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Pre-schoolers make farm their classroom Ex-teacher gives lessons in barn


The group of Harford County pre-schoolers giggled wit delight when an energetic 6-week-old heifer guzzled milk from a specially designed bucket with a nipple.

"A calf can't smile but we know she's happy when her tail's wagging," Judy Harlan told her young guests as she welcomed them to her farm one sunny morning last week.

The calf sucked down the snack excitedly, knocked over the bucket, then rushed to the fence to see what the visitors might have to offer.

"I liked when the cow sniffed me," said Amy Arseneau, 4.

"She was trying to take the bucket away because she wanted some milk," said Anne Sedney, 4.

The two children were among 15 students from St. Matthew Co-Op Nursery School in Bel Air who visited Belvedere Farm in Fallston with their teacher, Jane Mead, to learn about chores that have to be done on a farm during spring to ensure an adequate food supply in winter.

A former teacher, Mrs. Harlan uses her farm as a classroom for area students. The hourlong tour is a primer on farm life -- everything from shucking and shelling corn to feeding livestock.

The farm, a 100-acre vegetable and grain operation owned by Mrs. Harlan and her husband, Bill, has been in Mr. Harlan's family since about 1820.

The Harlans began offering tours for preschoolers in 1990. Last spring, 1,224 children from 66 preschools, day-care centers, and Brownie and Cub Scout troops came to visit.

Fall tours attracted an additional 721 children. Most of the visiting groups were from Harford County.

"I enjoy working with children," Mrs. Harlan said. "My husband said that we had an underutilized teacher and an underutilized barn. So we created a farm setting" inside the barn as a learning laboratory.

Springtime visits begin in the barn, where children sit on straw. Mrs. Harlan explains that a barn is used to store hay bales for farm animals to eat and straw for them to sleep on.

It is also a home for birds, she said. The barn swallows that nest high in the rafters return every year from their winter homes in South America. "I love to hear them chatter and talk," Mrs. Harlan said.

An assortment of baby animals live in the lower barn. There are poults -- young turkeys -- roosters and fuzzy ducklings who waddle, eat, drink and swim in a small water dish.

"Those ducks are silly," Michelle Scharfe said.

There's a hen who has just laid an egg. The children are surprised that the egg is still warm. They touch it, pet a soft bunny, toss handfuls of corn to a hen and her chicks and admire the thick wool coats of some sheep.

"I like the baby lambs," said Laura Jerousek. "They're so cute. But I wish they had some horses."

"I like the baby lambs because they're black," Kristin Dodson said.

The children watched with excitement as several piglets ran and played with Mrs. Harlan, banging on their feed containers and trying to spill their water. Then the youngsters gathered outside the barn to plant sunflower seeds in neatly dug rows.

"Ooh! That will be pretty," said Nicholas Kuhn, whose mother, Sharon Kuhn, took the day off from her secretarial job to accompany him on the field trip.

"It was fun seeing the excitement on the children's faces when they saw the animals," said Karen Trinchere, who came with her daughter, Kristie.

"I think it's very informative," said John Ellison, who visited the farm with his son, William. "And the kids are having a great time."

"They learned a lot today and had a lot of fun doing it," said Jeanne Arseneau, Amy's mother.

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