Patterson said she frames activities to meet the state preschool standards and integrates the five domains of learning through nature-based play. Through the Discover Dairy program, students have already engaged in a number of activities. They weighed themselves and compared their weight with Sophi’s birth weight of 80 pounds using a bar graph. Sophi was 28 inches tall at birth, so students measured their heights and compared them to the calf’s using a growth chart. Students will learn about dairy farms, cows and how milk is produced. Patterson’s students recently turned cream into butter, then enjoyed it spread on toast.
“Many children have little or no concept of how their food is produced or where it comes from,” Patterson said. “By participating in the Discover Dairy Program, the students will learn milk doesn’t just come from the store. A family has worked really hard to produce food for them.”
Patterson speaks from personal experience.
“I milked cows for 20 years. Other than teaching, dairy farming was my passion. The work was tremendously hard, but so fulfilling,” Patterson said. “I am grateful that our host family is willing to share their dairy farm experiences with our students.”
In addition to animals, Patterson often builds lessons and activities based on nature. Each year, students investigate the life cycles of plants and animals using natural materials for creating art. After reading “Little Red Hen,” students learned about wheat; planting some seeds to watch them grow in the classroom flower garden and grinding some seeds into flour.
“For our culminating experience, we made homemade bread. It was delicious,” Patterson said.
Every year, Patterson’s class observes the maple tree near the preschool building through each season. Students collect twigs and leaves from the tree to make a model of it in the classroom. Patterson also collects insects and different varieties of nuts, seeds and plants to place in the science area for student observation. Patterson said that using elements from the natural world to teach art, math, science and more encourages deeper learning experiences.
“Students are eager to find new discoveries in the classroom. They will often bring in items they collect from their homes and share with us,” Patterson said. “Teaching based on student interests using nature creates an emotional connection so students instinctively enjoy learning.”
Patterson’s students will follow Sophi’s development with monthly video updates through May, when the program ends. For their final activity, students will make homemade ice cream.