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Learn from the land

The farm always has been a fertile field for producing crops, but it also is an environment rich with learning experiences.

For generations, children who grow up and work with their parents on the family farm have learned valuable skills. While they are learning to sow seeds, cultivate weeds and harvest grains, flowers and vegetables, they also are cultivating knowledge.

Lessons learned on the farm include math, social studies and vocabulary, leadership, not to mention cooperation and responsibility.

All those skills acquired in a simple field of soil and vegetation?

Absolutely.

Tucked away in those vast acres of grass, trees and crops, there's a living outdoor classroom teeming with lessons on life. Children who learn to till the soil come to understand such basics as distance, depth and height. They learn the plants that bear our food came from places throughout the world -- rice from the Far East, wheat from Russia.

They see stems, leaves, seeds, flowers and bulbs in their hands, instead of in a book -- an enduring way to plant words in their vocabulary.

While growing up on a land whipped by the wind, warmed by the sun and cooled by the stars, youngsters learn to respect their environment. They learn that by caring for this fertile land, it will in turn care for them.

Such a valuable learning experience can provide children with the tools likely to influence family and friends to respect the land as well or at least raise their level of awareness. Youngsters also learn hope is not wishful thinking of harvest success. Rather, hope is the action of planning and planting seeds. There will be those years when harvest might not occur, but the seeds of hope must be planted if there is even the thought of next year's bounty.

Learning outside also can be fun. If you don't think so, ask children who've been on a field trip. They appreciate the opportunity to spend a day in a natural classroom where they can trade fluorescent lighting and four walls for blue sky and white clouds overhead.

When given the opportunity to grow grains, flowers and vegetables, youngsters chart the progress of the plant. They invest in the outcome, and that means harvesting their hard work, care and investment.

While encouraging students to consider growing and caring for a small plot with wheat, roasting ears or assorted vegetables, be sure to equip them with youth-sized tools. Remember they still are youngsters and do not possess the strength, knowledge and wisdom of an adult.

Suggest themes for young gardeners. Try a garden theme that appeals to a child's literal sense, such as an alphabet garden with plants that begin with the letters A to Z.

They also could plant a pizza garden and grow tomatoes, peppers and onions. They could visit a dairy farm to learn about the fundamentals of caring for cows that produce the milk that results in cheese on the pizza. Or maybe a visit to a cattle ranch to experience beef cattle that ultimately winds up as hamburger on a pizza.

Direct the children and instill in them that caring for a crop can be an adventure. Have them add excitement to the garden with decorations including scarecrows, painted stumps and tiles and child-sized benches.

Encourage them to dig in the soil for earthworms. Tell them to pick the flowers -- when they're mature.

Above all, make certain the learning experience is enjoyable. Encourage them to keep a daily journal about each day's activity.

Take pictures of the learning journey in the field and add them to the journal. Yes, there can be an abundance of lessons to be harvested in the soil. Take the opportunity to provide such an experience for a child you know.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who was born and raised on a farm in northwest Kansas.