15 Aug 2020

An action-packed farm experience for urban kids

From Country Life, 9:33 am on 15 August 2020

Katie Earle started Bush Farm School because she's passionate about sustainability and wants children to be more resilient and resourceful.

The primary school teacher has teamed up with Banks Peninsula sheep farmer Stella Bauer to develop a hands-on farm programme that gets 5 to 12 year-olds out of the classroom and understanding where food and fibre come from.

Most of the children have never been on a farm before and Earle thinks education needs to change to accommodate more land-based teaching.

"We have no behaviour issues, the kids are wholly engaged and they're learning about the environment, where they live and how it all connects together," she says.

Educational visit of a farm for kids

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

The day Country Life visits, children congregate under the old woolshed with a learning session that looks at farm safety and where products come from. Then it's into the yard, pretending to be sheep and dogs to better understand the drafting process.

The rain stops when the youngsters head out onto the farm. It is muddy underfoot and, with a skiff of snow on the hills, there's a chill in the air.

The first challenge the children face is negotiating a swollen stream.

"We're finding that when some of the kids come onto our programme they are not used to uneven ground or going up hills, so a lot of our curriculum is just to build muscles," Earle says.

After feeding grain to a mob of 400 sheep, the boisterous children clamber through bush to the top of the farm. Muddy and tired, they rest in a paddock of feed crops as the sun comes out to watch the sheep graze.

"The space, the view, the sheep, the pasture in front of them, everything is so much at once, so they've actually all calmed down by themselves," Bauer says.

The outdoor programme is a labour of love for Earle and her dream is that eventually, every child across Aotearoa can have a farm experience as part of their learning journey.