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Elephant’s Fork preschoolers pick strawberries at Oliver’s Farms

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Friday, March 23rd was a perfect day for approximately fifty preschoolers from Elephant’s Fork Elementary School in Suffolk, VA to descend upon Oliver’s Farm in Smithfield, VA for the purpose of picking strawberries. They, along with their teachers, arrived on three buses which led the caravan of parents following in their own cars.

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Once everyone had gathered on the grounds of the farm, Pam Oliver met the students to provide them an overview of the crops grown on the farm: field corn, sweet corn, cotton, sorghum and strawberries. She told them they no longer had animals on the farm although they had pigs in the past. She also explained that both “boys” and “girls” could be farmers, and used both herself and her husband as examples.

Next Mrs. Oliver explained the planting and growth of strawberries. In particular, she noted that strawberries appear exactly 30 days after the white blooms appear on the vines, thus students should be careful not to pull off any blooms as that would prevent new strawberries from growing for others to pick.

Before students were given containers for their strawberries, Mrs. Oliver shared a large poster full of information about strawberries so students could visualize all the things she had just told them. Then the preschoolers were sent into the fields at a ratio of one adult per every two kids.

When every child had filled his container, it was time to load the buses and move on to KidsZone, a city playground large enough for all the children to play at one time. When the students arrived there, they went to the picnic area so they could eat lunch. After getting their hands sanitized, children and adults alike enjoyed socializing together while eating.

Once all the students had completed their lunch, they rushed onto the playground for about 90 minutes of free play. Due to a week of Standards of Learning (SOL) testing at their school which prevented them from playing outside all week due to the Quiet Zone status of the school, the children played with reckless abandon, much to the delight of their teachers and chaperones.

Each of the teachers were asked why field trips of this type were so important. Here is what they had to say:

“A lot of these students never get the chance to see anything that grows – only the finished product. These trips allow them to experience real-life scenarios so they can see these things in stores or in the media and remember they saw it and what they learned where they saw it.” replied Diana Bailes.

“Some of our students do not live in areas with playgrounds or where parents feel it is safe to allow their children to play at them so being able to come to KIDS ZONE is a major treat for them,” Bailes added.

“Students need hands-on experiences to see how things work and grow, and what they need to grow. A large percent of our children are not exposed to farm life and have no idea how long it takes for things to grow. When Mrs. Oliver asked about the purpose of ladybugs in strawberry fields, she was impressed that students knew it was to control the aphid population – this is the kind of class/real-world experience field trips provide students,” said Kim Petrasek.

“Children learn best by doing. What better experience can a child have than to actually touch, see, hear, taste and interact with another part of the environment they may not do otherwise? Who knows what kind of interest this may spark in a child for the future in terms of careers even? Our students asked questions today which farmers, horticulturists, entomologists, grocers, etc. Where might that lead in the future?” asked Lisa McLaughlin.

All the teachers agreed that most every preschool SOL was met by this field trip: communication skills, math, science, social studies, language arts, social skills, small motor skills, and large motor skills.

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