Sunday, March 9, 2014

Encouraging Kids to Help on the Farm

After having our second daughter, I wanted more than anything to have our kids grow up on the family farm.  I wanted them to love being outdoors, be compassionate towards animals, and not afraid of hard work.  I wanted them to be knowledgeable about nature and the environment, learn to be independent women, and appreciate the history of their ancestral home.

Farm Girl, now five years old, started helping out as soon as we moved to the farm.  Going outside to take care of the animals is now something she looks forward to every day and takes responsibility for.  She has overcome her apprehension of the chickens (I think it was the flapping wings that scared her one day) and makes sure her sheep have hay.  She is starting to recognize that she has responsibilities and a part here.  Although we are still learning as we go, here are some ways that we have been encouraging our kids to help and take responsibility around the farm.

1.  Encourage compassion.  We've stressed being gentle, kind, and respectful of animals since Farm Girl was little.  Tail-pulling and hitting were absolutely not permitted.  When we go to take care of the sheep, she is very in-tune with Burt and Ernie.  She is extra gentle with Burt because he's more skittish.  This week, Farm Girl even brought her radio into their stable because she thought they might like some music!  I encourage her to empathize with them and think about how they are feeling.  Developing compassion is a trait that will help her not only on the farm, but to lead a full life as a member of this planet.

2.  Make kids a part of daily chores.  In the evening, Farm Girl has been putting on her coat, boots, mittens, and hat and going out with Dad to put the animals in for the night.  When I took over one night, I was amazed that she knew where to get the sheep's hay from, how much feed they get in the bucket, and to make sure their water was full.  Her jobs also include gathering the eggs from the nesting boxes and reporting to me how many we got.  She felt proud that she knew what to do and that she was helping the animals and the family.

3.  Let kids help with special projects and problem-solving.  There's much more that goes on around here than daily chores.  Problems come up.  Like when one of the hens became a bit scraped up by our overly-zealous rooster's romantic tendencies.  Farm Girl helped me hold the hen while I applied the medication to her back and dressed her in a special "chicken saddle" to protect her skin.  We have also encouraged Farm Girl to take on her own special projects.  Last year, she was really interested in lemon cucumbers and thought they were really unique.  We bought her a flat of seedlings and she nurtured them through the summer.  It gave her independence and curiosity to be able to choose her own project and learning.

4. Include kids in making decisions.  As I was browsing the seed catalogs this winter, it came time to choose our pumpkin varieties.  Farm Girl and I looked at all the varieties, thought about their growing habits, and what we wanted to do with them.  We decided on three varieties together.  As spring rolls around, Farm Girl will help plant the seeds she chose.  I know she will be excited to see "her" pumpkins grow!

5. Teach them about the science behind farming and nature.  Farm Girl had watched me take out the compost and dump it into the compost bin day after day.  She knew it was good for the garden and helped us to reduce our garbage.  But why?  And how?  We talked about how compost worked... decomposition, nutrients, worms, etc.  Then, one day, I found a shoe box on the kitchen counter filled with leaves, coffee grounds, and carrot peels.  She explained to me that it was her compost!  Farming is so much more than learning and repeating certain skills; to be a great farmer is to understand and apply science.

As I was taking these photos of Farm Girl with the sheep, I got my partly-frozen foot stepped on by Ernie (who would have thought a sheep hoof would be so pointy??) and Farm Girl got a finger a little nibbled as she was feeding grain (also by Ernie).  But farm girls have to be tough, so we dealt with it and continued on with our photos.  Every day, she continues to prove to me that we belong on our farm.

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