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School on the farm: Critters enliven learning at Snoqualmie's Rooster Valley preschool | Photo Gallery
Wilbur the pig is the smartest of the bunch. Give this micro-teacup porker the chance, and he’ll root in your socks or sneak into the feed can for extra snacks.
With fall in the air, and an apple-themed curriculum on their tables, children at Rooster Valley Farm School in Snoqualmie figured that Wilbur would be the animal to eat the most apples in last Friday’s feeding time.
But he’s not the only critter to gobble fruit at the farm school, which is home to more than a dozen animals, from Snaps and Boots the mini-goats, to Hazel the Flemish Giant rabbit, two goats, two ducks, a dog and six chickens.
Owners Patricia Benson and Jen Ward, both of Snoqualmie, were elementary teachers who dreamed up a critter-based approach to their school, which opened last October.
Both teachers and parents, Ward and Benson often took their own children to farms. Why not found a school that makes animals part of the curriculum?
When Benson visits the animals, who live in a barn and coop that she, Ward, and their husbands built on the Falls Avenue property, she quickly becomes the center of attention.
While hens inquire about feed, “Wilbur likes to root in your pants,” she said.
The attention is not surprising. Morning and afternoon classes at the school come once each day to feed the animals and learn how to take care of them.
Raised from babies, “the animals are used to having a lot of love and attention,” said Benson. “Even the chickens will just hang out and wait for food.”
The children are thrilled by the animals. At the same time, they’re learning how to do chores from a list with words and pictures—tasks like sweeping the barn floor, that they can try at home.
“Kids in general, they just love animals,” said Benson. But, there are a few children who get a little fearful of animals. Goats, for example, can get a bit pushy when it comes to snack time. So, Benson and the teachers will introduce a nervous child to an appropriate animal, like the low-key ducks, one on one.
Then there’s the big bunnies. Benson got two enormous rabbits from a family in North Bend. The heavy rabbits weigh too much for a tyke to pick up. So, less fuss, no biting, no tears for children or stress for the bunnies.
The future here could include a mini-sheep or female dwarf goats for cheesemaking, as well as expansion into new programs, such as Kindergarten. For now, Benson said they’re taking it as it goes.
She feels like a farmer sometimes, because taking care of animals is a seven-day-a-week job. So far, every animal is safely put to bed early every day, despite a cougar sighting.
The animals are a big draw for the downtown Snoqualmie neighborhood. Sightseers often check out the frolicking goats and rabbits.
“I don’t think there’s a better experience than this,” said parent Nichole Girias, whose daughter Logan, 3, attends Rooster Valley. Logan’s favorite: “The piggy.”
Rooster Valley Farm School is located on Falls Avenue in downtown Snoqualmie. Call the school at (425) 888-2100.
Seth Truscott/Staff Photos
Wilbur the pig encounters chickens at the door of the chore barn.
Wilbur hangs out with chickens and ducks in the 'farmyard' at Rooster Valley. Children get to feed the school animals twice daily.
A visit by Benson means snack time for the animals.
The chore list helps children understand their jobs in taking care of the animals.
Ducks and rabbits browse the yard.
One of Benson's mini-goats, next to the barn that the school's owners and their husbands raised last summer.