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Meaning is part of what we do

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Spring on the sheep farm is busy, extremely busy. Farmers, like midwives, are tending to newborn lambs all through the day and all through the night. At the local farm where I work, the farmers set their clock at 3 am and go out to check on their ewes. Some birth naturally and some need a lot of help. I hadn’t realised the extent of this before my teaching stint began on the farm. With this in mind, I wanted to find a space where children could learn alongside me to experience life on the farm.  

I had already written the curriculum with an outline of what we would do each week, building on from the previous week and meeting the school curriculum requirements in numeracy, literacy and science.   There was to be so much learning and so much hands-on learning in these three interconnected subjects. But what got me this year was how much we hadn’t expected or planned. Every day a different scenario unfolded.  Something that perhaps we could have foreseen, but not to the extent we experienced this year.  On our first day, we saw brand new life unfold right in front of us. Then slightly later in the day, we came across recent death.  We talked about  the cycle of life and how each stage has its own purpose. The next week a baby lamb had to be put down as it was too sick. The following week, we came across more lambs in the paddock that had died from a terrible southerly storm.  This all happened in just the first three weeks of the term's programme. What we were confronting was far beyond what I could have expected, far more than something the children had just seen in the yard. Instead, we were facing deeper discussions around religion, philosophy and anthropology (of different world-views) with the children. How could we help the children process what they were seeing?  How could we relate it in a way that was meaningful to them? They were big questions to ask and ones that I had no immediate answers for. It brought a whole conundrum of ideas to the table.  Instead, I asked the children how they were making sense of what they saw. Every child had a different idea and what I loved best was how they each just knew how to respectfully talk and listen to each other as they spoke about what was important to them. So rather than have a curriculum that had been thought out and pre-structured, instead we were learning as we were going. We were developing the curriculum of what we were to learn each week based on what had happened the previous week. 

From death to electric fences, this term's topic, ‘on the farm’, was so very different to what I could have prepared for. As a teacher, as a reflective practitioner, it was more. So much deeper. Next year, I am going to be better prepared and have a backload of suitable books to help assist in our learning, as I sure don’t have all the answers? Do you? 

Katie Earle


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