As warm milk squirted onto his pant leg, Joe Hardy jumped back from the brown-eyed cow that was chewing contentedly on oats from a green wheelbarrow.
It was, the 6-year-old said with obvious honesty, the first time he had ever milked a cow.
For Joe and his classmates from Crossgates School in South Toledo, a field trip to a farm in Ottawa County recently provided many first-time experiences for the first-grade students, including some who didn't know a rooster from a chicken, or a peacock from a peahen.
But they had a blast, with many youngsters proclaiming the Country Lane Tree Farm as a cool, fun place.
"We want the kids to be up close and personal with the animals. That's how they learn about the farm," said Melissa Bowlander, whose family welcomes hundreds of schoolchildren to their farm each spring, a time when the place is populated with fuzzy chicks, downy ducklings, and itty-bitty bunnies.
For five generations, Bowlanders have worked the fields and raised animals on the family homestead near Clay Center, and for 20 years they have opened their farm to schoolchildren, Scout and church groups, and others.
Students squeal with delight as they feed the baby animals. They frolic in the always popular straw maze and scoot down slippery slides. They giggle when geese waddle.
After boarding the barrel train, the students yip with glee as they snake across the farm while riding inside blue and green 50-gallon drums.
And yes, a whole lot of learning was going on.
On this warm, sunny day, students from Toledo and North Baltimore explored the barnyard and buildings overflowing with things to do and things to see.
Tour guide Catherine Aldrich of Curtice had explained to the South Toledo youngsters, as they sat on black-and-white benches, how to milk a cow.
When she asked if they knew what the four things under the cow were called, hands shot up, and Savanna Scott answered "four legs."
The Bowlanders recently planted 500 apple, peach, and pear trees, adding to the farm's orchard.
There's a corn maze in the autumn, designed by the Bowlanders' son John, Jr., and a haunted tree maze is set up in an older section of their Christmas tree farm. John, Jr., is a student at Penta Career Center, and his sister Alexandria is a student at Genoa Junior High School.
Mrs. Bowlander's mother, Joanne Cornell, makes Hungarian pastries that are sold in the holiday bake shop on the farm.
Her father, Bob Cornell, is a tour guide and helps in many other ways as well. The Cornells live near the Bowlanders' farm.
Crossgates' first-grade teachers Deborah Eding and Kristi Dean said the field trip supplements classroom reading, science, and social studies lessons about agricultural crops; the life cycles of plants and animals, and urban and rural communities.
"Kids are really involved in activities when they come here," Mrs. Eding said.