Preschool and kindergarten-age children often say very little. But they make up for it with their smiles and laughter.
Plenty of smiling, overjoyed children attended the first MTSU Agricultural Education Spring Fling, which brought students from Rutherford and Cannon counties and Murfreesboro City Schools to campus Tuesday, April 15, in the Tennessee Livestock Center.
“This is agritourism at its best,” said professor Alanna Vaught, who oversaw the planning by two agribusiness classes and a group effort to show nearly 800 youngsters what farming and farm life are all about.
Animals, a barnyard straw maze, crafts and much more greeted the children, their teachers and even some of their parents at the event.
Zaiquay McClanahan, 5, of Murfreesboro, a Bellwood Elementary preschooler, thoroughly enjoyed sitting atop a lifelike play horse in the Barnyard Playground area, but he suddenly was ready to head to the maze and had little time to talk.
In the main arena, the children could see and touch a Tennessee walking horse world grand champion, goats raised to provide meat, and more.
“My favorite was the horses,” said Molly Teague, 6, of Blackman Elementary School. Overall, Teague said it was a fun event.
While making a cow hand puppet, Olivia Egli, 5, of Blackman Elementary, said she “liked doing this craft.”
Ava Bush, 6, another Blackman student, said it “was 100 percent fun.” She enjoyed “seeing all the animals, the tractors and ‘Lil’ Acres’ activities.”
“Lil’ Acres,” presented by the Rutherford County Farm Bureau Women, featured an interactive exhibit with 10 stops. Children could gather plastic eggs, simulate milking a cow and digging potatoes and more, then sell their farmers market items at a makeshift storefront. With the money they earned, they could buy a national Farm Bureau coloring book.
Bush’s teacher, Jana Hawkins, grew up on a farm in Smith County near Gordonsville, Tenn.
“This is a lost thing for these kids,” Hawkins said. “There’s nothing like hands-on. It’s a really neat experience and great excitement for them. You can see these things in a book, but there’s nothing like getting to see it in person.”
Jayce McKinnie, 4, a Bellwood preschooler, said he loved the maze the most.
Jenny McKinnie, an MTSU alumna with a degree from the School of Nursing in the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, worked all night but arrived in time to meet her son for the field trip to MTSU.
“It’s fun to get to do this with his class,” she said. “It’s fun to watch their faces with the animals and see them get tickled.”
Daniel Prior, an MTSU senior plant and soil science major from Brentwood, Tenn., who expects to graduate May 10, said “every bit of me” was involved in the preparation process as student coordinator.
“The kids are really enjoying it,” Prior said. “They have smiles on their faces, and that’s good.”
In addition to her classes, Vaught said additional help came from Andriana Lamb with the Rutherford Farmers Co-Op, Farm Bureau and FFA student volunteers from Oakland, Stewarts Creek, Cascade and Smith County high schools.
— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)