After spending time in the local schools as parents and as a teacher, David Neufeld and Maggie Anders realized that they could offer a hands-on education for schools on their farm, Room to Grow. They knew that for many children a practical experience such as this would be a more effective way of learning than in the four walls of a classroom. So Maggie and David began approaching teachers they knew and suggested that they bring their classes to the family farm where things that were spoken about in-class could be brought to life.
At Room to Grow, students learn about sustainability, solar power, community, writing and expression, ecology, soil, and much more, in a setting where these things were happening alongside them. Teachers returned year after year with their classes. It was evident that the material and activities already available on the farm fit perfectly with the curriculum. And with the flexibility in curriculum, David and Maggie were able to develop more programs for the school.
Maggie and David strongly believe that through experiential and integrated learning, not only do children learn quicker, but they also gain an appreciation for the community and environment in which they live. David and Maggie worry about the move schools are taking towards a standardized learning curriculum, which does not take into consideration local variation and skills required to live in rural Manitoba. They worry that schools are sending the message that what is happening locally is not important. David and Maggie want children to know about their own backyard and to learn skills that they can use to live in rural Manitoba such as trapping, hunting, gardening, mechanics, building, designing machines, and child care — all of which work together to make a community thrive.
The Outdoor Classroom
Grade three classes have come to Room to Grow to learn about soil. David took them into the greenhouse and to his compost pile where the children smelled, touched and saw soil. The children were able to experience the differences between sand, soil and compost through each of their five senses.
Other programs have included nature walks through their wooded farms with grade four students. The class did some birding, looked at a beaver dam, talked about how it was built, and experienced the ecology on the farm that day.
“You have never see ten, eleven and twelve year olds have so much fun in three feet of grass that was the entertainment of the evening was hide and seek in the grass” recalls Maggie.
A grade twelve biology class also came to the greenhouse. David and Maggie gave the students a quiz, asked them what their hypothesis was for why the plants were not thriving. The students looked at the leaves, looked to find bugs and to look at the soil. The children applied their knowledge of biology to a real life experience, something that David and Maggie do in their greenhouse business everyday. The students were able to come up with ideas on how to save the ailing plants.
At first the programs were offered to classes that Maggie and David had been involved with, when they had a very positive response they made this opportunity available to more students. David wrote a promotional leaflet for the programs and sent it to all the teachers they had identified as having classes with an interested in the topics available at the farm. David was able to get the names and addresses from the school board, and sent the leaflets to these teachers. The response to this promotion was great, they had ten schools come out that summer, both children and teachers loved the experience.
With so many schools coming to the farm it began to take more time to prepare for the each school, so David and Maggie began to ask a small fee from the schools from further away. They kept the cost low, asking only one or two dollars per student with a minimum of twenty dollars. Schools from across southwestern Manitoba began to come to Room to Grow — schools have come from as far away as Cartwright and Pierson. Often schools would make Room to Grow one stop during a field day, also visiting local sites such as the International Peace Gardens, Turtle Mountain Park, and the town of Boissevain.
The time and amount of work it takes teachers to organize field trip is a problem David and Maggie have experienced. School buses cost money and organizing parent chaperones is often a lot more work then many teachers have time for.
Originally the on-farm programs were offered to a few classes from the local school Maggie and David were in contact with. But the program was expanded to more students. David wrote a promotional leaflet, and advertised on the farm’s website. Because of the growing request for the programs a small fee was charged of two dollars per student, with a minimum of 20 dollars per program.