered the nest of a pair of killdeer birds and observed their protective behaviors. We even caught a look at their speckled eggs! We also observed honeybees hard at work gathering nectar from clover in the pasture and discovered apples just beginning to grow.

Our final and probably biggest task of the season to contribute to our farm community involved “doody duty,” which is fun name for shoveling animal manure. This was a powerful, authentic learning experience to draw on all we’ve been learning about the nutrient cycle, decomposition, and composting. We had to utilize social skills to work again at taking turns and sharing tools, physical skills to scoop, sweep, and fill, emotional skills to overcome the fears and discomforts involved with doing something new (and dirty) in the proximity of animals that match our size, while building upon our conceptual understandings of systems and cycles existing on our farm. The feeling of accomplishment after completing the task provides these Sprouts with a boost in self-esteem and confidence. This experience stemmed from following the children’s interests as a part of our emergent, inquiry-based curriculum. Everybody cheer, “Compost!” and let’s see your hard-working muscles!

Next week we conclude our program at the pond. We look forward to a beautiful celebration of learning with families as we take a wagon ride tour of the farm to share our experiences over the past two months!

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