Staff Photo: Meghan Kotowski Students learn about baby chicks at the hatchery in the 4-H barn at the Gwinnett County Fair.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Willette Owens of Providence Christian Academy brought five pre-first-grade students to the Gwinnett County Fair on Monday morning.
It wasn’t for the rides, funnel cake or face paint. It was for an educational purpose: the 4-H’s petting zoo.
“We’ve been coming for years. This pre-first class is the perfect age for this,” she said. “We do a whole unit on the farm, which we’re doing in October. ... The thing we like about this is that the kids actually get to touch the animals, unlike at a zoo. They get to touch and experience it in a different way because for kids who live in a city, they don’t really see these kinds of animals.”
On two special days, preschools are invited to visit the barn before the fair opens to the public. The children have a chance to pet the animals while learning about their lifestyles and where food comes from before it hits the supermarket shelves.
“So many of the kids nowadays have no idea that the connection between food and animals that we like to let them see the real animals,” Janice Rogers of 4-H said. “These (animals) are their size and this is an opportunity for them to come through to reach in those the pens and pet them without having to walk through the animals, which makes it safe.”
The young students learn about ducklings, freshly hatched chicks, a donkey, chickens, sheep, goats, a calf and rabbits, plus there is a faux milking station with a glove full of water, where the kids pretend to milk.
“This is such a good educational exhibit because we’ve become so urban in Gwinnett County that we don’t have the farms that we used to have,” Rogers said.
Before any of the little ones can enter the exhibit, Barbara Larson of 4-H gives an animated safety speech. She shows the kids where it’s OK to touch the animals, how to pet them safely and how to cluck like a chicken, naturally.
“If we didn’t get them to actively listen to the speech, they wouldn’t remember the rules,” Larson said.
During the one hour window open for the preschools, several different groups came through to have fun while learning.
“The kids love to see the animals, especially when (the animals) are so little and then be able to touch them,” said Jana Domyslawski of Shadowbrook Baptist Weekday School. “Usually you see the animals at the park and zoo, you can’t touch them. Here it’s a hands-on experience where they can touch them and see them — they just love them.”
Eli Attaway from Shadowbrook couldn’t agree more. He was excited to see his favorite animal.
“The bull. They have horns and I like bulls very much,” he said. “I also like the cute little chicks.”
The 4-H Barn is open daily during the Gwinnett County Fair. It is located in a red barn with a massive brown cow next to the livestock arena.