For students at The Farm School in Hamilton, Virginia, the classroom is outside – every day.
Jaclyn Jenkins is a founder of the school.
"The number one question immediately we get from parents is 'What happens if it rains?' And we say, 'Bring an extra pair of clothes!'”
Jenkins adds that “We still educate them. They also get energy. Their brains are working, when they're moving. So, our goal is to always be outside."
The Farm School is a preschool -- a place for three- and four-year-olds to learn and play.
Teacher Alison Huff has taught at other schools. She says The Farm School gives its students more of a hands-on learning experience.
For example, children use pumpkins to learn about colors and counting. They learn about measurements by planting seeds 30 centimeters apart.
Huff says “We can use everything a regular preschool uses, but out in the garden.”
In addition to planting vegetables and fruits, youngsters help prepare food and clean up afterward.
The school teaches the children to cook using the food they have grown.
“They can see the benefits of what they have in the garden and taste it then instead of going to the grocery store and buying it," Huff says.
The preschoolers also learn words in languages other than English.
Huff speaks in both English and Spanish. Her assistant speaks French and Arabic. She adds that a 3-year-old in her class speaks four different languages.
Farm animals are also an important part of the education program. Jaclyn Jenkins says the youngsters learn about a different animal every month. Two months ago, she says, that animal was a cow.
"We do actually have a cow that we bring to the school. They get to see what the cow is like, and we learn what cows eat. We use little gloves and they pretend to actually milk a cow. They make butter. We make yogurt.”
The children spent another month with a large bird -- a turkey.
The idea for a school like this started after Jenkins and her husband Kenny bought a farm in Hamilton, with a late 18th-century house on the property. They called it "One Day Farm," because years earlier they had hoped that ‘one day’ they would have a farm.
Kenny Jenkins explains.
"Jac and I have been together since we were seniors in high school. And we always said one day we'll have an old house and a small farm. This was a goal, that once we reached retirement that we would find this farm. And we weren’t looking to move, and were not looking to purchase a farm. It just popped up on the internet. We came and looked at this place and we didn’t want to leave…”
Family and friends started to visit to learn about farming and to see the animals.
"That's when it started, the spark of a farm school," Jaclyn said.
The Jenkins believe children need a school like The Farm School instead of learning from electronic devices.
Courtney Williams liked the idea, so she asked the school to admit her 3-year-old son Ken as a student.
"For me, it’s the best of all worlds. He is learning to count, his colors, all the things to keep him competitive in this education competition, but he gets to be a kid. He gets to jump in puddles. And he gets to try to climb trees and run and roll down hills. And he is able to get experience some things that because I work and because my husband works, that we're not able to give it at home...”
The children come home with new experiences, new knowledge and sometimes a few vegetables.
The Farm School wants to teach the entire family and bring the natural world great back into the classroom.
I'm Susan Shand
Faiza Elmasry reported this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
pumpkin – n. a large, round, orange vegetable used as food and sometimes as a decoration — often used before another noun
garden – n. a piece of ground where fruits, flowers or vegetables are grown
benefit – n. something that produces good effects of results
spark – v. to set off or incite activity
puddle – n. a small amount of water or mud on the ground