Explore. Observe. Experiment. Play. Learn. The first years of a child’s life are extremely important as they shape the adults our youth will become. As parents and educators, we are constantly looking for new ideas and techniques to help our kids grow. What if we used resources that included the culture, ways and means of the state of Nebraska?
If you were to ask someone what they think of Nebraska culture, people may answer with football, cows and corn. Cows and corn encompass an importance in the lives of many Nebraskans whether urban or rural. Each one plays an important role in the agriculture industry and is a necessity in the lives of every Nebraskan.
However, some students today are now three to four generations removed from the family farm or ranch. In the first five years of life, a child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in his or her life. This is when the foundations for learning are laid down. With students being removed from farms and ranches, they miss out on the hands-on, experiential learning available to youth in the past.
Nebraska is not unique in recognizing that more and more children do not live on the farm or ranch. Because of this, the Agriculture in the Classroom Program was created. In 1981, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Ag in the Classroom Program with the goal to help students gain a greater awareness of the role of agriculture in the economy and society, so they may become citizens who support wise agricultural policies. Each state is in charge of coordinating its own program.
In Nebraska, Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) is a program of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has a mission to engage youth, educators and the general public to promote an understanding of the vital importance of agriculture in the lives of all Nebraskans.
Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation staff and volunteers use the AITC program to provide hands-on, engaging resources and training to kindergarten through grade 12 teachers across Nebraska. These resources use agriculture as the vehicle to teach to existing curriculum and state education content standards.
Another program of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is the Ag Pen Pal Program. The Ag Pen Pal Program is for kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms. Classrooms are matched with a Nebraska farmer or rancher and exchange three letters throughout the school year—fall, winter and spring. Students have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with a farmer or rancher, receive crop samples, photos and videos from the farm or ranch, and are even able to visit their ag pen pal!
Resources exist in many different forms. Activities, books and field trips are offered to teachers and students. Volunteers and staff engage students with activities such as planting seeds in the classroom, at county fairs or at school festivals. Some volunteers choose to go into classrooms to read accurate agricultural books, and others host youth at their farms, ranches and homes to see agriculture up close.
Each year, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation staff volunteer their time in classrooms across the state. In seven classrooms across the state students were asked, “Name an item that comes from dairy.” In seven out of seven classrooms, students answered “eggs.” Why would students think eggs come from dairy? The closest most of the students have ever been to a dairy cow is in the grocery store where the eggs are in the dairy aisle.
While some may giggle that students think eggs come from the dairy store, we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to share with students that agriculture is important in our state and that our students can be involved. Agriculture is home to many different careers with one in four jobs in Nebraska being related to agriculture. Students can be engineers, food scientists and computer software analysts. Jobs can be inside or outside, with animals or with computers. We need to help youth find their passion in building, experimenting, exploring and observing by leading them to agriculture.
Manager of Outreach Education
Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation