Tips for Teachers: On the farm


Tips for Teachers is a monthly column in which experienced teacher and children’s librarian Emmie Stuart shares book recommendations and a corresponding teaching guide for fellow elementary school teachers.

I have never lived on a farm, and I don’t really like animals. So why do Carl Larsson’s farm paintings hang on my living room and kitchen walls? Why do I cherish my annual tradition of visiting a local farm with a friend and her children? Why do I always slow down to admire the tidy and picturesque family farm that I pass on the way to my parents’ cottage in rural North Carolina? Why do weathered red barns, rolling fields bordered by white fences, the smell of hay and the clucking of chickens fill me with deep nostalgia? Why do farms have such a tight grasp on my heartstrings? 

I blame it on stories. I read my childhood copy of Trinka Hakes Noble and Steven Kellogg’s The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash so many times that it’s now held together by Scotch tape. Each year, when my family pulled down our heavy box of Christmas books from the attic, Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff’s Who Is Coming to Our House? was the one I wanted to find first. I can still hear my mom’s voice reading Charlotte’s Web to me and my sister. Yes, farms hold a beloved place in my heart and imagination. 

The kindergarten classes at my school are about to begin a nine-week study of farms and farm animals. I can’t wait to share the following three books with my students. I can only hope that these books’ agrarian settings, memorable characters and reassuring stories impress themselves upon my students’ hearts and minds, fostering a lifelong fondness for farms. 

The Barn by Leah H. Rogers book cover

The Barn

By Leah H. Rogers
Illustrated by Barry Root

In this gentle narrative about a weathered wooden barn that overlooks rolling hills and a white farmhouse, the barn reminisces about its construction. A communal barn raising brought it into existence over a century ago. Using the phrase “I am a barn” as a refrain, the barn narrates in lyrical prose. All day long—from the morning, “when the sun begins to grow over the treetops” and “strands of sunlight reach through my cobwebbed windows,” to the evening, when “the chill night air blows quietly down my stone aisle”—both animals and people come in and out of the barn’s shelter.

Rogers’ text is rich with sensory language and gentle rhythm. Root’s watercolor and gouache illustrations are suffused with golden light as they warmly depict the barn, animals and surrounding verdant hillsides. Familiar and comforting, The Barn offers children a beautiful and meditative look at a rural farm. 

The idea of a barn raising may be unfamiliar to some children. Read Patricia MacLachlan and Kenard Pak’s The Hundred-Year Barn to learn more about this tradition. Older students will enjoy clips from this documentary about an Amish barn raising. Ask students if they can think of similar events that have happened in their community. How do communities or neighborhoods come together to help others?

Extend the idea by discussing family farms. Read Cris Peterson and Alvin Upitis’ Century Farm. Show clips of what it’s like to be a child living on a family farm. 

Ask students to tell you what they notice and wonder about in Root’s illustrations. Point out where the barn is located in relation to the rest of the farm. Show students more pieces of art featuring barns and farms, and ask them to verbalize what they notice and wonder about them. Finally, provide photographs of barns in different landscapes. Let students choose one to re-create using watercolors, oil pastels or colored pencils.

  • Through the seasons

The Barn takes place on a summer day. Reread the book as a class, recording details from the the text and the illustrations that signal its summer setting. Read Alice and Martin Provensen’s The Year at Maple Hill Farm, Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney’s Ox-Cart Man and Eugenie Doyle and Becca Stadtlander’s Sleep Tight Farm. Using details from these books, ask students to articulate what would change if The Barn’s narrator were to describe a day in another season. Using a circle graphic organizer, have students draw or write seasonal details about a farm.  

If You Want to Knit Some Mittens by Laura Purdie Salas

If You Want to Knit Some Mittens

By Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrated by Angela Matteson

A young girl describes how to knit mittens, a process with no fewer than 18 steps. The story begins at an apple orchard where the determined protagonist talks her dad into buying a sheep. Next comes a “long, chilly winter” through which the girl keeps her new sheep “warm and well fed.” Spring arrives and brings a flurry of activity, including shearing, soaking, squeezing, carding, spinning, growing and dyeing wool. Finally, it’s time to “get some knitting needles and learn to knit.” When winter arrives again, the girl has a pair of marigold-yellow mittens and true friendship with her woolly companion. This sunny story of creativity and resourcefulness provides a lighthearted entry point to discussions about how farms produce and provide.  

  • Thank you, farmers!

Show students a scarf, sweater or pair of mittens made from yarn, and ask them how many of the steps needed to make the knitted item they can recall. Segue into a discussion about the many products we get from farms. As a class, brainstorm a list of these things.

Read Lisl H. Detlefsen and Renée Kurilla’s Right This Very Minute, G. Brian Karas’ On the Farm, at the Market, Pat Brisson and Mary Azarian’s Before We Eat and excerpts from Nancy Castaldo and Ginnie Hsu’s The Farm That Feeds Us. These books will show students how we depend on farms and farmers. 

Use white card stock to create notecards for students. Cut small slits on the bottom of each card with a craft knife. Pass the cards out to students and guide them in writing thank-you notes to a local farm or farmer. Let students choose pieces of yarn to weave in and out of the slits at the bottom of the card; this activity helps develop fine-motor skills. 

  • Yarn measurements

Cut pieces of yarn into various sizes and invite each student to select two or three pieces. Ask students to measure their pieces of yarn using rules or yardsticks and to record their measurements. Next, invite students to use the yarn to measure things in the classroom. Older students should record their findings using a number-sense sentence, like this:  

The pencil sharpener is greater than 6 inches but less than 12 inches. 

Younger students may simply write whether the item is longer or shorter than their piece of yarn.

Next, put small objects such as cubes, popsicle sticks or dominoes at various stations around the classroom. Ask students to choose a piece of yarn and complete the number sense sentence like so: 

My piece of yarn is as long as 20 cubes, six popsicle sticks and 12 dominoes. 

Take students on a nature walk to collect 8- to 10-inch sticks. Provide long pieces of different yarns. Students will choose four or five pieces of yarn and wrap them, one by one, around their stick. This may sound like a simple activity, but it requires perseverance and fine-motor skills. You can tweak this activity by letting students wrap the yarn around simple cardboard shapes. If time permits, teach older students how to finger knit.

Cold Turkey

By Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call
Illustrated by Chad Otis

It’s no surprise that Turkey wakes up “c-c-cold,” because it’s 10 degrees outside! Bundled up in a green coat, a blue scarf, black boots and a red and white striped hat, Turkey ventures out for a trip around the barnyard. As he checks in with each animal, including Sheep, Chicken, Horse, Cow and Pig, he finds them just as cold as he is, so compassionate Turkey shares his warm clothing with them. When he arrives back home, he is “cold and bare / in just his birthday suit!”

Meanwhile, his barnyard friends have joined forces and built a roaring campfire. They beckon Turkey to join, and soon our cold Turkey is a “toasty turkey.” Equal parts humorous and warmhearted, Cold Turkey is filled with vibrant language and clever wordplay. It’s a tender and tongue-twistingly terrific read aloud.

  • Alliteration

From a chilly chicken to a shivering sheep, Cold Turkey is full of alliteration. Define this term for students and locate examples in the book. If time allows, read other books or poems with alliteration. I like A My Name Is Alice by Jane E. Bayer and Steven Kellogg, Animalia by Graeme Base and the poems at this link. Provide students with an alphabetical list of adjectives and ask them to write and illustrate their own name alliteration sentences, such as, “Industrious Iris illustrated an interesting icy igloo.”

  • Readers’ theater

After reading Cold Turkey aloud for a second time, assign roles to several students. Give the students signs, props or costumes to designate their characters. Make a large part of the classroom a “stage” and help students act out the story. For the first time through, narrate the story. As students become more familiar with the process, let different students narrate or retell the story as their classmates act it out.

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