Contributor: Diana Carlson, Class Teacher of Grade 3 of 2015-16
I have just returned from spending a week with my third graders at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, New York. We had a great time! The students baked bread, made butter, and cooked supper for their classmates and teachers. They planted seeds as the spring leaves popped around them in the April sunshine. They woke in the chill dawn to feed and water the cows, chickens, pigs, and horses. They also rode those horses, and cleaned those cows’ barn, and looked for eggs in the hen-house. They skipped stones and waded in the river and ran and climbed trees, with old friends and new. In the evenings they sang together, and practiced being quiet together so that everyone could settle down to sleep.Farm Trip 2016
The farm trip meets the developing nine-year old in many important ways. For most of my students, this was their first extended time away from their family. The nine-year old is developing an individual interior world; for the first time they realize that they can have thoughts and experiences that are theirs alone. The experience of the farm trip, although shared with familiar classmates and teachers, is an individual, personal life experience outside of the family round. Many of the students expressed surprise at how little they missed their families; they almost felt a little guilty at first, as if their self-sufficiency denied their affection for their families. When the families arrived to pick up their dirty, happy children on Friday morning, the students were thrilled to reconnect and share their experiences with their parents and siblings. They experienced that a separation is not a severing, and that they are able to have individual experiences and still remain connected, even over distance and time, to their loved ones. This foundational experience gives the child the confidence to move out into the world in ever widening arcs as they mature.
We had the opportunity to share our farm experience with students from the Primrose Hill School in Reinbeck, New York. The children enjoyed getting to know one another and see how another Waldorf third grade can be similar and yet different. We knew many of the same songs and poems, we were following the same curriculum as outlined by Rudolf Steiner, we were the same ages. And yet we had different class cultures, different personalities. By the end of the week however, the farm teachers commented that the groups had integrated so harmoniously that they couldn’t tell which students were from Meadowbrook and which were from Primrose Hill.
The farm experience deeply connects the child to the third grade science and geography curriculum. Now these students really “know” cows – their size, their smell, their slick noses and rough tongues, their beautiful eyes and placid natures. To know a cow in this way is to have a deeper connection to all that comes from the cow – butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, leather, hamburgers. The students also gain an understanding of the amount of work that creates their daily meals. One student commented on how difficult it was to clean out the barn – how strenuous, how smelly, how relieved he was to never have to do that again. And one of the farm teachers remarked, “Yes, and think – somebody has to do that every day or you would never be able to have ice cream!” The realization that all we enjoy is derived from the work of others cultivates gratitude and a true understanding of the interconnectedness of our world.
The experience of being at the farm planted seeds of understanding in the hearts and minds of my students. I look forward to watching these seeds sprout and blossom in the years ahead. I am grateful to Meadowbrook and to the parents of the third grade class for making this trip possible.