Child plays with farm animal toys Child plays with farm animal toys

Early years engaging with the diverse world of food and farming

As new groups of children started at reception classes or nurseries this autumn, we were reminded of the impact that growing up throughout the pandemic has had on their language, emotional well-being and understanding of the world (Guardian article: Younger children most affected by Covid lockdowns, new research finds).

Please note: Early Years Farm in a Box National bookings are currently closed.

Particularly in areas of deprivation, these children have often had limited real-life experiences and few opportunities to explore hands-on activities and to gain an understanding of how the lives of others are connected to their own lives and experiences.

Early Years Farm in a Box aims to:

  • To provide high-quality farm-centred, hands-on, sensory learning experiences for children between 3 and 5 years old
  • Provide experiences that enable children to discover the diverse world of food and farming
  • Empower those children to be confident and curious to interact with the land that sustains us and the people who help us.   

At the end of September and early October, The Country Trust sent out 1000 free Early Years Farm in a Boxes which had been ordered by Early Years teachers and practitioners from all over the country. The Box is packed full of farm-centred, hands-on, sensory learning experiences to spark these children’s curiosity about where their food comes from, build confidence when taking part in new experiences and allow them to make connections with the farms and farmers across the country growing the ingredients for the foods they eat. These Boxes are made possible thanks to the generous support of The Ardian Foundation. 

“When The Country Trust presented the “Farm in a Box” programme to us, we were very keen to support this project as it impacts a lot of children but also teachers. In addition to that, the targeted pupils are very young (3 to 5 years old) and at the Ardian Foundation, we want to support early childhood programmes, as this period is particularly powerful to increase the social mobility of children” Matthew Thornton – Ardian UK Project Manager 


child explores a beetroot child explores a beetroot

At these ages, sensory engagement is so valuable for children and activities in the Box include, 'Sense of Touch' where the children are encouraged to be brave enough to put their hand into a bag of mystery items and describe them – many of these children had never encountered real wool, hay or feathers before this. They are also invited to listen to farm sounds and to taste something new, including Soreen’s 'Fruit & Veg Mmms' which are made with root vegetables.

To build further connections, freshly-picked root vegetables donated by Riverford Organic Farmers were included in each Box. We've since heard that many children questioned why a vegetable would be muddy as they'd not seen them in this condition before. Pulse and grain producer, Hodmedods supplied tins of Fava beans and Carlin Peas so that children could taste and compare these above-ground vegetables to those grown underground.  

The Boxes give children an opportunity to handle real wheat ears and use their hands to extract the grains before crushing those grains to release flour which they can then compare to wholemeal flour donated by Doves Farm. These hands-on real-world learning activities allow them to gain a concrete understanding of what flour is, from seed to loaf and develop an understanding of the role of wheat farmers.

“I feel that the children had lots of opportunities to explore and learn about farming. I was very impressed with the box and loved how the activities were explained and linked to the learning. Great range of resources. The children were very excited to see what had arrived from the farm when it had been delivered. Really good learning resource.” Early Years Teacher ~ Marland Hill Rochdale 

“Absolutely amazing I’m not going to lie I was absolutely shocked when I opened the box. Thank you so much for sending this box it has been really good the children have loved it." Early Years Practitioner Heidi Louise ~ The Park Nursery 

Included in the resources are photographs of real-world farms, foods and farmers - an important link in developing connections to the countryside and farming, to the children's lives. Three farmers; Flavian, a Kenyan Pig Farmer, Suzie, an arable farmer and root vegetable growers, Kate and Andy, introduced the diverse world of farming through personal letters and photographs, showcasing a range of roles within the sector. 

To encourage children to take their learning forward into independent play, each Box contained a variety of resources so they could set up a farm shop role-play. Thanks to Britain’s toys who offered us a significant discount, we were able to include a Farm in a Box toy set in every Box so children could play with a realistic John Deere tractor moving small bales of hay around and looking after the cows in the dairy farm. 

Early Years Farm in a Box National bookings are currently closed.

Early Years Farm in a Box is made possible by:

Supported by: Hodmedods, Riverford Organic Farmers, Soreen, Britains Farm Toys and Doves Farm