This is a guest post by Christine Anderson – an amazing mommy that runs a farm in Northwest Oregon whilst raising her two adorable kids. I think the lessons she has learned herself from letting her kids contribute around the farm can also benefit the rest of us. You can find more about her adventures at Cast Iron Farm on her website & blog.
“How can I help?” This is something I hear out of my kids’ mouths constantly. I run a small farm called Cast Iron Farm in Oregon. Since my husband runs his own business as a computer consultant and I “stay home” with the two kids, this means that in practice, I get to take my kids to work with me every day. This might sound like a nightmare scenario for some people who might just want to be left alone to work and get things done uninterrupted, but every day, I see it as an opportunity to practice patience and to teach valuable skills to my kids.
People are always in shock when I say that my girl, Daphne, just turned 4 and my son, Cyprus, will be 2 next month. I get comments all the time that they are adept and skillful at the things they do. I agree with this, but it’s not a fluke. Honestly, I find it insulting how little we as a society expect of our children in this modern day. Kids LOVE to help out around the house and contribute to the family, and if they are given an opportunity to do so, they can become good at it. I have learned that to be a successful parent, I have to let my kids contribute as often as possible to the things that I am doing, ESPECIALLY around the farm.
It can be frustrating to see a child fumble through botching a job that you really need done. One of the jobs that has been given to our kids is collecting the chicken eggs. They have baskets that they take out to the chicken coop and fill with the eggs and bring them back to the house. Eggs are fragile, and seem even more fragile when you are an adult watching a one year old sloppily handling them. The truth is that eggs get broken, but that is life. How else are my kids going to learn anything if they are not allowed to make mistakes in a controlled environment? When eggs get broken, it grates on my nerves for sure, but we ride over it and move on. I stand back, let it happen and move on. And you know what, less and less eggs get broken these days.
I try to create controlled environments where the kids can try having jobs where they can make mistakes that aren’t going to be damaging. Parents make the mistake of getting their children a pet as long as the kid promises to feed and water it. A week or so later, the parent wonders why the dog is hungry and thirsty. That was not a situation that the child could be in and win successfully; it takes practice to be able to be responsible for something.
We keep rabbits on the farm, and my daughter has the job of helping to feed them. Whenever it is feeding time, I take her outside, show her what to do and then help her go about doing it. I let her take the driver seat and tell me what she needs help doing. She can make the mistake of spilling food on the ground, which is only a slight loss rather than being expected the full care of the rabbits which would surely result in dead rabbits. This gives her the chance to try out being responsible while not being in a position where she can make a mistake that would really cost us.
At this young of an age, I never expect the work my kids do to be worthwhile to ME. The important thing is that it is worthwhile to THEM. If they are digging in the garden and they do a terrible job that has to be redone, that is not the point. They need to feel that they did a good job working. If we take the time to show them how to do it right and compliment the things they did well, we are often surprised at what a good job gets done.
This week it was time to get the corn into the ground. It is a lot of work that takes some degree of judgment because the seeds needed to be planted 4 inches apart. Of course, my daughter needed to come out to help and she was given a handful of seeds to plant. She started out just throwing them into the rows, but we then stopped everything and got out the tape measure. She was shown how big 4 inches is and was allowed to keep the tape measure for reference. She realized what was being asked of her and she then proceeded to plant almost half of the corn nearly perfectly.
While this was going on, my son was standing behind me with a hoe working the dirt. When the job was done, both kids felt that they helped get the corn in the ground and they will be proud of their job when it is on our table this fall to be eaten.
I find that the more I ask of my kids, the more able they become. As another example, we have been bottle feeding some sheep this spring. It is a time consuming task sometimes, and I often need help. One very harrowing day, I handed two bottles to the two kids and told them to go do the job. I expected them to come back to me with all manner of problems that needed to be solved. About 15 minutes later, they came back to me with empty bottles and reported that the job was done. After some more questioning I discovered that they had done the job exactly as asked!
And just tonight, I needed to make pasta noodles for dinner. Since we always do this from scratch, I was a bit pressed for time to get dinner on the table. As soon as I got the dough prepared, my 4 year old took over, kneaded the dough and then rolled out and cut the noodles by herself with very little guidance from me. I stood in the background in shock as all the frustrating times I have spent allowing her to help flashed through my mind. Somehow in all those times that I have showed her how to make pasta, she got the skill and she can now do it unassisted. By allowing her to contribute, even when the job was not done well she has learned how to actually contribute.
Now that I have allowed the kids to help do necessary farming jobs, I go outside sometimes to discover that they are doing the farm work without being asked.
Yesterday, I walked outside to discover that my daughter had cleaned out the rabbit barn. She had filled up the wheel barrow by herself and then taken it over to the garden for fertilizer. This was a full size wheel barrow, and she did it without any help. You would never think that a 4 year old would have so much fun cleaning up poop, but she did.
Don’t let kids fool you with their little bodies. They ARE able if you take the time to teach them and let them help you. No matter what my kids go on to do in the future, they will have many skills in their toolbox to help them succeed in life. If they can work this hard and do a good job of it at their age, their future looks bright.