The outdoors are a perfect learning environment for young children and so as often as we can we see to it that they spend time outdoors instead of just holing up inside the house playing with their gadgets.

If we are the millennials, our children are what they call digital natives. Our six-year-old Jun Edward, for example, learned how to play video games long before he knew how to write his name. Until now I still couldn’t figure out how, three years ago, he can turn on the computer all on his own and play Call of Duty Blacks Ops. He didn’t even know how to read the menu! It was as if they were pre-programmed to understand and use these things.

Now I’ve read about all those studies about excessive screen time and aggression and unpleasant side effects. Maybe not really all, but I didn’t want to get myself too obsessed about it or compulsively count their screen time everyday and so what Anthony and I do is get them to do house chores during weekdays and get them out of the house on weekends.

Luis, our first born, spent most of his early years traveling back and forth between my parents’ place and Anthony’s. At Anthony’s, he and his cousins can feed farm animals or see the cows at their grand aunt’s dairy farm. At my parents’ place is where Anthony works at a ranch owned by my parents’ boss. This is also where we stay and where our youngest son, Jun Edward, spent most of his early childhood years.

Meet Their Farm Friends

There are other kids in the ranch, of course, but Jun Edward is especially fond of his four-legged friends. Besides, the other kids live a few hundred meters from our house. In this post I would like to share with you the children’s farm friends, living or otherwise, who help them build beautiful childhood memories, teach them kindness and compassion and give them unconditional love.

Bingo and Gagam

Our very first family companions with our then two-year-old son Jun Edward at the ranch (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)

Bingo and Gagam were our very first dogs as a couple and our little boys’ first family companions. Bingo was a black Labrador mix and was a little bit older than Gagam. He came into our lives when Luis was about three years old. They practically grew up together and even shared the front passenger seat each time they went out with Anthony. When Jun Edward was born, he seemed to have understood that we had a new baby in the house and that he had to play older brother, which was perfect because shortly after that another puppy joined our pack. He was pure black Labrador brought in by the boss’ brother for Anthony to train how to hunt. Whether or not he learned how to hunt is an entirely different story, but he grew alongside Bingo and our Jun Edward and the three of them became best farm buddies as Luis had to go to school and stayed at his Grandparents’ on weekdays. They helped me look after Jun Edward as I did the dishes or cleaned the house.

Bingo was perhaps the smartest, most reliable family pet we could ever have. I was always at peace with him watching over Jun Edward. There was no doubt he can be trusted with kids (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)
My husband Anthony, getting Gagam used to Jun Edward, the tiniest member of our pack. This big boy would playfully chew on anything you bring near his mouth, even our hands. But he definitely can tell between an adult’s hand a tiny person’s hand. He didn’t dare chew on the Alpha’s baby’s hand
the bukidnon pilgrim family companions gagam and jun edward
Catching some rays. Gagam and Jun Edward practically grew up together
the bukidnon pilgrim family companions gagam the horse dog
Ever so patient with his human
the bukidnon pilgrim family companions Jun Edward feeding Gagam
Jun Edward took very good care of Gagam during his last few days with us
the bukidnon pilgrim family companions gagam on the way to hospital
The day we brought Gagam to the vet’s clinic. He had gotten so frail, two adults had to carry him as he could no longer walk. The attending vet said the prognosis wasn’t good, but we never gave up on him (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)
Our last photo of Gagam. We had to leave him at the vet’s clinic overnight as they had to deliver his meds every few hours via IV line. Even though he was very weak and couldn’t stand, he still did his best to wag his tail when we said goodbye, as if to say “I’m okay, I got this. I’ll see you in the morning.” The kids never got to see him again the next morning. We buried his body under a big tree at the ranch where he grew up.


This 400-pound gentle giant also helped keep Jun Edward entertained while I did house chores. In the morning after breakfast, our little boy would go downstairs with a piece of bread and go to where Ayax nibble fresh green grass. I remember there was a big rock where Jun Edward, then barely three years old, would sit and stretch out his tiny hand to the horse. On top of his open palm was a piece of bread that Ayax would nibble on until he ate it all up. When there was no more bread, he would proceed to licking the little boy’s hair which, on hind sight, must have meant go run to your mother and ask for more because Jun Edward would then come running back upstairs to get more bread.

(bottom, left) Jun Edward leaving flowers he picked from the meadow at Ayax’s grave. He thought his friend would prefer flowers over bread this time. (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)


Anthony teaching the kids to bottle feed Kiol-Kiol, the orphaned lamb

This little guy went missing with his mother one day and a few days after the cowboys found him in a ditch with his mother’s dead body lying nearby. Since he was way too young to eat grass then, my husband bought baby bottles and formula milk and taught our boys how to bottle feed him. It must have been summer because the boys looked forward to waking up everyday and bring Kiol-Kiol milk. It lasted for a few weeks until he was big enough to go with the flock. He found a ewe who had a lamb his age who happily took him in and treated him like her own. Kiol-Kiol grew into a fine sheep. Sadly though, sheep don’t live that long in farms and I don’t even want to explicate why (okay, they usually end up in somebody’s dinner table – don’t tell the kids).

Gunther and Berta

the  bukidnon pilgrim family companions gunther and berta

Gunther and Berta are German Shepherds who joined our pack shortly before Gagam left us. For a while he had his turn to play older brother to these rascals whose idea of fun was taking away his toy or disturbing his nap (he was a big napper).

the  bukidnon pilgrim family companions gunther and berta
Gunther and Berta trying to snatch a toy from the older dog, Gagam

Gunther is a fast learner, but Berta seems to enjoy being a playful baby forever. If there is one thing special about her, it is her exceptional leadership skills (she lived up to her name). Ever since she was a puppy, she would lead Gunther and even the older dog Gagam to join her in her “adventures.” We usually find them napping with the big black lab on the lawn where the grass is cool, but one day my husband noticed that the two newcomers were missing. After a while, Gunther returned to his place on the lawn and joined Gagam in his nap. Berta, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. My husband began to feel something was not right. She can’t be gone that long if she was not busy with something somewhere else, so I began to call her. After calling her name a few times, she stuck her head from behind the wood shed as if to see what I had for her, but seeing that I had nothing, she went back to where she was hiding behind the shed. Curious, I went to see what she was hiding there for. To my horror, she was not hiding at all. It was just what she had in her paws – and mouth – was a lot better than what I had – or did not have – in my hands: my father’s chicken which we were supposed to cook for dinner that night.

No wonder she was preoccupied. Gunther was with her in the beginning, but his sense of right and wrong led him back to his place on the lawn. Berta’s sense of fun, however, dictated her actions and we ended up burying our dinner that night.

the bukidnon pilgrim family companions gunther and kids
Gunther’s puppy days with our kids, Luis Antonio and Jun Edward
the bukidnon pilgrim family companions gunther berta and anthony
Anthony always wanted GSDs when he was a boy. In December 2015, he had his hands full of them

Itom (Black)

When my husband started working as one of the cowboys in this ranch ten years ago, this horse was already around and he was our favorite because he was the gentlest and tamest, not to mention the biggest. This year, our youngest son Jun Edward rode a horse on his own for the first time and he did it with this old guy. He didn’t get any practice; he just went up that saddle, held the reins and told Itom to walk. As a mother I was filled with both pride and awe looking at how instantly our little boy and this big old horse could connect and understand each other.

Jun Edward’s first ride and he did it with Itom
the-bukidnon pilgrim family companions itom ton and luis
Anthony and our first born Luis Antonio, then three years old, with Itom at the Wild Ducks Pond

The Golden-Capped Fruit Bats

the-bukidnon pilgrim family companions fruit bat
(Photo credit:

This bunch have their own special place in the ranch and although I don’t consider them one of the children’s best friends, they have become part of our family in that we work together to preserve them and protect their sanctuary. Hunting is strictly prohibited in the area where they roost and if we catch anyone we turn them over to the police. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)come to the place from time to time to check on them and in their last visit they were awe-stricken to see how much the bats have multiplied. In the ecosystem, these nocturnal flyers play an important role in reforestation because every time they hunt, seeds of the fruits they eat fall from their mouths and when these seeds land on fertile forest soil, they grow into trees. Their wing span can be between 1.5 to 1.7 meters in length and they are one of the largest bats in the world. These creatures are considered endangered and can only be found in the Philippines, so you can only imagine how blessed our community is to share space and share life with them.

I took our kids out to their roosting area a few years ago and while we were there I told them about how their species help us plant trees and how they also need our help. I’m not sure they appreciated my story because they were more concerned about the mosquitoes and how creepy the sounds they made were, and so we quickly left the forest.

the-bukidnon pilgrim family companions the giant fruit bats
The Golden-capped Fruit Bats in their sanctuary in San Jose, Quezon, Bukidnon, Philippines. There are more than thirty trees in the forest like this and each tree holds at least 300 bats (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)
the-bukidnon pilgrim family companions the bats
At dusk they leave their sanctuary to search for food and they can fly to as far as 40 kilometers away from their roosting area. They return at dawn to sleep. (Photo by Christina Mercedes Catalan)

The Playground is Our School

Children’s learning experience need not be confined within the four walls of the classroom but I don’t want them to spend time with us at home and feel like they are still at school. I don’t want them to spend their leisure time idling away either and so as much as we can we take them outdoors on weekends so that together we can become co-learners in the best school there ever is – Mother Nature’s playground. In addition to the standard lessons on biology, agriculture and meteorology we also get to learn about love, kindness and compassion as we share life with these farm animals.


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