Oh, glorious spring weather! We came through the heat of last week to two pleasant days on the farm, filled with sunny skies, a refreshing breeze, and the sounds of buzzing bees, chirping birds, and an occasional, “Moo!” Certainly, this week brought idyllic days on the farm, yet we also find ways to embrace weather which presents us with challenges. Snow, extreme temperatures, storms, mud, and ice can be hazardous, fun, and certainly opportunities to learn and grow in our skills and abilities. It is through facing these challenges that we develop resilience, the power to overcome life’s obstacles, leading us to become stronger and more confident. While we see many smiles and feel the energy and enthusiasm for learning outdoors on the farm, we also support Farm Sprouts in working through tears, struggles, fears, anger, failure, frustration, etc. We do this as a team, teachers included, because we’re out there as well, problem-solving and collaborating together on a long, hot day or a freezing cold one, to carry through with what we’ve set out to achieve, explore, and experience through our work and play while staying safe and balancing the needs of the group along with those of each individual person. We become stronger and both more confident and knowledgeable. The work on the farm, just as the work and challenges we’ll face in our lives, requires this of us.
We began our day with multiple sign in tables, including one designated to the less attractive side of adventures in the outdoors. Poison ivy and ticks are showing up in larger numbers this season and so through education, we can stay safe, lower our anxiety, and continue to reap all of the benefits time in the outdoors provides for us. Our Farm Sprout community can now identify a dog tick, the most common tick in Southeast Michigan, and poison ivy thanks to real-life examples. We have resources to support us in learning about ticks and more will be on the way thank you to parents who provided us with additional resources which have helped them recently. Still unsure about how to identify poison ivy? Try taking a poison ivy quiz to test yourself!
Farm Sprouts voted for two types of pollinator-loving flowers this week. If you’re interested in supporting pollinator species, try planting purple coneflowers or black-eyed susans if you have garden areas available. If you’d really like to be intentional and “smart” about planting for pollinators, read this article from an issue of MSU Extension’s “Smart Gardening” for some ideas and tips. Farm Sprouts drew letters of their names on tree cookies, cut out circles from tree branches, and worked as pollinators, using a “proboscis” (pipette) to gather nectar and bee fur (cotton swab) to collect pollen. Farm Sprouts also personalized binoculars (toilet paper tubes) so that they could spot interesting discoveries in the forest. Thank you to Ms. Melanie for providing us with the incredible flowers for our bee work!
Each spring and fall season, from our very first pilot season back in the spring of 2016, we’ve held a “Forest Day.” Farm Sprouts often report it as being on of their highlights of the season. The forest is an incredible place for a young child. It’s the place our tallest plants grow, creating shade and habitat for many creatures. We gathered to make predictions about what we might see and thought about how to have fun and be safe with sticks, one of the best “toys” of childhood that has ever existed… sticks! We read the poem, “A Stick is an Excellent Thing” by Marilyn Singer, donated by Ms. Marilyn, and the book, Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis, to inspire some creative uses of this loose part nature provides us for play. Many thanks to the Lucido family for donating this funny stick story!
On our hike to the forest, we visited with our horses, sheep, and goats! We stopped by our sugar shack, being filled with freshly-chopped wood in preparation for the next maple sugaring season. We noted how dark the forest was as we approached, stopping to make a plan to stay on the trail to avoid poison ivy. We learned how to identify poison ivy and sugar maple leaves, noting a mix of a variety of small plants just starting to grow and others. Farm Sprouts sat on the bridge, showing wonder at the beauty of the forest, taking a moment to quietly listen, looking up to gaze at the canopy, watching the trickle of stream flowing below. We munched on popcorn from Bur Oaks Farm near Ann Arbor and maple syrup, bottled right here at Tollgate in March. We showed our gratitude to the trees for providing us with this “lick the plate” treat! Only in the forest, where the maple sap flows, are we allowed to lick our plates so not one drop of this special, locally-sourced golden liquid goes to waste! We even had some imaginative, impromptu storytelling by some of our Farm Sprouts while we enjoyed our snack! We moved from our snack spot to enjoy a beautiful hike through the forest together. Farm Sprouts spotted a mother turkey with approximately ten chicks! (Baby turkeys are called chicks, a young male is a jake, and a young female is a jenny.) They were so quiet and careful to move in closer for a glimpse.
We hiked back and spent some time rock collecting to rock music, rocks being another favorite material found in nature. Mr. Roy, our Farm Manager, asked for our help with that task near the greenhouse. Farm Sprouts jumped right in, making all sorts of scientific observations as they picked each one up. Descriptive language, discoveries of creatures hidden beneath, collaboration to “excavate” the big ones, and noticing patterns of water movement in the soil and in the composition of the rocks all ensued. Who knew such a simple task could provide such a wealth of learning opportunity? It was also an authentic task, reminding us we are an important and integral part of the greater farm community at Tollgate.
We then made our way to the Children’s Garden, where we journaled, observed frogs, identified flowers, and worked as beekeepers, farmer’s market stand workers, and even “field guide librarians.” We utilized scientific tools to explore and tested our physical strength to climb a big rock, taking time to enjoy the view from the top. It was an engaging ending to another great week of Farm Sprouts. We look forward to a wonderful last week, including a wagon ride with our families and caregivers!
“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir