When I was a classroom teacher, I always attempted to hook-on to children’s background knowledge. Sometimes this was challenging since I taught in inner city schools where many students lacked financial means and, as a result, had a lack of secondary discourses. (Case in point: I once took my fifth graders on a field trip and a student freaked out on the bus ride from Manhattan to Brooklyn since she had never driven over a bridge before. Remember, Manhattan is an ISLAND, which means that at 10 years old, she had never left the 11 mile long island!) Therefore, I took my students on lots of field trips to botanical gardens, art museums, and historic sites. I shared stories and photographs of my own experiences. I read a wide variety of texts to them. I did whatever I could to broaden all of my students’ horizons so they could have access to as many experiences that children from more affluent backgrounds had. would never feel they were less than someone else.
When we moved to Central PA, I made my husband promise we would take our daughter to New York City and/or Washington, DC at least four times a year. It was important to me that she became familiar with city life. (I lived in both of those cities for a total of 12 years so, selfishly, I felt the need to visit often too.) However, as our daughter has gotten older, I’ve come to believe I need to do more than just expand her horizons by taking her to visit cities. She needs to swim in the ocean, in lakes, and pools. She needs to see wildlife, zoo animals, and farm animals. She needs to know that food comes from farms, not from the grocery store. Therefore, I’ve started taking an active role in building young Isabelle’s background knowledge by looking for experiences to show her more than our suburban lifestyle.
Therefore, we ventured out of our comfort zone after school today. We needed more pumpkins for the front of our house. (We had two small, white ones that one could barely see from the street.) Instead of taking her to the nursery down the street to buy more pumpkins, I took her to a real farm. It wasn’t a farm I knew. It was a farm whose sign I had seen from the side of the road. All it said was “Corner Acre: Mums, Pumpkins, Straw Bales.” That was enough for me. Why not take a little detour on our way home and go there?
I turned on to the road and looked for mums, pumpkins, and straw bales. At first, all I saw was a house with laundry drying on clothes lines. Then, the colors popped. Oranges, whites, purples, and yellows. This must be the place. An Amish woman was standing out front, holding her son in her arms with a girl who looked around Isabelle’s age standing beside her. Once I parked my car on the side of their barn, I unsnapped Isabelle from her car seat and encouraged her to say hello to the girl.
“Hi gurl!” she aloud. Literal little beings, these two year-olds are!
The little girl stood close to her mama and didn’t say anything until the mom addressed me. “Hello,” she said. “How old is your daughter?
“Almost three,” I said. How did that happen? She just went from being 2 1/2 to being almost three?!!?
“She’s 2 1/2,” she said pointing towards her daughter. “They looked about the same age to me.”
“They sure are,” I said.
Then the little girl said, “Hi,” to us both.
“Hi,” I replied. “We’re looking for some pumpkins.”
The mom and I spent a few moments talking ’til Isabelle began to scream. “Bee! Bee! Bee!” she screamed.
“It’s not a bee! It’s a fly,” I said while rubbing her back. “Flies may land on you and go tickle-tickle-tickle. They won’t hurt you.”
As always, that didn’t appease Isabelle who screamed “Bee!” again.
“I’m sorry,” the mom said. “We have horses,” she motioned to the barn behind the pumpkins. Though the wooden slats I spied a black horse and a brown one.
“No problem. She’ll be fine,” I said. “Isabelle, which pumpkins would you like?”
I managed to redirect Isabelle who began grabbing as many small pumpkins as she could. We landed up buying three of the mini pumpkins she grabbed (plus two medium-sized pumpkins, one of which she grabbed by the stem and pulled off of a straw bale herself!)
Once we picked out our pumpkins, the mom added up my total. I gave her a $20 for nine dollars’ worth of pumpkins. She took her kids into her home to get my change while I loaded up my trunk with the pumpkins. In the meantime, Isabelle noticed the horses. She walked over to the side of the barn, where the door was opened and said, “Hi neigh!”
“Tell them, ‘Hi horse!'” I said attempting to make the windy sound for the h.
“Hi neigh!” she said again — over and over.
The next thing I know, she’s trying to break free from my hand to go into the barn to pet the horse. All I see is a lot of hay, two big horses, and some piles of horse poop. There was no way she was going in there. “No, Isabelle. You may stand out here and say ‘hi.'”
She tried to pull away from me, but my grasp was stronger. “You may say ‘hi’ from here,” I reminded her.
Again, she tried to get away from me. This time I knelt down to her level, stood in front of her and said, “You may not go into the barn. You may say ‘hi’ from here.” I really wanted to add because I said so to the end, but I didn’t need to. She knew I meant business. She stopped tugging.
Just then, the family came out of their house and waved to an Amish man who was propelling himself along the road on a man-powered scooter. The little girl was holding my change. She held it out for me and waited patiently.
“Thank you,” I said. “Say bye-bye, Izzy.”
“Bye, guhrl,” she said.
As the girl said good-bye to us, I picked up Isabelle and carried her to the car. The mom picked up my medium pumpkins and asked, “Do you want these in the back.”
“Sure!” I said, noticing she was still holding her baby boy. She sure is better at multi-tasking then I am!
We said our good-byes and headed off.
I didn’t know we would be visiting a farm-farm today. I just set out to buy pumpkins. A fun, after school “field trip,” of sorts. Yet again, I discovered the importance of stepping out of my suburban comfort zone to do something that will broaden Isabelle’s horizons.
Finally — Before I moved to Central Pennsylvania, “Amish Country” was place I heard of people visiting. A place where people would stay at B&B’s and buy quilts. Now that I live less than a half hour away from Lancaster, “Amish Country” is no longer a tourist destination. It’s a place where I buy vegetables. It’s a place where I see people working hard on their farms as I drive by in my car. It’s a place with people who have deep religious convictions and a lifestyle different than my own. Believe it or not, Lancaster County is a diverse place!