Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Trip to the Farm

“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest—but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”  Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods     
Sixth grade students at Greensboro Day School can tell you about both the Amazon rain forest and tell you about the last time they studied local flora and fauna first-hand thanks to a program initiated by our 6th grade science teacher, Craig Head.

Each year, Mr. Head takes his classes to his farm located in Rockingham County, North Carolina.  Over the course of a year-long study the students learn about the cycles of life on a farm. In the fall, they notice the leaves turning, the need to till the soil and plant new grass for the grazing cattle and gather fallen leaves for the goats. They spend time noting the water level in the stream bed, getting to know the farm animals, the chickens, the pea fowl, horse, cats and dogs, and the roles that each play in the ecology of farm life. They also have “solo” time to be by themselves, listening, watching, and reflecting from a quiet place along the river, deep in the woods.

“The shift in our relationship to the natural world is startling, even in settings that one would assume are devoted to nature. Not that long ago, summer camp was a place where you camped, hiked in the woods, learned about plants and animals, or told firelight stories about ghosts or mountain lions.”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
In the late winter, the students bundle up for their trek to the farm to view bared trees, and notice piles of hay and animal waste composting and generating heat in near freezing temperatures. They learn how the compost needs air and moisture for decomposition, they greet the new calves and kids, and they note the brooding chickens and bring back eggs to hatch in their science classroom. They learn how the electric fence is grounded and the science behind why they get a shock when they touch it. The students walk through the budding blueberry field and learn how a late frost could damage or destroy the entire crop.

In the spring, they return again to discover mushrooms growing in the old canal leading from the now empty mill pond to what little is left of an old grist mill. They note how much the chicks, kids and calves have grown. They see blueberry bushes whose blossoms have been pollinated by the the bees in the nearby hives.  And, they pitch their tents in the river bottom to spend three days and two nights exploring the woods, writing personal reflections, playing in the stream bed, and sitting around a camp fire telling stories before they go to bed and gaze at sparkling, crystal clear stars.

There is much to learn about ourselves, our natural surroundings, and the science and mutually supportive ecology of our world. I’m glad that our 6th graders are discovering those relationships and having an opportunity to experience life disconnected from their cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, online games, and the rigorous lives they lead from class-to-class, lesson-to-lesson and event-to-event in their “normal” daily lives.

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