Early childhood learning is directly related to your child’s five senses – seeing, touching, hearing, tasting and smelling. When introduced to a new environment, a child’s senses perk up and are fully engaged for the learning experience. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from a visit to the following types of farms:
Dairy farm –
Dairy farmers have milk cows that are properly spoiled and kept in or near the dairy barn when not resting or grazing. While large dairy operations tend to prefer a certain type of milk cow, smaller farms may have a variety of cow breeds. Before you go, learn about the kinds of cows you might see on a dairy farm.
It’s important that dairy cows stay calm and comfortable. Have your host discuss with the children what is and is not allowed when near the cows. If you are allowed to pet one of the milk cows, ask your preschooler how it feels. Is it soft or hard, warm or cold? Talk softly and affirm good behavior on the child’s part during any interaction with cows.
The milking barn is a very important place to the cows and their farmer. If you have permission to go inside, follow all instructions carefully to help prevent any spread of germs in the milk barn. The farmer may be able to show you photos or a short video, instead. Ask preschoolers if they know what we eat and drink that comes from milk?
Crop farm –
Crop farms range from a few acres to hundreds or thousands of acres. It all depends on what is to be harvested. Field crops are categorized as follows: (1) food grains, (2) feed and forage, (3) fiber, fuel and oils (both industrial and edible). There are also other types of crop farms, including: (1) fruits and nuts, (2) horticultural and nursery, (3) agro-foresty and forestry products.
Arrange to visit a crop farm by appointment. If you want to investigate what farmers use to plant their crops and harvest them, a tour of the farm equipment shed or barn would be a highlight for children. Those huge wheels on the tractors will fascinate preschoolers. Your guide can explain what the tractor does and why the tires are so big. Take a photo of your preschoolers standing in front of a big tractor or combine. How much taller is the tire than they are? How much does one tire weigh?
The season you choose to go also offers different views of the farming process. In early spring, you can observe machinery plowing and tilling the soil to prepare for planting. Why is this necessary? Explain that it helps get rid of weeds and gives the soil a chance to get a breath of fresh air before it grows new crops. Straight rows are then laid out for planting the seed in the soil. Count rows together.
In summer, huge irrigation rigs roll through fields to water corn and other crops. Compare this to the sprinkler on a lawn hose and how it gives the grass a drink. Crop harvesting is also fascinating for children. Next time you drive by a field of tractors rolling fresh hay, harvesting corn or baling gleaning huge bales of cotton, stop by and observe. One favorite crop farm children like to visit is a pumpkin farm! This autumn, stop by and let children choose a pumpkin to carry home. How does the pumpkin feel under their hands – bumpy or smooth, cool or warm? Take photos at the farm and later, make a scrap book to document your field trip.
Poultry farm –
Chickens aren’t the only birds you’ll find on a poultry farm. How about ducks, geese, quail, and turkeys? These animals all have feathers, can fly and lay eggs to hatch their young. Visiting a poultry farm can be fun and educational if birds are contained in pens or a brooding enclosure and children can observe them from a distance. Ask your tour guide for a few feathers to study. Look at them with the naked eye, and then look again with a hand-held magnifying glass. What can you see that you didn’t see before?
Demonstrate how a feather rubbed one direction is soft and smooth while rubbing it the other direction makes it stick together in clumps. How and why does this happen? Talk about feathers keeping the birds dry and warm. Observe a bird spreading its wings. Why do baby birds hide under their mothers’ wings? If possible, view an incubator or nesting site. Is the egg cold like the eggs in their refrigerator at home? Why not? What color is the egg of a duck or a turkey? Do chickens always have white eggs? Do some birds have bigger eggs than others?
Specialty crop farm –
Think of a preschooler’s reaction to a butterfly farm! Hundreds or thousands of flutter-by creatures are raised here and sold to help pollenate fruits, flowers and maintain a balance in the eco-system. What about flower farms, with rows and rows of bright colorful tulips, irises, mums, sunflowers or other varieties? Bee farms produce honey and healthy bees, which are so important for the pollination of plants, trees and flowers, and while preschoolers may not get up close and personal, they can observe honey processing and perhaps see a video of the bees in action. Then there are the worm farms, popular for use in composting.
Other specialty farms include those with exotic animals preschoolers would normal see at the zoo: Some farms raise alpacas, ostriches, emus, angora goats, foxes, mink, rabbits, water buffalo, bison, etc. These animals are considered a crop for their furs, wool, meat and other products. Some specialty animal farms are set up like mini-zoos for the purpose of education.
Small family farm –
Many smaller farms are a mixture of pasture, cows, horses, field crops and poultry. They often go back generations and are well-maintained for the love of farming. When you visit a family farm, you’re more likely to get up close and personal with a variety of animals and see the machinery used to keep the farm running. Always make an appointment to visit and ask your host to walk you through a “typical day” at the farm. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to teach and learn together along the way.
So, what happens when preschoolers visit a farm? They learn a lot through sights and sounds, textures, temperatures, and smells. Some farms even offer the chance to taste their products, like fresh milk, ice cream, honey, fruits and veggies or cookies made with whole grains. Be sure to ask lots of questions, take photos along the way, and enjoy the teachable moments all around you!