There’s nothing more candid and sweet than talking with a child. Their innocence is palpable, and their eagerness to learn is great. As an author of a children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf,” I have the great privilege of speaking at classrooms and libraries across the country. Last week, while I was in California to speak at the World Ag Expo, I had the opportunity to read my book to more than 1,500 K-6 graders in the Visalia area, thanks to my sponsors, the Tulare County CattleWomen.
Of course, Visalia is a farming community, so these students aren’t exactly strangers to agriculture. However, I’m guessing I am the first South Dakota cattle rancher they had ever encountered.
As I described the cold and snow of a South Dakota winter, and the responsibility ranchers have to make sure cattle have feed and water, these kids’ eyes widened. I told them the story of being snowed in for 11 days without electricity during the infamous blizzard of 1997, when I was in elementary school like they were. I also explained that how we live is much like how pioneer Laura Ingalls Wilder describes life in her books. Because many of the students have read her books, they could relate.
If you ever want to feel like a rock star, go to an elementary school as an author. The kids cheered and waved, and the kindergartners offered a lot of hugs and proclamations of “I love you.” The questions from students following my presentation were, well, let’s just say it’s hard to prepare for what these students threw at me.
So I thought I would share today some of the interesting and thought-provoking questions I received from these California students. I’m sure those readers who volunteer with their state’s Ag in the Classroom program have run across many of these questions before. Meanwhile, for those who may be interested in doing a classroom visit, these might help you prepare for the hard-hitting questions of a fifth grader.
Here are some of my favorite questions asked by children, who offer a little different viewpoint of the world and how they see farmers and ranchers:
- How much does a calf weigh when it’s born?
- How old is a cow before she has a baby?
- If you could choose, would you rather be an author or a rancher?
- What would you be if you weren’t an author and a rancher?
- What do cows eat?
- Do you know how to milk a cow?
- How does a baby get born? (Oh boy, how do I explain this one?)
- How is a baby calf made? (Parents, really...I’m not going to have the birds and the bees talk with your kids. Sorry, not taking that bullet!)
- Why do cows have to live outside?
- Have you ever had a calf die? (Gulp, how do I say yes without causing a school-wide crying session?)
I’m not going to lie; I doubt I answered these questions perfectly. Frankly, kids can be some of the toughest customers I come across in my conversations with consumers, the media and my peers. I think taking a moment to see agriculture through their eyes can offer us insights into how we need to frame our messaging in the future.
Overall, these book readings are a great excuse to share my agricultural story with young people My goal, at each and every one, is to help them fall in love with the cowboy and ranch life. My message that I repeat over and over again is, “Ranchers care.”
How would you have answered some of these questions? Have you done classroom visits? If so, what book or resources do you use? What has worked well, and what would you skip next time? Share your best advice, so we can all get better when we promote agriculture at schools.