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Old McJanet Had a Farm...

It is always good to see a professional doing a great job. Yesterday I went to Ardenwood with three of my friends, YY, SY, and AY, two of whom are under 4. The purpose of the visit was to enjoy the featured animal of the day: chickens.

It has been my privilege to go to many, many events designed for small children. I could be considered a connoisseur of toddler activities. Too many of them are not well done, but Ranger Ira has it down.

The program began with a brief story time. We listened to The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Felicia Bond (of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fame). The children and adults had the option of sitting on pillows on the floor or on chairs. Shier and older people chose the chairs. Ranger Ira reads well and has the knack of acknowledging the inevitable comments from a chatty audience without losing the thread of the story.

From there, we went to the farm’s own Big Green Barn by way of the corncrib. Ranger Ira told us that chickens eat corn, but they can’t do it straight off the cob. He was about to put us to work. In the barn, we got to watch him take the kernels off the cobs with a hand-cranked machine. The kernels rattled into a pan underneath in a very satisfying manner, while the cobs shot out the side into a basket. Ranger Ira told us about what he was doing as he did it and then matter-of-factly locked up the machine lest anyone with small fingers be tempted to explore its inner workings. Then he set up the kernels in two corn-crackers, announcing that everyone was going to be allowed to turn the big handle four times! Four times! The cracked corn was then suitable for the chickens to eat.

With two lines, the chaos of herding two dozen small children through the process was minimized. Some people understood the concept of clockwise and some did not, but Ranger Ira assured us that the machine would work either way.

We got to move again, this time to the chicken coop. Ranger Ira brought out a beautiful black hen, cradled in his arms like a baby. Children who were sitting down would get a chance to pet the chicken, which was very soft. Her feathers shimmered with green iridescence in the sunlight. Ranger Ira explained that he called her a hen because she was a girl. If she were a boy, he would call him a rooster, and if she were a baby, he’d call her a chick. (You know, pronouns are challenging in some situations. I’m trusting in your ability to sort out what I mean from what I say.) He informed us that since chickens are birds, they have wings. They do not have teeth. And their feet are good at grasping branches for perching.

The lovely Vanna-hen rejoined her companions in the coop and Ranger Ira filled the children’s hands with cracked corn. Because chickens are messy eaters, feeding them is best done by tossing the corn through the chicken wire of their coop. This was fascinating. SY went back for more handfuls of corn, particularly for one chicken who had hunkered down in a burrow in one corner of the coop and for a white one with black speckles and tufts of feathers around its eyes. The one turkey in with the flock seemed to make her slightly nervous, perhaps because his head was sort of naked and blue, perhaps because he was larger.

Then Ranger Ira explained that since we had been working on the farm, we were going to get paid! Even better, we were going to be paid in popcorn! Back we went to the corncribs. (SY has confirmed her opinion that I am too silly for words when I asked her if the popcorn was sleeping in the crib the way her brother does in his.) Everyone got an ear of popcorn, grown right there on the farm, to take home. AY didn’t wait to eat his, but chewed on it all the way back to the car. When SY was holding both and wanted to know which one was hers, I told her it was the one that wasn’t damp at one end.

We went inside and outside. We moved around. We heard a story. We got to touch things and move things. We moved around some more. We even got a snack. It was perfectly done.

Next week, I get to learn about sheep.

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