We live on a farm. Until last year (and possibly again next year), we home schooled our eldest son, now 12, and our middle daughter, now 8. Our 4 year-old has never set foot in a classroom. Our kids live, breathe, and eat FARM. We must have the ideal child-raising scenario, right? Our kids probably wake up early, throw on their muck boots, and help with the chicken chores. After a hearty breakfast of eggs just fetched from nests, they banter about in the fields and gardens, playing hide-and-seek and helping us plant seeds. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
Except that it doesn't happen. Here's a more realistic picture of kids on the farm:
They wake up and immediately ask me for breakfast. I have already done the chores and had my coffee (in truth, I love doing the morning chores alone; it's my peaceful time and I have precious little calm-and-quiet space when it's just me, the animals and the sunrise). I provide breakfast they don't want and field the badgering questions for things they'd rather have ("can I eat my leftover birthday cake? What about mac and cheese? Why can't we go to Dunkin' Donuts? My friends get breakfast there on the way to school!") and, if it's not a school day, they immediately launch into woes about being sooo bored it would practically be child abuse for me not to let them play video games and watch TV.
Sam and I don't think TV and video games are good things in excess, but we do love our screen time, and we're not afraid to admit it. After the kids have gone to bed, the ducks are herded into their coyote-proof house, and the day's updates have been shared between us, Sam and I are total suckers for Netflix reruns of Scrubs, and DVR catch-up marathons of Big Bang Theory. The more laundry I have to fold, the more episodes I can justify before finally putting myself to bed too late. The kids are allowed some PBS and some Wii time in their own schedule, too. But it makes me crazy that they would trade a gorgeous, sunny day for a marathon of Mario Kart in a heartbeat.
Last weekend, the temps reached into the high 60s. Spring birds were in a riot, and the daffodil and tulips, confused by the early warm weather this year, were competing for who-can-bloom-while-it's-still-winter status. Every ounce of me wanted to be outside raking, digging, and prepping for the growing seasons. I wanted the kids to be outside with me. Here's how that went:
What's WRONG with this picture?!
I stood in the kitchen staring down my non-farming children for a bit, then remembered some words of wisdom from a Joel Salatin book I'd just been reading. Kids will engage, he said in not so many words, when they feel empowered by growing food. Bingo.
I put on my "I'm in charge" voice and herded all three whiners outside. I sat them down at the edge of the most fertile of our myriad garden beds, and told them it was all theirs. The rules were simple: they could dig in any place, plant any plant, and choose anything in our box of saved seeds. I would offer advice when asked, but otherwise would not interfere. They would be free to succeed (or fail) on their own, which Salatin rightly asserted is one of the best ways for kids to learn about life's ups and downs.
I was prepared for a bit of bribery (I'll help you plant, I'll help you weed), so I was shocked when they immediately ran for the garden barn to grab hoes and rakes. They had the garden cleared of last-year's debris within an hour, and our eldest had a row hoed an hour later. I was tempted to ask him why he'd created a row for peas that ran south-east and would shade the rest of the plants, but bit my tongue. Instead, I asked him his plan, and through respectful listening to his ideas, found that he began to ask me questions. We decided together to try the peas there, and plant sunflowers on the shaded side. Problem solved.
It's an ongoing lesson for me to remember that permaculture is about community growth and learning within our families just as much as it is for the larger community. I am a work-horse, and tend to want to get it all done myself. The lesson here is that allowing the kids to experiment and take ownership of this piece of garden allowed them to invest in a way they would not have if I'd just "allowed" them (ahem, forced them) to help me with my own space. Putting the power of choice and control into their hands got them excited to see what they could do. It's a parenting lesson I think we all need reminding of from time to time, but it extends beyond that, too.
What if we all chose a bit of garden, walled it off from our "supposed to be" spaces (supposed to be flowers, lawn, etc) and allowed ourselves the freedom to succeed or fail? Why not plant peas on a strange angle? Maybe it will prompt an idea that wasn't there before. Or maybe it will fail, but the lesson in that is valuable, too. How can we engage with our gardens this year in a way we have not dared to before?
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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