Bringing Children and Agriculture Together, One Classroom at a Time

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant College Act that established the University of Illinois, along with 36 other universities, as a ‘land grant institution’. The Land-Grant gave each institution 30,000 acres of public land to create a university that promotes higher education for the working class.

Fifty two years later (1914), Hoke Smith and A.F. Lever came together to establish the Smith-Lever Act.uofi This act set the foundation for a large scale federal involvement in vocational agriculture. This act of 1914 provided funding for cooperative agriculture extension programs associated with the Land-Grant universities. This program allowed the availability to learn new farming methods through demos through extension, thus the University of Illinois Extension Program.

From an educational stand point, it is important to realize that extension programs are only provided at land grant universities.

The summer of 2015 I accepted an internship opportunity at my local Farm Bureau. Through the internship I had the opportunity to work with the University of Illinois Extension Program. I worked one-on-one with Robin Thomson and the agriculture literacy program. During the school year Robin travels all over Adams County presenting agriculture lessons to elementary and middle school age children. The subjects taught in the classroom vary from pumpkins to water to even dairy lessons. The kids in the classroom learned about the agriculture industry while doing projects learned firsthand.

Throughout the summer I worked on several projects. My first experience at the office was assisting with a measurement conversion lesson taught to seventh and eighth grade students at tortillasMendon Junior High. Robin talked to the students about the different ways and reasons to convert measurements while cooking recipes. They even had a worksheet that they worked together on to learn the proper way to convert. Then the students received a recipe to make tortilla shells. Once the junior high students figured out the correct conversions to fit the measuring cups and spoons that were provided they were able to actually make and eat the tortillas. While the students prepared their snack Robin and I talked to them about the places where the ingredients come from. For example, we talked about where the flour comes from and how it is made. You would be amazed about how many students don’t understand where their food comes from or how it is made. After the tortillas were done cooking, the kids were able to season their snack to their liking with cinnamon and sugar. We taught the same lesson to six different classes during the day. It was a great experience to get to physically be in the classroom with students and getting to interact with them. I really enjoy getting to know the students and where they come from and comparing it to my background. The variation is incredible for such a small school district. It was a great learning experience for both the students and myself. I’d say a fun time was had by all.

I also helped out with other activities while assisting the Ag literacy program. One day during the ice-creamsummer, Robin and I taught a dairy lesson to special needs elementary kids that were in a summer program at a local park district. Robin read a book to everyone about how milk is produced. We talked about how farmers have to milk the cows several times a day, everyday. We also talked about the different everyday products that come from milk. The students were able to interact with each other and talk about the product that they had that day that contained dairy. It was a great experience to see the wheels turn in their minds while thinking about all of the things that come from cows. After we discussed and reviewed our dairy lesson, the children were able to make ice cream in a bag. Each student measured out half and half, sugar and other ingredients to pour in their bag and shake to make ice cream. Some of the students needed help shaking their bags, so I got to get in and freeze my hands off and help shake bags of ice and cream. Even through my hands were ice cubes at the end I got to enjoy some of the extra homemade ice cream that the students made. It was great hearing the kids talk about how they made their own food. They thought it was the coolest thing ever.

The big task that I conquered at the extension office was preparing activities for the Ag. Literacy Tent that was set up at the local county fair.  I spent countless hours of office time designing games, makinggrainery copies and general preparation for the tent.  The tent was set up in the “Family Fun Zone’ for visitors to enjoy aside from the main events.

A fun activity in the tent was called the “Grainery”. At this station in the tent there were feed tubs containing whole corn and whole soybeans. Along with the grain were toy tractors, planters, wagons, and combines that the children could play with. It resembled a sand or rice box, just with grain. This activity allowed the children to experience what whole grains looked like and the equipment that was used to plant, harvest fishingand care for the grain crops. Another fun game that the kids got to enjoy was a fishing game. As the students went fishing in our “Frozen” swimming pool, the kids got to answer questions about water pollution, water sources, and other fun water facts. The questions ranged in difficulty levels depending on what color fish they caught. The questions may have been out of the age range for some of the kids, but they still enjoyed themselves while fishing with paper clips and magnets. One of my favorite things in the tent was the crafts table. Kids that came to the crafts table were able to make cow or pig masks or a cutout house. The color variations that the kids came up with were amazing. While the fun creations were being made ear tags were being created for their cows and strawberry marshmallows became pigs’ noses.

The favorite activity in the tent amongst the children, however was the milking cow. In previous years wooden cutout of the different farm animals were made and used specifically the “Barnyard” in the Ag literacy tent.  The dairy cow cut out had a calf and manmade utter. We used water and powdered milk to place in the utter (a bucket with holes cut out and replaced with calf bottle nipples) for the children to get the general idea of what it is like to milk a cow. The Agriculture Literacy Tent was a huge hit with over 500 visitors including parents, teens, and children. Organizing, setting up, and working at the tent was one of my favorite projects while working at the University of Illinois Extension Office.

The “Barnyard” consisted of a horse, a pig, a hen, a rooster, a beef steer, the milking dairy cow, a dairy calf, a sheep (with real wool), and a goat.

“The Ag. Literacy Tent was a huge success with 500+ visitors including children, teenagers, and parents” stated Robin after reviewing the tally marks kept during the week.


Shortly after the fair was over, my 200 hours at the office were over as well. While there are several other activities and programs that I participated in while at the Extension office, these were just some of my favorites. The extension program has had such an impact on me and where I see myself in the future. As an agriculture education major, I have always enjoyed educating the youth about agriculture. Since my internship, I have started looking into careers with the extension. There was never a day that it seemed like “work”. I enjoyed every minute of every day. The Adams County Extension Office has become my second home and the people that I worked with there became my second family.


 Visit the UofI Extension webpage for more information about the Ag Literacy program:

PHOTO CREDITS: All unspecified photos were taken by Robin Thomson



Shimmer and me hiding in the barn during a winter storm

About Me: Mariana Roberts here! I was raised on a hobby livestock farm in a little bitty town (it’s actually a village) called Liberty, IL. I was a Burton Flyer 4Her until I aged out of the program. I also was active in the Adams County Federation Club for four years and the high school’s FFA chapter for two years. I held several leadership offices and served on several committees in all three organizations. I’ve always had my foot in agriculture but didn’t quite realize it until my junior year of high school when I decided that I wanted to be an agriculture educator at a high school level. Since then I have took that goal and ran. After I graduated high school, I attended John Wood Community College, and after two years I received my associates degree in agriculture sciences. After junior college, I headed over to Macomb, IL to finish my transfer degree at Western Illinois University where I am currently majoring in Agriculture Education and working on a minor in Animal Science. In the spring of 2018 (hopefully) I will graduate WIU with both degrees and begin pursuing an education career.


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