March 16th-19th was Ag Literacy Week in New York. This week is sponsored by New York Agriculture in the Classroom and each year, a book is chosen to be read in elementary schools across the state. The books are chosen to be very educational; no talking animals, representative of the topic, teach a practical lesson, etc. The reading of the book is accompanied by hands-on activities for the kids.
I was very excited last year when I found that this year's book was going to be "Weaving the Rainbow" by George Ella Lyon. This book goes over the process of shearing sheep to weaving.
We planned four different stations for the kids to rotate through:
1. Reading of the book
2. Learning about fleece- hands on fleece feeling, spinning demonstration, crochet demonstration
3. Hands-on making of a felted ball
4. Meet bottle baby lambs
I got in contact with Diane who owns/operates Acorn Works Fiber Processing, a local fiber processing business, to help with the spinning demonstration, and I donated a Lincoln fleece. Another local sheep farm, Maple Lawn Farm, provided the lambs for the afternoon.
I was a part of the "learning about fleece" room. Diane brought her spinning wheel and demonstrated spinning. She conveniently also had some of my wool spun up, so I could show kids a finished product! An extension employee gave a crochet demonstration and had different types of yarn and finished products like hats and scarves to see and feel. I brought in some of my raw Lincoln Longwool wool, Diane brought some Merino and Romney wool, and we also had crossbred meat-breed wool to use for a fleece discussion, which was the part that I ran. The kids rotated through each of the three stations in our classroom and I had 10 minutes to talk about the process of shearing and steps to make wool become yarn.
I started by discussing the difference between the different types of wool, and used an analogy of different dog breeds to discuss why the wool from different sheep looked and felt different from each other. I then had them feel the four different fleeces and pick out their favorite. Hands-down my Lincoln fleece was the favorite of the day (if you need another reason to buy my fleeces, just trust the 2nd graders! haha), and they really didn't like the feel of the meat breed wool. I then had them smell the fleece, to which the response was a lot of "ewwww"s and scrunched noses (again, they all agreed mine smelled the best). We talked about the process of washing and then showed a set of carders to talk about how the wool is "combed". Next, the kids got to feel the roving and we discussed the process of dying. Finally, we talked about how the roving becomes yarn by way of Diane's spinning demonstration.
This event was a lot of fun! The kids asked wonderful questions like how the shears work to cut the wool off and whether it hurts the sheep, and why the wool felt "sticky", which led to great discussions about lanolin. They definitely learned a lot throughout the afternoon, and it really demonstrated the importance of agricultural education in today's school system, where most kids have no idea what happen on farms.
A big thanks to New York Ag in the Classroom for planning, Battenkill Fiber Mill for donating time & resources to make the roving, and Genesee County Cooperative Extension for coordinating the event locally. Events like these happen throughout the state for Ag Literacy Week and volunteers spend a lot of time getting the books and corresponding materials (like the wool & roving samples) sent around the state, so thank you to everyone!