This Summer, we are sharing some of our favorite articles published this past year in The Bulletin. Enjoy!
Third Grade Farm Trip – A Parent’s Perspective
By MaryJoe Walikainen
My daughter Ava began attending Green Meadow in third grade. As if learning through play, free time outside every day, and helping out at nearby Duryea farm on Fridays weren't enough fun, she also got to spend 5 days and 4 nights with her classmates living on Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY.
While Ava spoke about the farm trip frequently, she began the official countdown three weeks prior. As part of the preparation for her trip, she received a packing list from her teacher. She brought it home and got right to work. She compiled all the items she’d need. One check mark went next to the items she already had on the list and put in a pile. A star went next to the few items she didn’t have and needed to get. She placed yet another mark next to each item on the list after she labeled it with her name. Then, as the departure day got closer and excitement built, she made a fresh packing list (the other one had too many marks on it) and checked off each item as she placed it in the duffle bag. The duffle bag got packed and repacked several times before leaving. I marveled at her independence as she took care of all her trip preparations herself. While packing for a trip may on the surface seem trivial, it indicates to me my changing role as she increases her self-reliance and responsibility.
Before she left on the farm trip she got a schedule outlining the activities and chores she would be able to do at the farm. She wondered what milking the cows would feel like. She questioned if she would really need to clean out the barn or, if she could skip that part. She said she wanted to get up early every day (instead of just one day as indicated on the schedule) to feed the animals. She expressed her excitement about being able to collect the eggs every day and the opportunity to learn how to make fresh butter.
While Ava had spent time away from home before, she was always with a member of her family. This trip would be her first experience without any family. Regardless, when the morning came to leave for the trip, Ava boarded the bus forgetting to say goodbye. I entered the bus to give my goodbye and found her already situated with her friends anxiously awaiting the journey. Before the trip she was able to write down a couple preferences for who she would want to bunk with while at the farm. Her teacher reassured her that at least one of her preferences would be honored. This provided a sense of comfort for Ava knowing that at least one of her closer friends would be with her. At the farm, she ended up with several of her friends bunking near her. And, she came to find through various activities at the farm that she got to know some other classmates better. This trip provided her first major experience that expanded her sense of place and belonging beyond her immediate family to include the larger class community.
One evening, Ava was particularly tired and was ready to go to bed before the rest of her classmates were ready. She struggled with deciding to either continue on with the group activities or go off to bed by herself. She ended up going to bed before the others. I believe this reinforced her trust in herself to listen to what she needs and to speak her needs even if it is difficult and unpopular. I think this experience nurtured trust in herself and was an important experience for her as she continues to navigate and explore her relationship with herself and others.
When she returned home she spoke about catching a countless number of frogs at the pond, riding a horse, going for a hike and rolling down a grassy hill, splashing around in a creek, and her rekindled love of eating sweet potatoes as well as some of the chores she got to do. She loved being able to cook soup for everyone one day. She explained that on another day she had the much less exciting job of serving and cleaning up after dinner. Then, I could feel her sense of confidence strengthening as she reported that milking the cows turned out to be fairly easy and that she was able to clean out the barn really well and take care of the smelly manure without a problem. While she didn’t articulate it directly, I know she understood through experience that some tasks are easier and more enjoyable than others and that what each person does individually helps everyone.
Being at the farm reinforced in a tangible way the lessons she had been learning all year long at school by providing positive experiences which challenged her with new tasks and opportunities. The trip provided many fertile opportunities for her to grow her confidence, independence, and sense of belonging—all in an adventurous manner, in a unique setting, among wholeheartedly supportive friends and teachers.