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Farm School & the Benefits of Learning Outside

So I have talked a lot about 'farm school.'  Last week was our last week of farm school for D at Turn Back Time.  He cried ALL the way home.  He threw a fit about something unrelated - but upon my asking admitted to being so upset that farm school was over. 

Just as a quick aside - if this is the first time you're hearing about farm school - it is 2.5 hours of pre-school.  It's outside, everyday, no matter the weather (we live in central MA).  He started in September and just finished last week.  There is a small indoor shed with a space heater for when it is really cold (it gets to be 20 or 30 degrees in there) - but most days they are outside for the 2.5 hours.  There is a morning meeting, and a curriculum that is teacher directed - however - the learning is student directed.  If the kiddos want to explore a rock and turn it into a pirate ship for all 2.5 hours - learning instead to work as a team, share the rock, make a sail, etc - the teacher directed stuff waits.

Much like girl scout camp was to me, I see farm school as a place where D will spend much of his free time (not on my insistence - which I would - but because he thrives there and loves to be there) growing up.  I see it as a home away from home, a place where nontraditional learning is embraced, and all children are loved for who they are - not for who they are 'supposed' to be.  

As academic standards for kids in school get more rigorous and plentiful and children and further and further removed from learning basic skills of living and surviving - I feel very blessed to have been a part of the first year of preschool at Turn Back Time. As a teacher I value a rigorous and challenging curriculum for my students.  As a mom, I value the same thing.  Turn Back Time changed my perspective however about WHERE the learning takes place and WHAT that curriculum could look like.


As a teacher I know students learn best when they are exploring what interests them.  There are many ways to build curriculum around that.  I have created - choose your own adventure style assignments, choices about what to study, a broad spectrum of possibilities for HOW to display mastery of material - all within the confines of the curriculum I am compelled and challenged to teach.  To watch this happen at the preschool level this year - in the outdoors - was astounding and humbling.

To trust children, small children, children who aren't yet well spoken, who don't walk in lines, who argue, throw stuff, and sometimes don't make it to the potty - to direct their own learning is a leap of faith.  A leap of faith I am SO happy Turn Back Time took.  These children developed and grew in ways I could never have imagined.  There is no way I could list out all of the things they have learned this year.  Many concerned and loving mamas have asked me if I was "worried" that D would be behind, that he wasn't learning conventional preschool curriculum, that he wouldn't be able to walk in a line or sit still.  I have to tell you - that I was never worried - but looking back - it is more than that... I am so much happier with the skills he did learn than the ones that he 'didn't.'



This farm school allows children to direct their learning - and teaches them lifelong skills that are immediately useful in everyday life. Miss Lisa, the director, calls the first three kids, "my pioneers" which I love. They pioneered the program, but have also learned many of the basic skills that pioneer children would have learned:
  1. Plant identification and safety
  2. Growing and planting
  3. Animal identification, safety, feeding, grooming, etc
  4. Harvesting
  5. Healthy eating (we eat what we can care for and grow at the farm)
  6. Egg collection
  7. The food chain and where the meat they eat comes from (ie: mom is this pig we're eating? from the farm?)
  8. To build, keep, and experiment in the mud kitchen
  9. Fire & water safety
  10. How to use real tools appropriately and effectively (he can hammer better than I can...)
  11. To run - really fast - through the woods - without tripping on rocks and roots 
  12. That playing with mud is awesome - and getting dirty is fun
  13. Insect identification - and not to be afraid! 
  14. To climb rocks, trees, hills, wood chips 
  15. Cooperation and group work - because you can't catch a flock of chickens on your own and you can't pick up a really heavy log for your real life Lincoln log project
  16. Resilience, enjoying and playing 2.5 hours in the cold, wet, or super hot weather is a skill
  17. Consequences of our decisions (ie: if you jump in that puddle - it's awesome then - but being wet for 2 hours isn't as fun)
  18. Patience, you can't eat what you planted today tomorrow, chickens don't lay eggs on command, and snow doesn't melt... for a really long time.
  19. Independence & Responsibility, that they are responsible for their actions, for their safety, that their interests and desires matter, that they know when they are ready to do things, and that they are responsible for the choices they make and that those choices have consequences.
  20. TRUST.  This is the most important one (hence the CAPS lock).  These 3 year olds are given more trust and responsibility than high school students.  They are TRUSTED with the safety of their bodies, the safety of their friends, the care of animals, the care of food for themselves and others.  This trust from adults gives them confidence and self-esteem that no trophy, "A" on a paper, or blue ribbon can give.  It's invisible but the most important part of what farm school gave my babe.


These real life skills have been immediately useful - and will be something that the pioneers rely on for the rest of their lives. In addition to all the unconventional things learned at farm school, D learned letters, numbers, sentences, writing, sounds, time and all kinds of 'conventional' preschool skills.

If you're in the area and interested in learning more - or heading to summer camp there (a few days a week - for kids from preschool up!) - give your kiddos the gift of life skills that they will use forever! Check out Turn Back Time.  At the very least - check out Lisa's post about the pioneers and show her some love.





If you're not close - but want to learn more (or start one in your town) Forrest Schools are popping up everywhere... make it happen.  Since this started - my mom started one in the town where she is the Rec. Director :)

Forest Schools International
Forest Education
Wildside Survival 
Guelph Outdoor Preschool





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3 comments:

Alice Emma Thompson said...

Sounds wonderful.

We do a park trip every Friday with friends fair weather and foul and are often the only ones in the park in the rain, checking up on all the baby fowl, collecting nuts and leaves and climbing trees. Great fun.

Reesa Lewandowski said...

One of the local farms by me has a farm camp and I can't wait to send my kids (you have to be 8). It sounds like such an awesome experience!

Hunger-Free & Healthy said...

Oh my goodness this just made me so excited! I had googled "farm preschool central mass" (we're in Worcester) just hoping upon hope that there would be something like this somewhere close by!! My son is 2.5 and I so want this kind of experience for him. Since he was a baby anytime I take him outside he is happier. Always. This is absolutely how little ones should learn and spend their days!! So happy to have found Turn Back Time!

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