Weather Forecast


4-H program helps youth learn about space with tractors, geocaching, ice cream

Krista Lautenschlager, 4-H program coordinator, center, shows a group of children Thursday a book written by 4-H'er Dillon Gratz about using a GPS on the farm. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- It may be summer, but a free 4-H program is helping Kandiyohi County children keep learning about space, the sun and planets, comets and satellites by making ice cream, cooking s'mores with a solar oven made of a pizza box and by watching a tractor drive by itself.

The 4-H on Wheels program, is in its third year locally, has a "Space Explorers" theme this year, according to Krista Lautenschlager, the afterschool agriculture 4-H program coordinator leading the summer program.

The program includes lessons on basic skills up to advanced technology and is open to children from kindergarten through high school. Among the goals are promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers and making science fun and applicable to youth.

"It's a lot of fun, and it's about learning too," Lautenschlager said.

The six-week series of lessons is already under way in Atwater, New London-Spicer, Prinsburg and Raymond.

Another series of lessons starts at 10:30 a.m. July 9 at Willmar Public Library.

On Thursday, about 60 children from the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA Day camp spent the morning at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds.

There, they learned about satellites and how they guide global positioning systems for everything from handheld GPS units used for geocaching to guidance systems for tractors in precision agriculture.

After the group found the 15 geocaches hidden along the banks of Foot Lake, they learned how the same satellites that guided their handheld GPS units are used to guide tractors as the machines pass through fields planting and harvesting the crops.

The children were eager listeners when Kyle Sietsema of Haug Implement explained that the yellow globe on the top of the big green John Deere tractor receives satellite signals from some 27 satellites. He had programmed the 170-horsepower tractor to maneuver around a series of barrels and to knock a cement block off of a pedestal, all without him driving the machine.

The group cheered as Sietsema, with his hands on his knees and not the steering wheel, activated the GPS system and rode along through the barrels and over the cement block. Then each child got to climb up in the cab, check out the display screens, levers and knobs and, most importantly, beep the tractor's horn at their fellow day campers.

"For some of the kids, it's their first time seeing a tractor, so it's exciting for them," Lautenschlager said.

The campers also got to read Dillon Gratz' "Big Book on GPS" a 4-H project explaining how GPS is used on his family's farm.

Other Space Explorer lessons include learning about the power of the sun by making a solar oven out of a pizza box, a lesson about how comets are formed by making ice cream, plus making bottle rockets out of film canisters, Lautenschlager says.

The tractors used in the demonstrations are also provided by Arnold's of Willmar. Lautenschlager estimated that 450 children will attend the program at 13 different sites this summer. Youth can register or learn more about the program by calling the local Extension office at 320-231-7890.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373