Lollybrook Farm Offers Hands-on Learning in Chester Springs

At Chester Springs’ Lollybrook Farm, kids can be kids.

For Margo Cruz, growing up on Lollybrook Farm was nothing less than magical. “When you were tacking up a horse, you were getting ready to ride into the Wild West as an outlaw,” she says. “If you were picking flowers, you were a princess making a bouquet to escape the demands of castle life.”

Cruz’s family took over operations of the Chester Springs farm in 1999, becoming the official owners in 2006 when the former owner passed. At the start of the pandemic, when Cruz began nannying her niece and nephew to help her sister and brother-in-law, Lollybrook provided a safe place for passing time. “We’d go to the farm just to play outside and interact with the animals,” Cruz recalls. “But it turned out to be more than just that.”

Inspired by children’s love of the farm, Cruz did a deep dive into nature- and play-based learning and how it benefits childhood development, work ethic and belonging. “I was inspired to invite others to the farm to share this special type of experiential learning,” she says.

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At Lollybrook Farm, Cruz offers curriculum-based farm classes for kids ages 2–11. They learn how to garden, care for animals and operate simple machines. They also learn the inner workings of the farm and where their food comes from, and they’re exposed to unique skills and occupations like horse dentistry and shearing.

Following the birth of two baby alpacas this past year, kids in the farm classes discovered ways to keep them safe from wildlife.
Following the birth of two baby alpacas this past year, kids in the farm classes discovered ways to keep them safe from wildlife.

“Interacting and working on a farm is a great way to foster and validate [things] that might not show up in a classroom,” says Francine Montagnolo, a certified school psychologist based in West Chester. “Learning to grow things and care for animals provides opportunities for kids to observe and practice so many important lessons, many essential for their development.”

“Hudson loves to herd the flock into the coop, scrub water buckets, till garden soil and pick the miniature horses’ hooves—with assistance, of course,” his mom says.
“Hudson loves to herd the flock into the coop, scrub water buckets, till garden soil and pick the miniature horses’ hooves—with assistance, of course,” his mom says.

At Lollybrook, kids develop the patience that comes with growing plants, the respect and kindness required when caring for animals, and the persistence needed when tasks on the farm don’t go exactly as planned. “Working with and learning about the natural world teaches the importance of caring for something outside of ourselves—a stepping stone to empathy,” Montagnolo says.

“When kids learn and experience nature, they can self-regulate by taking a walk, as opposed to turning to less healthy coping mechanisms.”—Lollybrook Farm’s Margo Cruz
“When kids learn and experience nature, they can self-regulate by taking a walk, as opposed to turning to less healthy coping mechanisms.” —Lollybrook Farm’s Margo Cruz

Built in 1810 on more than 50 acres, Lollybrook Farm is home to chickens, horses, goats and alpacas. Most days, you’ll find Cruz on the farm with her 2-year-old son, Hudson, who’s been raised on the land. “He loves to herd the flock into the coop, scrub water buckets, till garden soil and pick the miniature horses’ hooves—with assistance, of course,” his mom says. “Children crave responsibility, and I see Hudson’s confidence increase as he masters a new task.”

Getting more in touch with nature has plenty of health benefits for kids. Research shows that more time outdoors leads to better vision, improved vitamin D production (thanks to all that exposure to natural light) and healthier sleep patterns. Fresh air is linked to better respiratory health and a stronger immune system, and outdoor play can reduce stress levels. “In natural environments, soft fascination is practiced—an effortless type of attention that creates feelings of pleasure,” says Cruz.

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And we’re not talking about the dopamine rush that comes with video games and social media. “Screen time is becoming more of a discussion topic in exam rooms at the pediatrician’s office,” says Dr. Ryan Mascio, a pediatrician at CHOP Primary Care in Haverford. “One of the best things to combat this is getting our children outside.”

Getting more in touch with nature has plenty of health benefits for kids. “In natural environments, soft fascination is practiced—an effortless type of attention that creates feelings of pleasure,” says Cruz.
Getting more in touch with nature has plenty of health benefits for kids. “In natural environments, soft fascination is practiced—an effortless type of attention that creates feelings of pleasure,” says Cruz.

Cruz mentions the birth of two baby alpacas this past year. Kids on the farm discovered ways to keep them safe from wildlife. “When they learn and experience nature, they can self-regulate by taking a walk, as opposed to turning to less healthy coping mechanisms,” she says. “And they can better manage their own happiness when they’ve had opportunities to creatively solve problems.”

This year marks the family’s 25th on the farm—and Cruz’s second child is on the way. She’ll take a short maternity leave through the summer months, resuming farm classes in the fall. Parents can register their children on the website. Class enrollment is kept low to allow for more hands-on activity.

“It’s about character development, connecting with nature, enjoying the here and now, cultivating work ethic, fostering a sense of belonging, and providing the space and freedom to roam and discover,” says Cruz.

Visit lollybrookfarm.com.

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