Kindness, Confidence, Community: on the Farm with Farmington Valley Academy
October 1st, 2017
They pull on their boots and make their way to the barn, the kitchen and the fields where they begin their morning chores of milking the cows, feeding and caring for animals and making breakfast. It is hard work, but the children happily undertake it together. As they walk back to the dining hall, the morning sun warms their faces. The students sit down for a breakfast of the eggs they gathered yesterday, bacon and fresh baked bread.
The students are 4th through 8th graders from Farmington Valley Academy Montessori (FVAM). They are at The Farm School in Athol, MA for their annual 3-day adventure. The Farm School is committed to "connecting people to the land" and has been doing so in a technology free way since 1989. While on the farm the students and their teachers work as a team to care for the animals, harvest and prepare food and carry out general farm and forestry work. The children gather eggs, feed chickens, milk and care for cows and take on needed projects, such as building a goat pen from scratch. This year, the students get to try their hands at chopping wood, forestry and blacksmithing. When asked how they enjoyed the trip, many students agreed with Joey, an eighth grader at FVAM, "It was the best hardworking fun you'll have, ever!" he exclaimed.
The Farm School trip provides FVAM students with an opportunity to bond with each other and their teachers through work and fun. Without technology, a layer of distraction and separation is eliminated and instead everyone gets to know each other in a deeper way that they might not otherwise. "The pressure of social media is off on the farm. You notice smells and sights that you usually wouldn't", says Millie (Grade 6). The students reconnect with play and each other as it was before screens became so prevalent. An intense game of "manhunt" (a hybrid game of hide and seek and tag) takes place one afternoon.
These few days together on the farm support a class atmosphere of respect, kindness and confidence; values which continue throughout the school year at FVAM. The bonding is clear and the time together offers both students and teachers an opportunity to forge a deeper understanding of each other. There is merit in collective hard work toward a common goal. This is how the farm is run, this approach is how their classes are most productive and interesting.
As evening approaches, the children prepare their dinner of pesto pasta and salad, harvested today. As the sun sets the children sit around a campfire telling stories, playing charades and roasting marshmallows. Today was a great day. They are tired, happy and, yes, a bit dirtier than they were this morning. Off to bed soon! Tomorrow is another early day as morning chores await. Will it be forestry or cows? Either way, there are new things to learn and do and these children are happy to have the chance to live and work together, building a supportive class community for the upcoming year.