2009-06-04 / Features

To Milk Cows, PA Children Start Early

By Eleanor Chute PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

SAXONBURG, Pa. (AP) - If you ask kindergartners at South Butler Primary School in Saxonburg where milk comes from, they likely won't say the store.

In the school district about 25 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, some children live on farms and many ride school buses past farms. Susan Sande's kindergarten classroom recently spent several weeks taking a look at farm life from all directions.

They sang farm songs - well beyond the standard "Old Mac- Donald'' - and talked about food raised on farms, explored a "virtual tour'' of a farm on the Internet and learned the names of animal babies.

They decorated a hallway wall with illustrations of a large farm, including cows, pigs, chickens and other animals. Beneath the animals, they put in order a 19- step process of making milk, beginning with the birth of a calf and ending with the production of cheese, ice cream and yogurt.

So it was only fitting that on "Dairy Day,'' the children got a chance to "milk'' a cow. Mrs. Sande made a paper black-andwhite cow, with an udder made of a latex-free glove filled with white tempera paint, an idea Sande found on the Internet.

The cow - a Holstein, the most popular dairy cow - wasn't quite as tall as the kindergartners, but sitting on a stool, the children were at just the right height for milking. Tiny holes pricked in each fingertip allowed the paint to escape when the glove's fingers were squeezed, and Sande held a large sheet of black construction paper underneath so that each child could make a splatter painting. And, unlike the real thing, there was no risk this cow would kick.

Some children considered the squeezing easy, and others called it hard.

Brayden Hageter, who has milked a real cow, pronounced the fake one easier to milk.

For the milking, Sande divided the 20 students into four groups which rotated from learning center to learning center.

While some donned ponchos so they could milk the cow, another group sampled dairy products - cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, milk, and strawberry and cherry yogurt. Most drew smiley faces showing their reviews. A third group read animal books while a fourth drew pictures of farms and farm products.

Other lesson plans included choosing a favorite farm animal and graphing which ones are the most popular among the class, as well as making ice cream.

While this activity involved both Sande's morning and afternoon half-day kindergarten classes, the school district has a variety of activities at various grade levels to help make children aware of farms, animals and plants.

South Butler High School has an agriculture science class, and some of its students occasionally read to the primary school students. It also has a chapter of the FFA, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America.

Three teachers from the primary school, which serves grades K-3, have attended agriculture conferences at Pennsylvania State University. Children also plant a flower garden behind the school, sometimes with help from the high school students.

Primary school classes incorporate materials produced by the state Department of Agriculture, including the "Milk Can Project,'' which circulates milk cans filled with lesson plans focusing on the dairy industry.

Primary school principal Greg Hajek noted farms are located in every town of the school district, and Butler County as a whole has 1,116 farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dairy Day's cow got high reviews from kindergartner Gabe Webb.

After milking the cow, he said, "It was awesome.''

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