Over the course of this academic year we have visited Church Farm Ardeley half termly. Children were carefully selected from years 1–6, ages 5-11years old, who were deemed as most likely to benefit most from a broader educational opportunity.
The children have been exposed to a wide range of experiences over four seasons and through carefully planned activities they began to understand how the farm works on an ongoing cycle. Tasks ranged from planting strawberries in winter, which they then harvested and weighed, ready to be sold in the farm shop in summer. They saw large amounts of turkeys in autumn and noticed how they had gone in the spring. However new chicks had arrived in the summer to replenish the stocks. Children made the connection to Christmas. They saw how pregnant ewes were categorised, then newborn lambs arrived which they were able to bottle feed during a subsequent visit. In the summer they then helped to collect the shorn fleeces and attempted weaving, making their own mat.
The children were most animated by the chickens. The journey from being slightly wary during the first visit, culminated in them confidently entering the field and the sheds, happily picking up chickens, feeding them and collecting eggs freely. They learned how to categorise the eggs, preparing them to be sold.
The children were so open to the new and amazing hands-on experiences offered to them. They were guided expertly but sensitively by Rozelle and Dave who adapted activities for younger and older children, answering even the most obscure questions posed.
The children never ceased to amaze me. They pick up on things which we as adults don’t see, finding opportunities which we look past, and Dave and Rozelle embraced this to the fullest. For example when a child found a stick which he reluctantly left at the farm in Dave’s care, Dave transformed this seemingly inanimate object into a character which we hope will become a published book.
The impact of these farm visits, although hard to measure in terms of educational assessment, has been a privilege to witness. Children who struggle academically, have found something to get excited about and excel at. One practitioner who had supported a child in school throughout the year, commented that she had never heard the child speak so much and with so much enthusiasm as when she joined the children during the summer visit to the farm. Several teachers have commented on how animated the children are and how much they want to talk about each visit, which for some is a great achievement in terms of speech and language. They have also been able to relate to their journey on the farm in school, where there has been a connection to the farm in their work . In these cases the children who can struggle in the classroom, have seen themselves as experts, and in some cases have been quite vocal. Children have experienced unequivocal success through practical, ‘real’ experiences which have given them confidence and boosted their self-esteem outside the classroom; it is something which has truly humbled me.
We very much hope that these children will continue to benefit from these farm visits in academic years to come.
Our heartfelt gratitude to Rozelle and Dave. Every child deserves to find success and something to be animated about. Our farm visits have certainly provided a catalyst to help towards that goal.