The class is greener

Crates of 'livestock', grasses and seeds are helping pre-school children to learn about farming

MEET ABERDEEN Angus and Daisy Galloway. These are two cows doing the rounds - school not milk - in Dumfries and Galloway, visiting nursery classes and helping them to learn about farming. They don't come on their own but bring a farmer, some sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens with them.

The "livestock" used to arrive in a wicker basket but, sadly, that had to be replaced by a sturdier plastic crate. Travelling with it are some cow and sheep hats, tabards and tails for dressing up, bags of straw, hay, sheep's wool, and packets of runner bean and sunflower seeds. This is the farmer's market like you've never seen it before.

The Nursery Farming Basket was the brainchild of Eileen Wilson, area coordinator for the Royal Highland Education Trust's countryside initiative. Farm visits are popular with the local primaries, and these are complemented by resource boxes going into schools. But when the nurseries started clamouring for their own farm visits, it couldn't be done for health and safety reasons. Instead, Mrs Wilson arranged for farmers to come to them and talk about their working lives - but they needed some resources and props to help them. And so the nursery kit-box was born.

There are now 10 crates travelling up and down the region, thanks to funding from the council and the Childcare Partnership.

In addition to the "livestock" and grasses, there are DVDs such as Tractor Ted, which includes real footage of milking. Articles look at how to make butter and get sheep's wool. And if a class is talking about bread, they can grind the wheat and bake a loaf. They can grow their own potatoes and teachers' notes give ideas on how to tie it in to the curriculum.

"When a farmer goes in with props, we advise him to keep it simple," says Mrs Wilson. "For example, 'we've got mummy cows and babies'. We tell them just to be led by the children."

The official launch of the pre-school farming resource was three weeks ago, and already nurseries have been calling for a free loan. The boxes are sent out for two weeks and are delivered one week before the classroom project is due to start, so the teacher has time to plan her own ideas.

Nurseries in other parts of the country wanting a similar service should contact RHET. There are 450 farmers across Scotland working with them, says Alison Motion, the education manager. One in 25 children in Scotland had "farmer contact" last year, either in school, at a farm visit or attending the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston.

"We deal principally with primary and secondary schools," says Ms Motion, "but we would encourage nursery teachers to think about it."

What do the children think? "My mummy's had a baby," said one. "Moo!" said another.

The Royal Highland Show runs from June 21-24; Contact Alison Motion T 0131 335 6227 E

What's in the kit Puppets: Farmer Jack hand puppet and eight finger puppets (cow, pig, black sheep, white sheep, horse, duck, chicken, dog) Farmyard toys: black and white bull, cow and calf, Belted Galloway, ram, ewe, two lambs, cockerel, white hen, brown hen, farm dog Dressing-up set: four tabards, masks and tails (cow, sheep, horse, hen) Farm products: straw, hay, wheat, barley, oats, wool, seed selection for planting Books: Cow, Farmer Duck, Grow Organic - Eat Organic, A Guide to Nature Spotting, Playing for Keeps DVDs: Scotland's Farming Year, Tractor Ted Goes Milking, Tractor Ted Makes Bread, Tractor Ted Grows Potatoes CD and cassettes: Old MacDonald, Farmland and Sea Shore Sounds, Town Sounds, Woodland Sounds Postersteaching resources: Milk Magic, Fun with Flour, Wee Green Fingers Fun Pack, teachers' notes, teacher evaluation form

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