LUSK – Pumpkin patches are an annual tradition for many families in the fall. The kids of Niobrara County are no different. Many look forward to visting Ellis Farms in Lingle every year with their school classes to find a pumpkin and enjoy the playground. The Lusk Early Childhood Center has always taken the preschool class down for a day of fun as well. While 2020 found restrictions that didn’t allow the preschool to take part in any kind of pumpkin patch activity many families and students were looking forward to visiting the Ellis’s in 2021.
When the administrators informed the parent group that with continuing COVID-19 restrictions from the department of health, who oversees the center, bussing would not be allowed in the foreseeable future and this would cancel any field trips which the bus was needed, the parent group and center employees put their efforts together to deliver a memorable experience for the preschool families.
In addition to the COVID restrictions on the preschool many families have also found themselves continuing to face financial obstacles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the LECC parent group met to discuss a family engagement activity for fall, this prompted the conversation about what type of activity they could sponsor that would allow all students and their families to feel welcome, included and at no cost.
The answer was found with a local family who had been growing pumpkins in their garden. While hail had hit hard in August, the Goddard family was still optimistic that they would have enough pumpkins to host the preschool families for an evening of harvest fun and food.
Plans were made for families to meet and caravan out to the Goddard’s garden for pumpkin and harvest related activities, a chili supper and the chance to pick out a pumpkin at the garden. Then snow and rain storms created another obstacle, the accessibility to the garden was very limited when roads were muddy.
Weather and muddy roads didn’t deter the parent group or school staff, they simply moved the location. Staff and volunteers worked together to place almost eighty pumpkins and squash, build a corn stalk fort, and create an apple picking station on the lawn to the south of the preschool building. Staff made chili to serve and lead teacher Sara DesEnfents hosted a “pumpkin walk” for prizes.
On Oct. 21 over a dozen families attended the engagement activity. Preschoolers and their siblings eagerly ran from one pumpkin to the next finding the perfect one for Halloween. Parents chatted as families enjoyed chili and harvest popcorn while kids played in the fort and “picked” apples from trees to eat. Every student went home with a prize from the pumpkin walk and they also performed the “Spooky walk” activity song.
It was agreed that the mini “Harvest Party” was a success and the parent group plans to expand on the activity in the 2022 school year.
Activities like this are made possible by the fundraising that the parent group holds throughout the year. The annual Thanksgiving Basket Raffle is currently going on and tickets for the raffle (which gives way an entire Thanksgiving dinner including turkey) can be bought from any family or directly at the preschool.