Marion Elementary School first grade students rolled up sleeves and got dirty in the name of hands-on education Friday at a Farm Fair event near Canada that included instructive guidance from Tabor College professors and students.
Dave and Joanne Loewen, a Tabor College professor couple, opened a family farm that borders the reservoir north of US-56 on Nighthawk Rd. for the Farm Fair.
“Last year our son, David, was a para at MES, and he brought some special needs students out here for a field trip,” Joanne Loewen said. “They seemed to enjoy it. I guess word must have spread. I think it was a good way to help kids experience farm life.”
First grade teachers Ginger Becker, Michelle Flaming, and Jessica Ensley broke students into groups and provided supportive instruction, while students carried clipboards with personalized notepads on which they scribbled notes and pictures as they soldiered through chicken, cow, goat, and tractor learning stations, as well as a digging and planting activity and a hayrack ride.
The Loewens enlisted several Tabor early education students to speak at each station.
Growing up, juniors Elisha Cairns and Tiffany Huxman came from different backgrounds. They both saw the value of hands-on learning.
“Tiffany grew up on a farm, I didn’t,” Cairns said. “Hands-on learning is a learning style where kids see, smell, taste, touch, and hear what the’re learning about. Some need to engage all their senses to make real-world connections.”
“It’s hard for some little kids to sit in one place and focus for longer than 15 minutes at a time,” Huxman added. “Out here, they can make those connections they might not get from reading a book.”
At the cow station, kids learned about what one Tabor student called “Oreo Cookie Cows,” which garnered giggles and comments about if the cow’s udders produced Oreos as opposed to milk, until the Belted Galloway Cows’ identities were revealed.
During a simulated milking activity, students knelt in the grass milking water from plastic gloves that had holes in the fingertips.
When beef and dairy cows were compared, several kids wanted to know where meat came from, and David Loewen confirmed one child’s suspicions.
“You do have to kill them to get their meat,” Loewen said, “but they live a good life until they have one very bad day.”
He said there is “tremendous value” in hands-on learning.
“A lot of families now days are disconnected from the farm and activities like this help show kids where their food comes from,” Dave Loewen said. “There’s a lot of math and science that is incorporated, too.”
At the goat station, MES students were asked to use their senses to help determine the difference between fact and opinion by responding to a series of observation-based comments, including “goats only have lower teeth” or “goats are fun and friendly.”
While chewing their own sprigs of hay, some students dispelled myths of can-and-tire-eating goats, learning “goats just like to chew on different things but they don’t really eat trash” from one Tabor student.
At the chicken station, students did math activities involving a dozen and half-dozen terminology. They learned the life cycle of a chicken but were unable to answer, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
However, through a line of inquisition some first-graders learned about “pecking orders” when one student noticed a hurt chicken.
A Tabor student informed students that roosters cock-a-doodle-doo to show everyone who is really in charge.
At the tractor station, students learned the importance of measurement regarding time and distance.
They were asked to close their eyes, count silently inside their heads, and raise their hands once they reached 10. Some were surprised when they realized their perception of time wasn’t the same as their classmates.
They discussed the how far a foot really is and then made prediction how far they could ride a tractor tricycle in 10 seconds.
Expectations and actual results varied drastically in some cases.
At the digging and plating station, students first traversed large clumps of dirt clods and moderately deep trenches in a roughly tilled patch of earth while they each set about collecting a container of dirt.
Students experimented with different hand-tools, and some marveled at all the buried treasures. They turned up clumps of bailing thread, chunks of burnt metal and ash, and one girl exclaimed “I hit the jackpot” when she found a deposit of broken glass, while teachers monitored the dig.
Other students pondered the amount of worms in the earth, and one girl was sure there were “a thousand.”
After the dig, Marion resident Terry Vinduska showed students how to plant corn and soybean seeds.
David Loewen also took groups on a short hayrack ride, where one group of boys discussed the finer points of chewing and swallowing hay, concluding that hay is not just for horses.