Farm Sprouts is a farm-based and nature-based preschool program designed to support the learning and positive development of young children in the context of the natural world. The program is framed around environmental stewardship, food systems, and nature. An evaluation of the Farm Sprouts program focused on the potential impact of the program on children's learning, their behavior, and family engagement.
Researchers used parent interviews and surveys to conduct the program evaluation. Sixteen parents of Farm Sprouts graduates participated in the interviews; 33 completed the surveys. Interview questions addressed changes in multiple areas of child development, including cognitive skills, scientific inquiry, and language and social skills. Interview questions also asked about changes in children's interactions with nature, interest in exploration, and impacts on the family. Items on the survey asked parents to rate changes in their children from before to after their participation in the Farm Sprouts program in a number of child development and nature-related areas. These areas included interest and comfort in spending time outdoors, in interacting with animals, and in making new friends. Survey items also asked about children's sense of belonging and their sense of connection to nature.
Interview results indicated positive changes in children's conversation skills, interest in engaging in conversations, and decision-making skills. Parents noted that their children were more communicative and conversational after participating in the Farm Sprouts program, and that they were asking more in-depth and thoughtful questions. Parents also noted that their children were showing increased interest in nature, and were being more adventurous and interested in exploration. Impacts on family as noted by the parents included increased conversations on the sources of food, increased time spent outdoors, and increased time spent gardening as a family. Survey results showed significant improvements in a number of areas, including children's interest and comfort in spending time outdoors, in interacting with new animals, and in making new friends. Survey results also showed significant improvements in children's sense of community outside of their family and connection to nature beyond their yard or neighborhood. Program evaluation results did not demonstrate improvements in children's social skills and ability to get along with other children.
These program evaluation results suggest that nature- and farm-based preschool programs have the potential to promote positive change across multiple levels for children and families. Such programs can support young children's development, have positive impacts on the family environment, and promote increased connection to nature on a community level.