Family Fun Field Trip: A Strawberry-Picking Side Trip for the Baguio-bound

An unexpected family obligation a few weeks ago led to an unexpected milestone: Ella and her papa's first father-daughter trip. Although they only stayed overnight, they managed to fill their short trip with memorable experiences, not the least of which was strawberry picking at La Trinidad, Benguet. I'm so glad they made the time for the side trip! (This was before we read Stefen Chow's Medium article about father-toddler adventures that's been going around. Read it for inspiring insight!)

Papa W rarely takes photos so I'm impressed and touched that he remembered to take a few for my sake. Since I didn't come along, I can't fully narrate so I'll let the pictures do the talking. Their stories and photos were enough to get me excited enough to share this with you. Read on also for tot schooling tips to go with your trip!

The Strawberry Farm is in the town of La Trinidad, Benguet, a 20- to 30-minute drive from Baguio via Magsaysay Avenue. (This site has directions from Baguio. From Manila—a 5-hour drive—click here.)

The farm is actually a group of several farms put together, each owned by a different farmer or farming family. Upon entering, you are each given a basket (equivalent to around a kilo's worth at P350 per kilo when they went, although the price changes depending on the season) and some scissors for harvesting the berries. Take note: It is more expensive to pick your own strawberries than it is to buy them from the many market stalls in Baguio. I thought it would be cheaper, but according to the farmers, the fruit often gets damaged by inexperienced pickers so the farmers have to make up for their losses. And probably because it is a tourist attraction so why not charge more, right? I don't mind though because what you're really paying for is the experience. That, and the guarantee that you'll be enjoying the best, sweetest, ripest berries handpicked and selected by, well, you. (And they were! We'd brought home berries from the market before and the ones E and Papa W picked were superior, hands down.) Papa W taught Ella to look for the biggest, reddest berries, so they were able to talk about things like ripeness, sweetness, and sizes. Definitely an interactive learning experience.

The bantays weren't too strict about tasting while you pick—they even gave Woolim and Ella water with which to wash the berries. I don't know if this is allowed; some sites say this is frowned upon. Maybe the farmers just couldn't resist the adorable father-daughter duo. Eating on site helps with kids who have trouble delaying gratification, though, so perhaps ask your farmer beforehand. Kids won't eat a whole extra kilo anyway, so it's worth bargaining for. Plus, you get to immediately test out your theory on which berries taste the best.

E was glad that she'd been practicing her scissor skills. She was able to harvest the berries by herself and had fun being a farmer.

Of course, no father-daughter date is complete without some ice cream. Strawberry-flavored, of course. This and other strawberry-flavored sweet treats were on sale on site, such as halo-halo, taho, and jam.

Don't forget to wear the proper outdoor activity outfit: long pants and closed-toe shoes. It didn't rain the day they went, but I'm sure it can get pretty muddy in the field when it does rain. E complained that the strawberry plots were "too tight" and narrow, very close together, so wearing shoes that allow you to easily navigate the pathways will help keep the experience pleasant.

The farm is open for the harvesting activity from November to May. If you're coming from Baguio, ask the vendors at the market if strawberries are in season before you head down, just to be sure. The best time to go is right before the summer months, in the first quarter of the year.

This activity is toddler-tested and E-recommended! "Kids should do it because it is fun! Grownups should do it because their kids like strawberries and kids can't go by themselves." Thanks for that insight, E. 

We're Going on a Berry Hunt: 5 Tips for a Tot Schooling Trip

1) Take your favorite tray activities and bring them to life! Count the berries. Sort the berries according to size. Arrange them in order of size. Sure beats a laminated worksheet any day!

2) Talk while you work. Talk about colors, talk about size, talk about tastes, talk about textures. Close your eyes and listen for sounds. Talk to the farmers. Talk about wishes and plans ("What can we do with these berries?"). Talk about the weather! In a special experience like this one, you have the opportunity to use many words you wouldn't ordinarily use in the best way to introduce vocabulary words: in a real-life context. Of course, also learn when not to talk, like when your child is looking intently at a strawberry. There are some things that words can not capture, that only your child can figure out for herself. 

3) Read a related book after to extend the experience. A book about a farm can lead to conversations about the work farmers do to harvest our food, now that your child has done the work herself—in preschool proportion, of course. A book about berries, like the classic Blueberries for Sal (Amazon affiliate link), can get you talking about different berries and who else likes to eat them. A book about strawberry shortcake, like Cook-a-Doodle-Do (Learning Basket affiliate link or get it on Amazon), can get you excited to cook or bake with your harvested berries.

4) Let them get their hands dirty. A day at the farm is not the time to be following them around with hand sanitizer saying "Dirty! Don't touch! Not that!" This is a farm, in the Philippines, not a sanitized, safety-code, health-inspected seasonal "farm experience" in a first-world country (we've been to those with their signs, and soap, and sinks everywhere.) So, manage your expectations. Clothes will get dirty and not everything they touch will be clean. I know, it can be a stressful experience for a parent, and if the thought of a dirty child eating raw food is too much, this may not be the activity for you, and that's fine. I get paranoid, too; I get it. But your explanations, no matter how detailed and elaborate will never be able to send the same signals to their brain as the sensory experience of fingers on bumps and berries. "See how the farmer picks the berries" is not nearly as fun and thus meaningful for them as "hold the berry and pick it, gently, so it doesn't get squashed." Be ready to block them from putting their hands in their mouths, but other than that, allow them and expect them to get some dirt under their fingertips as they touch the soil, the leaves, the berries. It is the best way for them to learn, literally hands on.

5) Ask open-ended questions. "Was that fun?" will get you a yes or no answer. "What made you smile at the farm?" will get you a story. 

I read an article recently that had an interesting suggesting: Rather than asking a question, model an answer. You say, "It made me happy to see the different kinds of things you could make from strawberries" or "I had fun looking for the big berries, but cutting them was a bit difficult." Modeling a conversation can show your child that there are different ways to talk about an experience rather than the usual "I had fun" or "I liked eating." I'll try this next time we have a family field trip, which I hope will be soon (and with me this time).

Did you go strawberry picking? Do you have any tips to share? Do share them in the comments section below because we'll definitely be going back!