Animals, Flowers and Farming Heroes: Exploration and Discovery at the County Fair

A visit to the county fair is a great way to kick off the school year, bond with friends, and foster an environment of discovery and learning. In September, Mount Madonna School (MMS) second through fourth grade students enjoyed a day at the Santa Cruz County Fair, exploring the agricultural displays, livestock exhibits and learning about farming practices.

“As part of our ‘then and now’ social studies curriculum, second graders learn to differentiate between things that happened long ago and things that happened yesterday,” said teacher Jenni Leach. “They come to understand the importance of individual action and character, and can explain how heroes from long ago and the recent past have made a difference in others’ lives. My students are comparing and contrasting American farming methods historically through current practices. They learned about the history of the 4H program, and were introduced to farming heroes such as John Deer, Luther Burbank, Washington Carver and Cesar Chavez.”

To complement grade-appropriate science standards and curriculum, the fair visit helps solidify the students’ understanding of how plants and animals live, grow and reproduce, the varied sequential stages of life cycles for different plants and animals, as well some of the different characteristics that an organism inherits from its parents, as opposed to characteristics caused or influenced by the environment.

“Third and fourth grade students are currently studying plant and animal biology in science, so they went through the rose garden and flower tent to see the best-in-show and other fair entries, noticing variations in patterns and structure among the specimens was interesting and educational,” commented teacher Nick Cabassa. “Students also visited the insect and reptile displays, and, of course, the farm animals – an array of chickens, turkeys, bunnies, cows, goats, sheep, pigs and horses – were quite popular!”

“I encourage my students to observe and interact, when it’s allowed, with all the animals and insects that the fair has to offer,” he continued. “Our fair trip leads into our biology studies, where we discuss the variance in life and how plants and animals adapt or change to fit their environment. Farm culture is an interesting addition to this discussion, as it’s a manmade change for the purposes of feeding large groups of people.”

In the week following their fair visit, all of the students contributed written reflections on their experience. Third grader Alexandra Kazarian described watching demonstrations on making butter, baking bread and learning about processing sheep’s wool.

“In the olden days, people had to first get wool, so they got a sheep and shaved its wool off,” explained Kazarian. “They put the wool in bubbly water, then they put it in the sun after they washed it. Next, they could dye it any color and weave anything they wanted.”

“I learned so much about ducks at the Santa Cruz County Fair,” said classmate Sera Krawetz. “Some of the ducks were shiny and I thought they were beautiful. I saw baby ducklings, some of them were yellow, some were black and brown. I even saw a duck that looked like a cow!”

“I saw some snakes in a variety of colors and a parrot eating a green grape,” shared third grader Nicolas Rising. “I saw two alligators and six turtles. I loved learning about the reptiles and birds!”

Fourth grader David Monclus said he enjoyed the bull riding, feeding the donkeys and the pig races. Classmate Noa Zands was interested in learning about food processing.

“I learned how people make strawberry cereal,” shared Zands. “First they walk through a field and pick strawberries. Then they cut and freeze-dry the strawberries in a big room. Once that is done they freeze the strawberries in giant freezers. Finally, they take the strawberries and put them in boxes and ship them to cereal companies.”

“At the Yesterday’s Farm I learned many things,” shared third grader Aiden Powers. “I learned that gummies are made from cow gelatin, that sewing is very hard and how to dye wool. At the Bug Barn I learned that bugs can be big or small and that some bugs can ‘smell’ with their feet.”

Broadening students’ education by expanding learning beyond the classroom walls has been hallmark of Mount Madonna School for 40 years.

“We appreciate the Santa Cruz County Fair hosting its annual education day for local students and we look forward to participating each year,” commented Director of Lower School Kami Pacheco. “Going to the fair is an important experience for our youth, who may not otherwise get to experience hands-on learning about farm animals, horticulture, science and other aspects of urban and rural life. These learning journeys are a great way to start our school year, and allow our families to get to know each other in a fun and educational setting. At Mount Madonna School building community and developing social-emotional skills are as important as our academic achievements.”

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Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.