A series of virtual farm visits has enabled pre-school children at Happy Days Penair Nursery in Truro, Cornwall to learn more about farming, the countryside and where their food comes from.
The parents of a child who attends the nursery own a farm and suggested that they arrange a video link so that the children could see a range of work there and gain a greater appreciation of what farming entails and how important it is in supporting our everyday life.
‘We are not based in a farming community, and when we spoke to the children during lunch time about where their food came from, many would say Tesco. We thought it would be good for the children’s cultural capital for them to know where and how their food is produced,’ says deputy manager Lisa Fidock. ‘Another important area was for them to see another job role and find out what the work of a farmer entails.’
Pigs, piglets and the realities of farming life
Staff arranged a series of FaceTime video links where the children could look at an aspect of work on the farm and ask questions. They have now enjoyed three of these 20-minute sessions and have watched in wonder as they have explored the working farm.
A highlight was seeing very young piglets. The children were fascinated to see that they could already walk and wanted to know what they were fed. They could watch the mother feeding the piglets and were also told that they are given solid food from an early age too, unlike human babies.
The children were exposed to the harsh realities of farming when they heard that not all the piglets had survived because some had fallen ill and were not strong enough to live. They were reassured to be told that those that had lived were thriving and being well looked after by the mother pig, known as a ‘sow’.
A few of the children wondered where the piglets’ daddy was and they learnt that the male pig – the boar – did not live with them. This led to children discussing their own family make-ups and they drew pictures of who lives at their home and spoke to their friends about it.
‘One of the piglets was limping so the children talked about its poorly leg,’ says Ms Fidock. ‘They were also interested to see that the piglets didn’t have curly tails yet. The children talked about when they will start to curl, which they will do.’
Learning about crops, harvesting and machinery
During another ‘visit’, the children were introduced to the arable side of the farm and told about growing and harvesting crops. They spoke about how farms grow plants for us to eat, such as fruit and vegetables and also cereals commonly including wheat, oats and barley.
They learnt that picking this produce is known as ‘harvesting’ and discussed how it can be a labour-intensive job on small farms where some crops are picked by hand. The farm they are linked with has a big combine harvester which can harvest grain and does three things at once – reaping, threshing and winnowing. The children were excited to see the huge machine.
Their interest in the farm machinery led them to being shown more on their next live video link-up. They were interested to see the tractor and its huge wheels that enable it to drive on muddy and uneven ground. They heard about the different jobs that the tractor is used for on the farm and they saw some of the attachments that are put on the tractor to enable it to do the different jobs, such as pulling trailers and drilling to plant seeds in the ground.
The food we eat
The next planned instalment will introduce the children to the cattle, which are bred for their meat rather than being a dairy herd. ‘These video links with the farm are making it very real for the children,’ says Ms Fidock. ‘There has been a lot of talk at mealtimes about the meat they are eating, and some of the children had not previously thought about them eating animals.
‘The child who lives on the farm shares a lot of extra information with the children that perhaps we wouldn’t have. He does it in a very matter-of-fact way, such as how the animals get slaughtered and hung up so the blood comes out. We have spoken to parents about what the children are learning and they respect the fact that the children are learning the facts about where their food comes from, including a vegan family.’
Gardening and the environment
Staff have noticed that the children are also exploring their new knowledge outside of the sessions, particularly with a renewed interest in the nursery’s growing area. They are growing carrots, courgettes and potatoes and also have some fruit trees. They helped to prepare the ground and plant the seeds and now enjoy watering them and watching them grow. The children are looking forward to harvesting the produce when it is ready and eating it in nursery.
Links have been made between the agricultural work and the need to look after the environment. The children are now keen to recycle and are helping to sort food waste and compost it to use for growing.
Farming role play
Children are having more engaged play with the nursery’s small-world play animals and machinery and, in the outdoor area, are using the ride-on tractor to pick up pretend hay bales and cut grass. They are also enjoying getting dressed up as pigs and pretending to be the mummy pig with the babies and the daddy pig in another area, a fact that has stuck with them from the first farm link-up.
Baking, cooking and a big surprise
In the future, staff plan to organise bread-making and cooking activities with the children to continue learning about food production. They also hope to wow the children by getting the farmers to bring a tractor into the nursery car park for them to see up close.
In the meantime, the children often ask after the pigs when the farmers come to collect their son from nursery.
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