Archive for the ‘farm school’ category

Lucky to be here

October 25, 2010

“This is the first duty of an educator; stir up life, but leave it free to develop.” –Maria Montessori

One of the ongoing junior high projects. This kind of work will be a part of their micro economy.

The quick conversation in the car on the way home today caused me to think a bit on what we are doing here. My daughter is in the eighth grade, and the junior high began their “immersion week” today, where they spend the entire week at the farm rather than in the classroom. They will do chores (my daughter told me she wanted to wear her rubber boots tomorrow because she’s on duck pond duty), they will construct a solar-powered water trough, work on their micro-economy (which is woodworking, and now there is a twist–painting quotes like you see above), and clean out the barn, among other things. They will do this Monday through Thursday, and on Friday they will participate in the St. Marcellus Day celebration together with South Bend’s Center for Peace and Nonviolence (St. Marcellus is a model for non-violence). Then they’ll be back in the classroom on Monday to begin another cycle of learning.

The comment I made to Clare in the car on the way home from the farm was, “You are lucky to be here. Lucky to have such a junior high.” Her response was, “I know.”

As I thought about that, I realized just how wonderful it is to have a thirteen-year-old recognize that she is LUCKY to be at school, without a second’s hesitation. She knows. She didn’t need to put on the stereotypical adolescent angst and roll her eyes about school. She doesn’t think school is something she has to tolerate. She loves it. And she is learning and growing in leaps and bounds.

Maria Montessori knew that the child needs to move in order to learn, and that the adolescent needs to relate in order to learn. The adolescent needs to engage in meaningful work with peers. The adolescent needs freedom with responsibility, independence, and our trust. Our junior high students jump on the city bus to go study at the public library, or they walk to the farmers’ market to buy the food they will cook for each other, or they arrange to meet downtown or at a local park or at the river to continue their ongoing research into local history. They review literature in a seminar format, learning how to think and discuss and argue their points. Their Math is advanced and practical at the same time, as they study Algebra and Geometry and also build their own lockers from bookshelves removed from another part of the building. They work as a team, they guide each other, they learn from each other, they work hard, and they love learning.

Clare is not the only one lucky to be here at this junior high. I am lucky to be able to take in even a fraction of what she does, simply by being present.


Farm School

June 25, 2010

“The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.” –Maria Montessori

My son, Jack, had a busy week. He worked at Ms. Theri’s farm. Jack has been at Ms. Theri’s farm (Bertrand Farm in Niles, Michigan) one afternoon a week, every week, for five years at school. Before that he spent every opportunity possible among the chickens and the tomatoes. In the summer, he has often joined Ms. Theri’s farm camp, and now, entering sixth grade, he is a junior counselor of sorts.

When Jack was very little, one of his favorite things to do was reach under a chicken and triumphantly pull out an egg.  He knew the ins and outs of a farm in ways I had not imagined.

One fall many years ago, we were visiting my sister and we decided to make pumpkin pie. My sister opened up her pantry, pulled out a can of pumpkin, and put the can on the counter. Jack stared at it, and finally asked, “What are you going to do with that?” He had never seen pumpkin in a can before, and wondered where the pumpkin was that we were going to cut in half and bake in order to make the pie (he knows the difference between a pie pumpkin and a regular pumpkin).

When we opened Good Shepherd in 2002, we wanted a farm school component, and Theri was a longtime friend (our son Liam’s godmother) and a teacher who had bought a farm and wanted to turn it into a place for transformative learning and community gardening. Eight years later, the farm school is a staple at Good Shepherd, and her farm cooperative/CSA is feeding many, many families.

The children go to the farm to be with the land, to be with their roots. The children go to the farm to experience the botany and zoology they tap into in the classroom. The children go to the farm to see where food comes from, to help plant and harvest, to research animals and purchase chicks and piglets, even to experience, as some did this year on the other farm we visit (Prairie Winds Farm in Lakeville, IN), the birth of a calf. The children go to the farm to be connected to each other, to the land, and to the universe itself.

At the farm the children can stand in awe of God and show gratitude for all the people and animals who work today so hard to share food with us. They are also grateful for all the people who did this for generations upon generations to create and hand down culture.

Jack in a beekeeper's suit at Prairie Winds Farm

They get dirty and they shovel manure and they fix fences and they learn like crazy.

We were interested to see recently that there is even a phenomenon being discussed called “nature deficit disorder.” It seems we wanted to address this disorder before we knew it was defined as such. Additionally, we are learning that children spending even one half hour in nature, truly in nature, can have an orienting effect that helps with ADHD-like behaviors.

Early on, someone pointed out to me that one afternoon each week at the farm amounts to ten percent of the entire school week, and didn’t I think that was an excessive amount of time for a non-academic activity? I asked if that person had ever been to the farm, because if so they would certainly encounter the quality of learning, the depth of understanding, and the very joy connected to this messy, chicken-laden, sheep-filled, asparagus-lined, manure-scattered window to the universe. No, it is not an excessive amount of time. Just ask Jack.