UMC Tours for Tots gives children a look at the animals that live on campus
The children came from childcare facilities, elementary schools, home schools and Sunday school classes across northwest Minnesota to go on the one-hour tours.
CROOKSTON, Minn. — Preschoolers met some of their four-legged counterparts during the Tours for Tots at the University of Minnesota Crookston.
About 20 preschool boys and girls who attend the UMC Early Childhood Development Center on campus toured the horse, sheep and beef barn on Monday, April 17. The children, ages 33 months to kindergarten, were one of the first groups to tour the livestock barns. In all, 20 groups of children, ages preschool through third grade were scheduled for tours during the week of April 17.
The size of the tour groups, organized by Amber Edblom-Genereux, UMC animal science lab services coordinator, varied from about five to 130. The children came from childcare facilities, elementary schools, home schools and Sunday school classes across northwest Minnesota to go on the one-hour tours, which besides the horse and livestock barns, included UMC greenhouses.
“They’re from everywhere,” Edblom-Genereux said.
The University of Minnesota Crookston began offering the tours about 15 years ago, she said. However, tours were canceled in 2020, 2021 and 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university conducts the tours as a way to do community outreach and to give children an opportunity to see animals and learn how students majoring in animal science and university staff care for them.
Meanwhile, giving the tours gives the UMC students a chance to teach the children information they’ve learned about livestock, Edblom-Genereux said.
The horses and sheep typically are the most popular part of the tour.
“It’s the horses because they’re really into horses, and they get to pet the sheep,” she said.
The April 17 tour began in the horse barn where the children climbed a short set of stairs and peered into a stall that houses a mare and foal. The foal was one of several born at UMC this spring.
Once the preschoolers looked at the pair, they moved down the barn aisle where Amanda Williams, equine lab services coordinator, held “Bonnie,” a friendly 16-year-old brown Morgan horse. The accommodating Bonnie lowered her neck and reached out her nose, nuzzling the eager little hands that patted her.
After the children pet Bonnie, they dipped their hands into wood shavings that sat in the barn aisle as Edblom-Genereux explained to the preschoolers that the shavings would be used for the bedding for the horses.
The next stop was the tack room where the children got to sit in an English or western saddle that straddled a bench and then a look at the horses’ shower where some of the children proclaimed that they, like some of the horses, didn't like taking showers.
The tour concluded at the “poop chute,” a conveyor that moves soiled horse bedding into a truck and elicited “ewwww” comments from the children.
Across from the horse barn, a pen of feeder calves and pens of sheep were waiting to be observed.
For some of the children, like one of the preschoolers on the April 17 tour, it was the first time they have seen a cow in real life.
Hearing the noise calves make also was a new experience for the children.
“Why do cows moo?” asked a boy.
“That’s just how they talk,” Edblom-Genereux said.
After looking at the calves and petting a lamb that the children lobbied to name “Ba-ba" — “Ba" for short — they walked to the UMC greenhouses where they looked at plants, flowers and fish swimming in a tropical-themed pond.
The University of Minnesota Crookston students and staff enjoy giving the tours and getting a chance to meet the children, show off the livestock that live on campus and demonstrate the knowledge they’ve learned.
“It’s a lot of fun, that’s for sure,” Edblom-Genereux said.