Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Getting your kids active in the backyard farm


Do your kids help out with the farm duties? They should! Your backyard barnyard has something to offer for every childhood life stage! Kid's love to help out, and they can learn so much through farm work and gardening! There is always something for them to do, from the toddling years until they're ready to fly the nest. Let's take a look!

Toddlers (1-3 years)

This is the time when children are learning to move and communicate. There isn't a whole lot they can do at this point, but shadow you. In the garden, you can bring them with you to "help" with the plants. You can give them a watering can so they can 'help' water the plants, or a basket to let them carry them back to the house. These simple tasks make a toddler feel like they are doing something, and sets the stage for more difficult future work. They also will watch you and try to repeat it, because children learn by example rather than being told what to do. 

Young Children (4-6 years)

Young children are quite capable of actually helping out now! Right now, they are learning values and morals that will follow them through the rest of their life! Now, you can assign farm duties with their regular chores. Add collecting eggs, watering vegetables, feeding and watering animals, etc. to the list. You may also be able start letting them help with more difficult tasks, such as milking goats, incubating eggs, cleaning pens, harvesting crops, and butchering animals. Now that your kids are completing tasks, a small allowance may be in order. This does more than just give your kids money to get what they want, it teaches them the correlation between working and money, and how to manage money early on.

It's best not to skip around the subject of death, because now is a good age to learn to deal with it, and a farm provides the perfect setting. Many farm animals are prey animals, especially rabbits and chickens. Some will die, and kids are very resilient when it comes to dealing with death. They look to their parents to figure out how to react, so as long as they are allowed to talk about their feelings and you handle it well, they will be fine. Never replace the death talk with "they ran away.." or "they went to another place" because that simply avoids the problem. If you're raising animals for meat, make sure your children are aware of that as soon as you get the animals, preferably before they meet the animals!

Older Children (7-11 years)

At this point, children are old enough to join 4H and can be assigned responsibilities, rather than tasks. If you're letting your child raise rabbits for their project, then those rabbits are their responsibility. Their job is to feed, water, weigh, and do everything they can to make those rabbits show-worthy and sell them at the fair. Unlike with younger children, where you assign them a few duties to help out, these kids will see the end product of something that was completely theirs. Even if they're not in 4H, they will see the benefit of the chicks they raised or hatched, or the plants they grew, and it will make them feel good about themselves! They will learn that feeling good and happy takes work, and that work is worth it. This doesn't mean you can't help them, however. If your child has any questions or is struggling, don't be afraid to demonstrate the proper way to do things. If you're letting your child incubate eggs, for example, make sure you teach them how to run the incubator first, and demonstrate candling to them before allowing them to do it. Now, they're really learning what farm work reaps and how to run one. If your child is not selling an animal in 4H, now may also be the time to increase allowance slightly as their workload will have increased (i.e. from $3/week to $6/week) to show them the correlation between the amount of work you do and the money you make. 

Teens and Tweens (12-17)

A very large age group, kids at this age are able to take on much larger responsibilities and really help out. They can be doing real farm work. They have mastered many agricultural skills. Depending on what type of setup you have, they may have learned how to build things, select animals for breeding, choose the best plants suited for your climate, and many more duties that you normally would take care of. Children of this age may not even need your help with tasks any more! This age is an important time to instill work ethic as teenagers do have a bit of a reputation for being lazy. While technology and entertainment are excellent in free time, it's good to keep your teenagers busy with more active tasks. Working on a backyard farm will get them outside, moving, and doing something meaningful. They are helping to produce food for themselves and the family, and that does a lot more for the soul and planet than 30 games of Candy Crush
 If you have a larger farm, this can be as much work as a part-time job for them, so, as with the younger ages, a raise in allowance may be in order, especially if they don't sell at a fair! Don't fret if your family can't afford a big increase in allowance, but if that is the case then you should probably allow them to do something to make money through your farm. For example, hatching and selling chicks or running a produce stand! You could even use this as an opportunity to teach your teen about business and investing - you can pay for chick feed, seeds, maybe even an incubator to help with start up costs, and you get a percentage of their profits. You may not break-even, but it's an excellent lesson that your child could use in the future!


Conclusion

Your hobby farm does a lot more for your kids than you may think. From providing healthy food, helping them manage their emotions, or learning work ethic and business. It is important to get all children involved around your barnyard, even if you just have a vegetable garden or chickens! Kids can be rewarded in many ways through farm work in ways both monetary and self-esteem. Growing up in a very agri-centric area, I noticed that the most confident kids were those raising animals and selling them at the fair! I strongly believe that such work will improve a child's self-esteem in a proper, genuine way. 
While many kids are bored and trying to find their own ways to occupy their minds, your children can be using that time to improve their life, health, and the planet!