It’s a staple of most teaching curriculum; the farm visit. It often occurs in Spring, when there is so much new life to see, and even handle, but any time of year has lessons to teach children. From birth to death and every side alley between, farms are places where learning is both hands on and real. These lessons are often applicable to situations outside of farm life, which is an added bonus.
A bonus lesson – Hygiene is a big issue when farm visiting. There are normally numerous places to wash hands, and even the animals and vehicles sometimes have to go through special washing places. Why is this, and why is it important to follow hygiene rules?
Spring – Starting at the beginning, literally. This is the time to teach children about the idea of new life. Teaching youngsters how life begins can be difficult, but put the actual evidence in front of them – being in a lambing shed when a lamb comes into the world/watching a chick hatch from an egg – and everything becomes a lot easier to understand.
Be prepared for the inevitable disgust as birth is a messy business, but it is worth letting any child see how it happens. The mess will soon be forgotten when the inevitable fluffy chick and wobbly, cavorting lamb wander in and delight everyone.
Consider, farmer willing, allowing children to adopt a handful of chicks, or a couple of lambs/calves, and use it as an opportunity to follow the animal through the first year of life.
Spring is also planting time. Discuss how the seeds in their hands will be put into the ground and how long the children think the plants will take to grow. It’s amazing how their concept of time differs wildly from the adult version. Get them to note down their predictions and then follow the progress of the planted field over the year.
Get the children to grow plants in classroom or windowsill pots and make similar predictions – first shoot, first leaf, first bloom.
Summer – Now the high days are here, take a look at the progress of the animals and plants. This is an opportunity to teach about growing. What has made the fluffy ball of yellow down change into a chicken? How did the wobbly lamb get so big and strong? Compare the animals to the plants. Did the plants use the same food as the animals? If not, how did the plants grow? Teaching here can include the varieties of weather and the different ways plants and animals grow to adulthood/maturity.
Consider teaching about the changing seasons. Why is Summer so different to Spring. Why don’t we plant every month, but only at certain times? Why do animals and birds have their chicks when they do? What happens if the rain doesn’t come (an opportunity to talk about differing world climates) or if the sun doesn’t shine?
Look at the plants and talk about what is happening to crops and to flowering plants. Are they the same? Is a flower bud the same as a wheat ear? Can we eat everything on a farm? If not, why not? Why don’t we just pick what we need each day on a farm? Why do we have to wait for it to be ripe?
Autumn/Fall – The colours are changing and so are the crops in the fields. Why? What makes the farmer choose a certain day to gather his crops? How does he do it? What used to happen before there were tractors and huge machines to harvest with? What happens to the harvest now it is cut down? How is it stored and where is it sent to?
What’s happening with the animals? Have the sheep been shorn yet? Are the chicks old enough to be laying eggs? What happens to the animals now the weather is changing? Do they go into shelter? Is this all day and night?
Does the farmer have to do anything special to the fields once the harvest is in? Are there any special celebrations when everything is safely cut and stored? Harvest celebrations are numerous and this is an opportunity to explore them – A great selection of information can be found here.
Winter – The changes are now very obvious. The days are shorter and colder. Why is this? What happens to a farm in winter? Do the animals stay shut up for months? How are they kept warm? What do they eat? Does anything grow in the fields in winter?
This is also the time to approach the subject of death (if it hasn’t occurred over the intervening months with adopted animals). Why are some animals missing? What happened to them? It is quite amazing how many children make no correlation between the meat on their plate, the egg in their omelette, and the creatures on a farm. A gentle, but honest, talk about how the animals end up on our table, or simply die of disease and age, is suited to this cold and severe time of the year.
Farm visits are bursting with opportunities to teach children about almost any subject under the sun. Science in fertilizers and artificial insemination, nature everywhere, maths in flock numbers and stock prices, language in new terms, unique to farming, and even physical exercise as children dig dirt, handle animals and heft hay. Fun and education all in one!