West Linn's Friendship Farm Preschool uses animals to teach kids life lessons

The “kids” at Friendship Farm Preschool usually get along pretty well — but like most kids, a few of them butt heads sometimes.

The worst offenders rarely receive reprimands, though. That’s because Buzz, Whisper and Echo, the preschool’s much-loved pygmy goats, are hard to stay mad at.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Ryan Shumann Murrell, 5, helps take care of Friendship Farm's pygmy goats, Buzz and Whisper.They’re part of a permanent preschool population that includes 20 chickens, five rabbits, four ducks, a potbellied pig named Oscar Mayer and Winkle, a one-eyed Canada goose.

“Winkle found us,” said Tami Pumala, the founder and owner of Friendship Farm and the lead teacher. “She just adopted us.”

The goose isn’t the only creature to find a happy home at Friendship Farm. The animals share space with about 40 children this year at the preschool in the Bosky Dell neighborhood off Borland Road near the Willamette neighborhood.

The children learn and play in a two-story green barn on the half-acre property. Inside the barn are even more animals, including a family of zebra finches, frogs grown onsite from tadpoles, African cichlids, goldfish and a Siberian hamster.

“I knew that I wanted to teach kids with animals and farming,” Pumala said. “After being (open) for two or three months we went on a field trip and picked up some little chickens.”

Those were the first animals that came to the farm. Others quickly followed.

“We sort of became this safe haven for little critters that aren’t loved or needed or wanted elsewhere,” Pumala said.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Assigned to gather eggs, Kiera Taylor, 5, proudly shows off the results of her efforts.Some of the animals have special conditions that make them less desirable in certain circles. The goats, for example, were adopted from a 4-H breeder. Each of the animals has minor defects that mean they can’t be shown. Other animals, like Winkle, have serious differences that affect their ability to survive on their own. And some differences are just plain silly.

“We have one chicken who has kind of crazy hair,” Pumala said. “She’s a nut, and the children are attracted to her. They learn compassion, if an animal looks different or acts differently.”

Each animal is celebrated at Friendship Farm.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Teacher Tami Pumala gets to know one of Bam Bam's new offspring.“One of the things I like about having animals is how different they can be,” Pumala said. “I love teaching kids about the diversity animals have and how we can relate that to people and honor each other even though we’re different.”

The preschool’s curriculum is loosely based on an educational philosophy known as Reggio Emilia. Although it’s lesser known than the popular Waldorf and Montessori approaches, it shares some values with them. Chief among those are giving children an active role in learning and a belief in the significance of environment.

In other words, the animals at Friendship Farm aren’t just for fun. They’re an important part of the education children receive.

“They all have farm chores. That’s part of the farm,” Pumala said. “Most of them look forward to (their) chore. They’re excited about it.”

On any given day, a child might be responsible for collecting eggs, feeding or brushing the goats, giving the rabbits water to drink and more. They take turns with traditional preschool chores, too, like being line leader or the kitchen helper. Both types of chores have value, Pumala said.

“It teaches them responsibility, how we count on each other to make things happen,” she said. “I say to the kids, we have to go outside every single day to feed the animals, even if it’s cold or snowy or windy. They rely on us to feed them. I love the message that gives to children. I love the life lesson.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Young farmer Caden Mueller, 4, offers Echo a handful of straw.Speaking of life lessons, what about that unfortunate fact of life on a farm — manure?

“We’re pretty upfront,” Pumala said. “This is what we are. We’re a farm. We have many pictures of little girls in their pink shirts, covered in mud. Even our frilliest girls get in on the action. There’s a farmer in all of us.”Cleanliness is an important part of the farm experience too. Each little farmer leaves a pair of rubber boots at the farm, disinfectant stations are prominent outside every animal enclosure and most of the small farmers take the dirt in stride.

“They get poop on their hands, they get mud on their hands. They get to experience a lot of different textures,” Pumala said. “We have a little worm farm now, where we grow the worms. In the spring, we go out and ‘plant’ the worms, and a little later we go out and plant the seeds. It’s a huge part of it, getting out and getting dirty, falling down and picking ourselves up or helping pick a friend up.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Four-year-old Brooklyn Molander-Finch visits the rabbit pen at Friendship Farm Preschool.The school has been growing along with the animal population.

“We’ve almost doubled in size the last couple of years,” Pumala said. “It’s all been word of mouth and us being involved in the community.”

Involvement with the school doesn’t end with preschool graduation. Families tend to stay in touch with the teachers at Friendship Farm.

“Once a farmer, always a farmer,” Pumala said. “And that includes the families.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Tami Pumala's Friendship Farm Preschool offers children the chance to get to know and learn to care for animals including goats, rabbits, ducks and chickens.

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