Letters from the 3rd Grade Farm Trip
The developmental phase that third graders experience is called the “nine year change” and practical activities such as planting, harvesting, and animal care provide purposeful work that help the third grader feel part of the world around them. This is all thoughtfully weaved into the 3rd Grade Waldorf curriculum, and culminates with a highly anticipated right of passage: the Third Grade Farm Trip.
Here at Richmond Waldorf School, our students travel to a working biodynamic farm in the Hudson Valley of New York for a week long immersive experience. Their teacher, Ms. Dawn Pollard, sent these lovely and inspiring letters to those of us back home detailing the class’s adventures. We hope you enjoy!
Monday, April 17th, 2023
What an eventful trip so far!
The train trip was long, but broken up into segments, which helped. We were so relieved to arrive at the farm yesterday around 4:00.
Each day at the farm is well planned and full of activities for the children. There is a Main Lesson each morning (today’s was about cheese and yogurt making). After a snack of popcorn and juice (this is the best juice they’ve ever had, according to one child), they are divided into small groups for morning activities.
One group made bread, another cared for and rode horses, and the third group cleaned out the horse stalls. Lunch (the big meal of the day) was rice, vegetables and tofu. After lunch is quiet time (which is lying in bed with a book for 20 minutes), then we have mail call. The children were delighted with their letters from you!
The afternoon has more activities: in the same groups (Maple, Elm, and Oak), the children make butter, hike or prepare soup for the evening meal. After that, the children will go help the farmers biodynamically prepare a field. We’ll have dinner, then draw. We’ll gather in a circle to reflect on our day, then I’ll read from The Dawn Treader and we’ll go to bed. There were a few tears last night after lights out, but after a few visits to my room, all was well. There were a lot of wiggles and giggles after lights out, but all were silent (and presumably asleep) by 9:00. I imagine they will settle in more easily tonight.
I am so proud of all of them. They rode on trains for 8 hours (with reasonable noise levels), took care of their own belongings, slept in a new place, tried new food, and energetically engaged in the activities presented to them. That’s a lot for a third grader!
Quote for the day: At our closing circle last night, one boy said “It feels like we’re one big family.” How wonderful.
Tuesday, April 18th, 2023
Greetings from cold NY! The high today is 49 and there is barely any sun. It certainly feels good to come inside and eat a hot meal! Today we had burritos for lunch. There were several children who tried them for the first time. Others tried the crispy kale and sweet potato medallions and enjoyed those.
This morning’s Main Lesson was about wool. The teacher was excellent. Through a series of questions, she led them to think about how people ate, built shelters and made clothes long ago, before there were farms. We then examined a single strand of sheep’s wool from a sheep that had been at the farm. After that she told a story about a famous sheep in New Zealand who didn’t want to be sheared (ask your child about the 60 lb fleece!). The children then did one of my favorite activities: wet felting (they have something to bring home that they made). The teacher was impressed with their skill and their knowledge of handwork.
The children have jobs each day: some are waiters, some wash dishes, some prepare the evening meal, some make the bread and butter and others feed the animals (the first feeding is at 6 am!). I am proud of how conscientiously they have done their jobs. The waiters make sure that the table has enough food and they bring out the hot dishes. The staff encourages us to try new food, but also to take only as much as we think we’ll eat. The idea of not wasting food is gently reinforced.
We had a unique experience in biodynamic farming yesterday. One of the farmers took us to a pasture (the farm and school own 900 acres!) across the street. He had prepared some water with cow dung that was buried in a cow horn in the spring. We used evergreen branches to spread the water across the field. This was extremely natural fertilizer! When I first heard about some of the methods of biodynamic farming, I thought it was a bit odd. But then I read studies showing its efficacy. And actually experiencing it was very peaceful and a lovely group activity. Now I think that keeping one’s mind open to different ways of working with the earth is more and more important.
The children slept soundly last night! I’m guessing tonight will be similar, after their time in the cold air.
Quote for the day: on the playground there are two climbing trees and one child said, “I’m learning things from the tree. I sit in its branches and listen, then touch its roots and listen.” The wisdom of children is heartwarming.
Wednesday, April 19th, 2023
What a lovely spring day it is here in NY! The children are so glad for the sunny skies and the warmer weather. They took a hike this morning up to “castle rock,” a large rock in the middle of the woods. (Apparently our children were not as impressed as other classes, I suppose we are used to large rocks in beautiful settings along the James River!) The hike was wonderful and the teacher told them about the history of how rocks move over long periods of time.
For lunch there was lasagna, with cheese that the children had made the day before. Needless to say, it was delicious! One child had 5 helpings – he had worked hard outdoors all morning. Breakfast this morning was buttermilk pancakes. When you’re talking with your child about the trip, perhaps you can ask them about one new dish they tried and liked. I know I expanded my palette! (Now if only I could cook that well!)
Each day after dinner we share something we enjoyed that day. Last night several children shared that they enjoyed feeding the newborn calf with a big bottle. Others said that they enjoyed milking the cows; specifically, they liked when the farmers squirted the milk right into their open mouths! Not every child wanted that experience, which is fine. One child said it was “warm and so good.”
We are leaving the farm tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m. The staff is kindly packing us both breakfast and lunch to eat on the way. The children have expressed that they are both happy and sad to leave. They are obviously looking forward earnestly to seeing you again, but they also realize how quickly our time has sped by.
Quote for the day (from a child who has been homesick): “I’m glad I came. It’s been hard sometimes, but I’ve done so many new things.”