The idea for the Orange Room students to focus on the animals at Heartland Farm Sanctuary came about through one of the teacher’s connection to the farm (as a volunteer) and the children’s continued interest in farm animals. We planned to take a trip to visit the farm but wanted to provide some knowledge so that the children would feel a connection to the specific animals at the farm and keep the spark of interest growing before our scheduled visit in the spring.
We began with an introduction to Winnie and Maxine, two pigs at Heartland Farm Sanctuary. During group time, we showed the children pictures of Winnie and Maxine and talked about some of the characteristics of pigs. The children were eager to learn more and seemed to have a connection to the animals from the beginning.
Each week, in the classroom, we introduced another animal from the farm, continuing to share facts about each animal. The children were excited to learn about each animal and retained the information they had learned as we reviewed the animals as a group.
In the Art Studio, the children began a series of investigations, all centered on their animal friends at Heartland Farms. Thanks to Heartland’s Director (and former PSA admin) Jen Korz and her acute photographic eye, the children had the perfect perspective to break down their pig portraits into basic shapes of circles and triangles. The children’s enthusiasm and admiration for the beloved pigs, Winnie and Maxine, was palpable.
In following weeks, the children continued to make drawings of their farm friends. One day, we focused on the donkeys, Cha-Chi and Fonzi. We discussed the differences between horses and donkeys. The children were able to tell me that they sounded differently. Donkeys say yeehaw and horses neigh. Some of the children noticed the varying size of their ears. Most everyone identified four legs on donkeys and horses. The Art Specialist cut out the donkey to emphasize the geometric shapes within his face and omit the background for the sake of simplification. The children were adept at observing the geometric shapes within the donkey’s face and articulated the shape breakdown prior to drawing his portrait.
“They go heehaw heehaw! Horse goes neigh neigh. This is Fonzi and Cha-Chi. They live on a big farm. Heartland Farm … Donkeys have small feet and horses have big ones.
By slowly introducing the children to the animals on Heartland Farms Santucary, the children were really able to understand that every animal has his or her own story. In the art studio, we focused on the sheep, Sherman, Francis and Joan. The children explored the actual sheered sheep wool with their hands as well as natural spun wool that has been twisted into yarn. Some of the children described the texture of the sheep’s wool. With photos of our fine farm friends, the children created a collage of natural materials (and not so natural) as they formed a textural collage. This provocation stretched the children to think outside the box by cultivating their critical thinking skills as they selected and arranged their potpourri of materials.
What is it about animals with names? They become instant pets or companions.
Are the children conjuring up stories regarding the beloved animals of Heartland Farms?
Are they building relationships just by looking at and drawing these beloved rescue
In the classroom, we reviewed with the children all the animals we have met so far and what we have learned about them. One student called out, “I remembered right away.”
One of the most beloved friends at Heartland Farms is Cookie, the miniature horse.The children love talking about Cookie almost as if she is a celebrity. We decided to recreate a miniature sculpture of this sweet miniature horse. Evidently Cookie is somewhat naughty in her temperament and behavior which the children have heard yet do not believe. The children have learned that Cookie is the height of a yardstick from the classroom teachers which helped inform their sculpture.
The children also looked closely at Heartland’s delightful llamas, Mick and Thor. We used the overhead light projector to project images of the llamas onto very large mat board. The children noticed their funny faces, long necks and longish ears. They counted their legs. We subsequently worked on two large collaborative images of the llamas. The children traced the projected light image onto the board which was challenging as they needed to stand out of the light source in order to see the image. They added poster paint sticks, oil pastels and acrylic paint to create a mixed media expressionistic image of these two oddly enchanting llamas.
The Orange Room children looked carefully at the Heartland birds today, Gracie Goose, Billy Zoom the Rooster, Brenner Duck and Petri the Hen. Initially we began by focusing on drawing the birds’ feet. While some of the children drew a foot, most of the children really wanted to draw the entire bird and many children drew two birds. Their affection and enthusiasm for the Heartland Farm animals is contagious. The children speak endearingly of their animal friends and their kindness and thoughtfulness regarding the animals is overflowing.
After months of learning about the animals at Heartland Farm Sanctuary, the day of our field trip finally arrived. Many children were up very early and excited that it was farm day!!
The first thing we did when we arrived at the farm was give Jen Korz a big hug. She worked at PSA for many years before becoming the Executive Director of Heartland Farm last year. We then presented her with a painting of Winnie created by the Orange Room children. The farm planned to use the portrait as an auction item in an upcoming fundraiser.
Next, we met in the Arena to talk a little about how to act around the farm animals. We were greeted by Arnold, the pig, as we entered the room. The children were surprised to see a pig walking around by itself! The workers realized that Arnold had escaped his pen and quickly herded him back to safety. We thought he was a wonderful greeter!
Then it was time to meet the animals we had come to know and love from their photos and our conversations about them.
We started in the outdoors to the pasture where Fonsi, Cha-Chi, Cookie, and Joan were eating grass. The gentle animals stood still while the children petted them or simply took a close look. It was so great that we could be in the pasture with the animals and not viewing them from behind a fence.
Our next stop was a big pasture where the goats and sheep were grazing together. Our guide helped us find our goat friends, Michael and April. We had talked about the fact that April had an injured back leg, and when the children saw her, they cried “There’s April! She has a bandage on her leg.”
We also were able to identify Sherman and Frances, our sheep friends. The children petted the sheep and goats, commenting on how the sheep’s wool was soft and oily, and how the goat’s horns were smooth. Again, it was amazing how we could interact so closely with these calm animals.
Finally, it was time to meet the Rock Star of Heartland Farm!! Winnie did not disappoint us! She was big, and pink, and beautiful. She came right up to the fence so that we could see her snout and big ears closely. Several of the children fed her pumpkin right out of their hands! After looking at Winnie’s photo for several months, it was so nice for everyone to meet her in person.
After their visit to the Sanctuary, the Orange Room children chose a favorite animal from which to make a found object sculpture. The children talked about what drew them to their favorite animal. They were presented with cardboard boxes, plastic recyclables, wood sticks and blocks to put their sculpture together. The children immediately began playing with their animal creations and with one another in their world of dramatic play.
Using the many forms of portraits the children created throughout this investigation, we set up a dramatic play scene for the children – with their own creations as the characters.
The teachers in the Orange Room have reflected often about why this study and exploration of farm animals using the animals at Heartland has been so rewarding and successful. We think that using the photos of real animals with names and stories of their own, has made the study more interesting and more personal. The children have learned fun facts about the animals we highlighted, but knowing that these were real animals that we were going to meet helped the children become more invested in the study. These are animals that live a short bus ride away from school and this make them feel like they are part of our community.
Reflections by Abby DeLong and Caroline Troia (Orange Room Co-Teachers) and Lizzie Primozic (Art Specialist)