The Nature of Observing

The school group gathered for an introduction on the class: Ins and Outs of Eating, Nutrient Cycle on the Farm.
The school group gathered for an introduction on the class: Ins and Outs of Eating, Nutrient Cycle on the Farm.

 

With fall comes a surge of students to the farm.

It’s fun to watch the students disembark from their bus, usually with big smiles on their faces. And, why wouldn’t they? How often does an elementary or high school student get to spend a morning or afternoon on a beautiful mountain-top, gaining hands-on experience with farm animals or the regional flora and fauna?

This week, elementary students from Wells, Vermont arrived on sunny Monday afternoon. The breezy air was just cool enough to keep everyone feeling sharp. Sarah, Merck’s education director, brought the students to the west side of the Harwood Barn. There, she and the apprentices introduced the teachers and kids (little guys to middle schoolers) to the course: Ins and Outs of Eating and the Cycle of Nutrients on the Farm.

After the brief opening, the circle disbanded into two groups, which would go around and observe the different animal groups on the farm. Sarah and Emilie took the older guys to see Ellie and Daisy, the draft horses, and Carolyn and Becca led the younger students to their first stop: the chicken coop.

Observations in the Chicken Pasture

Observation is a skill that our staff tries to instill in students of any age.  Students spend time watching the animals, paying attention to the details, and the bigger picture—What do the characteristics of a chicken tell you about what or how it eats? What happens once a ewe has consumed clover from the field? Where does the horses’ waste go? What does the cycle of nutrients mean for the farm environment?

Carolyn holds the hen for the students to inspect up close. Students observe the chicken's features and learn how it fits into the ecosystem of the farm.
Carolyn holds the hen for the students to inspect up close. Students observe the chicken’s features and learn how it fits into the ecosystem of the farm.

Questions may lead to observations; observations may lead to more questions. The nature of observation is a cycle within itself.

Either way you want to look at it, getting school groups to notice their environment, and understand how that space fits into the larger ecosystem, is key to our place-based education programs.