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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 last week 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, they 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.
"We have three schools here today. I love the hubbub, the whirlwind while the students are here, and then after they leave, it is like the calm after a hurricane," said Mrs. Bowlander, who grew up just down the road from the farm.
Jacob Myers, 7, a student at Crossgates, said it was cool to take a field trip to a place featuring a real, live reindeer. He later fed a slice of rye bread to a cow, closely observing the animal's long wet tongue, and announced that the cow had slobbered on his sleeve. A pretty proud moment, indeed.
Earlier, 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."
First time for that answer, the tour guide said, and then asked if anyone knew the name of the other four things under the cow, referring to teats on the udder, and soon the children were taking turns milking the caramel-colored cow.
Lessons about bees and honey are taught by tour guides in a special outbuilding where children can gently touch the side of an observation hive to feel heat generated by bees flapping wings to keep the queen warm.
Youngsters learn about farm animals with fur and those with feathers. They compare sizes of chicken and duck eggs, and they feel the fuzzy nose of Blizzard, the resident reindeer.
"Not everyone lives with a reindeer right out their bedroom window," said Mrs. Bowlander. As seasons change, so does the 100-acre farm.
In the fall, visitors can pick pumpkins, and schoolchildren can work an 1890s cider press, make butter, and spin honey.
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.
Inside the 1883 barn, students can touch wool, antlers, feathers, and other farm-related items in the upstairs discovery room. The homestead's original cutter sleigh and horse blanket is on display.
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.
Hannah Preston, 6, said looking at the animals was her favorite part of the adventure.
As they dashed from activity to activity, children chattered about their new experiences.
"The farm is fun. You can pet different animals and you can play," said Crossgates student Cha'Nia Williams .
"There is a lot of stuff you can do on a farm." Her favorite activity was to hold a bunny on her lap.
A painted wooden sign tells about the magic of childhood, and it's the tried-and-true theme for the farm, Mrs. Bowlander said.
"Every child," the sign declares, "should have frogs, mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, water bugs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts. Trees to climb. Animals to pet. Hay fields. Pine cones, rocks to roll, lizards, huckleberries & hornets. Any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of their education."