Five-year-old Jenna Watson badly wanted to go on a real field trip. She and her classmates at Okte Elementary in Clifton Park, New York, instead took part in a virtual farm tour set up by American Dairy Association North East. Jenna was skeptical.
Jenna’s teacher, Bryan Sawyer, saw opportunity in streaming live video into his classroom from the cameras on the farm. “The farm visit ties into our science unit for nutrition,” said Bryan. He signed up his morning class of 24 students for the Pre-K to third grade tour of Dutch Hollow Farm in Schodack Landing, N.Y.
“They know they get milk from cow”, said Bryan, “but that doesn’t make any sense to them. So that whole concept of ‘yes, we get milk from a cow’ is there, but there’s a huge process behind that. Just to get them to see a farmer go through that is exciting.”
During the tour, dairy farmer Nate Chittenden showed the children the cow barn and where cows sleep. From milking the cow to learning what they liked to eat, the children looked on with curiosity. During the tour, Jenna shared a surprise of her own. “My grandpa used to milk cows,” Jenna told Bryan.
There were shrieks of delight from the children when they saw the calves.The oversized milk bottles used to feed them surprised Sophie Philistin. Roman Siler liked seeing the newborns, too. He thought “they were so cute.” The little boy was eager to get home and tell his parents about the calves and cows he saw.
“I’ll have some students will understand it, comprehend it, and go home and explain it to their parents. Others will get pieces here and there, and there’s a lot of adults who don’t understand the process either, so it’s important to give them that exposure,” said Bryan.
Today, more and more people are less connected to agriculture as farm families comprise just two percent of the U.S. population, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. By bringing a working farm into the classroom, students get to experience what life on a farm is like.
“It’s nice that we have the technology to do this. We’re a half day kindergarten, so we don’t get a chance to go out on field trips,” said Bryan.
Bryan was impressed with the tour. So were the children. Even Jenna. After the tour, although still disappointed not to have gone to the farm because “I wanted to pet the cows”, Jenna confided her positive experience with the virtual farm tour to her teacher.
With the virtual farm tours recorded by ADA North East, Bryan took his afternoon class on a tour, too.