Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Farmer's Cow's Winter Farm Tour

As you may be aware, we have been discussing agriculture, particularly the goods that are produced locally. There are six Connecticut dairy farms that make up The Farmer's Cow: Fairvue Farms in Woodstock, Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, Hytone Farm in Coventry, Cushman Farms in Franklin, Mapleleaf Farm in Hebron, and Graywall Farms, in Lebanon. The locally fresh milk, dairy products, seasonal beverages, and eggs produced by The Farmer's Cow are favorites at our house, and we enjoy supporting our local dairy farms. :)
The Farmer's Cow held a Winter Farm Tour at Graywall Farms in Lebanon on February 15th. This, of course, fit in perfectly with our lesson! Graywall Farms was gracious enough to open its doors for this free event to show all who attended how The Farmer’s Cow milk is produced, visit the with the cows who make the milk, learn about dairy farming, and experience all that Connecticut agriculture is about. :)
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by The Farmer's Cow's transit vans which were set up with displays of free pamphlets about The Farmer's Cow and the farms that make up The Farmer's Cow, free coloring books and stickers, and a bucket of free chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. Two very friendly young ladies offered visitors a sample of either apple cider, or any of the milks produced by The Farmer's Cow. I can tell you that I really enjoyed the sample of Fat Free Farmer's Cow milk and the oatmeal raisin cookie I had. ;)
A representative from the farms that make up The Farmer's Cow were standing by to guide groups on a tour of the farm. Once we joined our tour guide, we were given an overview of how The Farmer's Cow came about and taught the theme song ~ “We are the farmers who work the land and grow the crops to feed the cows that give the milk for you to enjoy. We're The Farmer's Cow!”
The first stop on the farm tour was the birthing barn. We were delighted to find a baby cow, just born that morning! We were told that mothers and babies are separated after the mother cow licks the baby clean because the babies need to get a gallon of mother's milk in the first six hours of it's life! A mother cow doesn't take well to nursing a baby cow, so the farmers keep new mothers' cows' milk separate from milk that goes to market. This milk is stored and fed to the baby cows by the farmers. This way, the baby cow gets all the nutrients and antibodies necessary to keep it healthy. :) We were assured that separating the baby from the mother is not 'mean.' Everything The Farmer's Cow farmers do for their cows is for the benefit of their cows. They believe that, in order for the cows to produce well for them, the cows need to be treated well. :)
Next, we were brought to the milking room. Our farmer tour guide talked to us about how the cows come into the room onto the platforms, get lined up into the milking stations, their udders are cleaned, and how they get hooked up to the milking machines. We were shown the cooling tank and the large storage tank, too. There is a flow of well water that runs with the freshly pumped milk. A cow's temperature is 101.6 degrees (F), so the milk gets cooled down instantly to 68 degrees (F), then gets cooled down in the storage tank to 38 degrees (F). By the way ~ the farmers are very resourceful! They are able to recycle and reuse the water that becomes heated up, which helps their farms to be a little bit more energy efficient, as it takes quite a lot of energy to have these large dairy farms in operation. The cows are milked three times each day. It takes about two-t0-three minutes for each cow to give its milk, which means by the time one cow is hooked up to the milker, another cow is finished. The udders are cleaned again after the cow gives its milk so no bacteria will infect the cow. This makes milking time a very hectic time around the farm!
These are the cows that make the milk! :) We were enlightened with the fact that cows do not lay down because it's going to rain. They lay down to digest their food!
The cows' bedding is also a product of recycling. It's manure! :P We were shown how the manure is scraped out and put through a process to separate the solids from the liquids. The dry solids are used for the cows' bedding (and some of the farms sell it to the public for use in gardens), and the liquids are stored in a large tank for use as fertilizer on the farm. Interesting! :D
Cows apparently need to have things stay as routine as possible. They don't
do well with change. When the cows are stressed, they don't let their milk down, so the farmers do their best to keep the cows as comfortable and happy as possible.
Cows drink about a bathtub full of water and eat about 40 pounds of food every day! Cows have 32 teeth and do not have front teeth on the top of their mouths. Instead, they have a tough pad of skin to help them grind their cud. Also, cows do not have four stomachs, rather they have four digestive compartments in their stomach. One compartment holds partially digested food, where good bacteria aids digestion and provides protein for the cow; One compartment lodges things the cow probably shouldn't have eaten, like hardware or pieces of fencing, so these things don't travel further through the cow's digestive system and cause damage to the cow; One compartment acts as a filter; The fourth compartment is similar to a human's stomach.
The children really enjoyed interacting with the cows. :) I think the cows were equally as happy to have the company! :P It was funny to see the different personalities of the cows.
At one point, one of these cute and curious cows began reaching its tongue out as far as it could to have a taste of my purse! I don't know what she liked so much about it, but she took a good four or five licks. :P I ended up with cud remnants as a souvenir.
Part of the plan for the visitors to the farm was a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Connecticut was forecasted to receive about a foot of snow just a few days prior to the event, so a sleigh ride would have been a fantastic touch. However, the storm stayed off to Connecticut's south and not a flake fell from the sky. It didn't matter, though. The horses were decked out in their jingling bells, pulling a large red sleigh around the perimeter of the field. Visitors to the farm waited in line for their turn to snuggle under the faux fur blanket and enjoy the farm's scenery to the sound of the horses' bells. Of course, the horses were Little Miss's favorite attraction.
Our final stop, and probably the most popular item at Graywall Farms that day, was the giant farm tractor. This thing was TRACTOR-ZILLA! :P Daddy waited at the back of the line with the Little Boy for quite a while until they were finally able to get their turn to jump inside and check it out. Yes, I said 'they!' I'm not sure who was more excited about getting inside "tractor-zilla." :P
It's amazing to see the kind of equipment needed to keep a dairy farm operating. Not only that, but the dedication required by the farmers. The Winter Farm Tour helped us to appreciate what goes into producing our Farmer's Cow favorites and how important supporting local agriculture really is. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interesting day of lessons ahead. ;)

I just finished planning Suaemoc's lessons for tomorrow. What we'll be learning about is quite interesting, so I thought I'd share a little bit with you. :)
Little Miss will be continuing to learn about the job of the Senate. Additionally, I have created a 20-question quiz on the first ten presidents of the United States. Did you know that two of the first ten presidents were homeschooled? ;) They are George Washington and James Madison. Another factoid about the first ten is that six of them were born in Virginia. William Henry Harrison had the shortest presidency on record. After 31 days as president, he died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841.
Little Miss will be required to do some "less exciting" work, too, such as word problems involving percentages, ten grammar questions where she will have to identify if the sentences contain a compound subject or a compound predicate, and a Reading Comprehension activity on the infrasonic communication of elephants. I also prepared a review of multiplying fractions, and finding the surface area and volume of cylinders. She should be able to breeze right through these assignments.
One of her more complex assignments will be a lesson on making responsible choices, titled: "The Missing Money." The objectives of the lesson will be to distinguish between facts and suspicions, practice brainstorming to determine a course of action, and explore personal feelings about when it is right to "inform" on an offender. This addresses the code of behavior that abhors "tattling" or "squealing," and the circumstances when it would be right to tell when you know someone has done something wrong.
Little Miss is also working on her development of a fictional story. Writing is her forte and I always enjoy reading her works. For her fictional story, she has already sketched out story ideas and now she needs to develop her story. She will be prewriting a story map, outlining her setting, characters, the plot, or conflict, of her story, and the solution. I'm looking forward to seeing how her story unfolds! :)
In eighth grade, I felt it was important for Little Miss to be learning about the human body. We've already gone through some of the basic labeling of body structures, learned about bones, the muscular system, and the circulatory system. We're now learning about the digestive system. Tomorrow's lesson will be focusing on the small intestine. She will be required to label the parts of the small intestine, as well as fill in the blanks of ten statements regarding this 20-foot long hollow tube which runs from the stomach to the beginning of the large intestine. ;)
The most interesting topic of discussion, I feel, will be a geological perspective on The Mediterranean Sea. Part of the lesson will focus on the saltiest sea on earth, the Dead Sea. On researching the Dead Sea as part of the lesson on buoyancy and density, I was able to find some fascinating facts. I put them together to create a little poster for our classroom. ;) Some Dead Sea factoids include:
  • The Dead Sea gets its name because nothing lives in it
  • It is nearly six times as salty as the ocean and also contains magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, and potassium chloride in large quantities, making plant or animal life impossible
  • The Dead Sea is actually a lake, but unlike other seas or lakes, no river originates from it - the water depletes only be evaporation
  • You can never drown in the Dead Sea, since the amount of dissolved minerals is very high, making the density of the water very high
Other than a Reading Comprehension lesson on farming in the 1860's, a quick review page on short and long vowel sounds, a grammar lesson on using commas when writing a letter, and nine word problems reviewing multiplying, the Little Boy will be doing a few things that will challenge him a bit.
His current math lesson focuses on money and time. While it is somewhat of a review, he has struggled a little with the concept of counting money and making change. We have been taking this particular lesson slowly, and his assignment planned for tomorrow is a simple activity involving making change.
The Little Boy always chooses to complete his Spelling assignments first. He says they're the "easiest." This time, that may not be the case! He will be starting a new lesson on easily misspelled words ~ words that aren't spelled the way they sound. Once he familiarizes himself with the ten spelling words of the lesson, his assignment will be to put those words into context by filling them into the appropriate blanks in a short story.
A General Health Review quiz is planned for the Little Boy, as well. I don't think he'll have a problem completing the quiz. He's very aware of things he needs to do to keep himself free of germs and illnesses, as well as the importance of hand washing.
The Little Boy is the exact opposite of Little Miss when it comes to writing. I have been trying to take a different approach with him, so that he might be able to become more creative in his writing. We've been working on writing for "him." Basically, trying to get him to explore his own feelings about any topic he wants, then recording his thoughts and ideas as if writing in a journal. His first journal entry simply reads: "Yesterday was an ordinary day, just doing school, going on the couch and watching t.v., but it was fun playing the Wii." As you can see, this process drains me because I feel like I'm pulling teeth to try to get the Little Boy to dig deeper. I'm planning to have him write about something he has learned and wants to remember. We'll see how THAT goes. :P
Perhaps he will be inspired to write about his Science lesson. ;) We are going to be learning about our solar system and the role the sun plays in our lives. This is a little bit of a review, but, being "old school," I had to brush up on the fact that Pluto is no longer considered a planet in our solar system. I created a poster for our classroom on the planets and stars, and what I found about Pluto is:
  • In August 2006, scientists defined what a planet is and gave three criteria an object must meet in order to be classified as a planet: it must orbit the sun, it must be big enough for gravity to squash it into a round ball, and it must have cleared other objects out of the way in its orbital neighborhood
  • Pluto is not big enough to pull neighboring objects into itself or sling-shot them around itself, so Pluto is in a new class of objects called "dwarf planets"
Scientists believe that out of the 200 billion, billion stars in the universe, many are likely to have planets orbiting them, just as our solar system orbits the sun. We will be discussing that, as well as Alpha Centauri, the next closest star to earth. Do you know how far away Alpha Centauri is? It's 25 million, million miles away!
The final assignment for the Little Boy will be a Geography lesson on Precipitation Maps. He learned about the need for clean water and the natural process of the water cycle. We discussed precipitation, evaporation, and how clouds are formed from the condensation of water vapor. We also touched on the ways people pollute water, what that means, and why wetlands are an important natural resource. Now, the Little Boy will be looking at a map of the average annual precipitation in the United States to find out which states get the most precipitation, and which states would be in desert regions.
Overall, it will be an interesting day of learning at Suaemoc. I'm really looking forward to it! :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Would you PLEASE just cooperate!

I certainly can not say that every day is fun and games as a homeschooling mother. There are moments of utter frustration, especially when the Little Boy just will not focus on his work. Oftentimes, I find myself reciting the Scripture from Colossians 3:20: "You children, be obedient to your parents in everything, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord." Then I wonder, "Do they care?"
I pray that I am pleasing God in fulfilling my duty to "keep on speaking what things are fitting for healthful teaching", being a "[teacher] of what is good." (Titus 2:1, 3) On the days when the MonSter is particularly challenging my endurance, the children sense my struggle and seem to take advantage of my dwindling 'last nerve'. Of course, in my heart I don't want to believe they're purposely beating me down, sensing I'm being taunted in my resolve to "let anger alone and leave rage." (Psalm 37:8)
I question whether I'm doing good by my children. Are the Bible principles I'm trying to inculcate in their hearts getting through? Why doesn't it seem like they understand their commission to "be obedient to [their] parents", to “honor their...mother?” (Ephesians 6:1, 2) Am I doing something wrong? Perhaps, just as "when I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me", the children also really do "delight in the law of God", but find themselves "warring against the law of [their] minds... leading [them] captive to sin’s law." (Romans 7:22, 23) Again, I keep trying to convince myself that this is the case. That my children aren't intentionally trying to provoke me. Still, there are moments when I want to yell from the rooftops ~ "WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST COOPERATE!"
And then I retreat to somewhere private, even if that means locking myself in the bathroom for a few moments, to pour out my heart to God in prayer through the merits of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ. In my heart, I know I'm doing what is right by my children and I know they are benefitting tremendously. In my heart, I know I can not give up my commission to be "bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah." (Ephesians 6:4) In my heart, I know that God "supplies endurance and comfort" (Romans 15:5), so I beg him for "the power beyond what is normal" (2 Corinthians 4:7) to endure.
Yes, from time to time homeschooling can be a test of a mother's patience, integrity, and willpower. Matthew 19:26 provides the assurance that "with God all things are possible." Therefore, reliance on God is essential to get through the times of a frayed 'last nerve', when all I want is children who are behaving like perfect, God-fearing angels. But, I am reminded that "we all stumble many times" (James 3:2) due to our inherited imperfection, and I can not "look at the straw in [my childrens' eyes]," without considering "the rafter in [my] own eye." (Matthew 7:3) God teaches me a lesson in humility and allows me to realize that, YES ~ the children are feeding off my impatience.
On these occasions it's perfectly okay to take a breather. It's healthy for me, as well as the children, to just get out of "school mode". Whether it's for an hour, or for the whole day. It's not a mark of failure, but an act of LOVE ~ the basis of my desire to homeschool Little Miss and the Little Boy in the first place. And guess what ~ my prayers get answered.