There are many voices clamoring for our kids’ attention these days — from mobile phones to video games to extracurricular activities. But one voice is increasingly getting drowned out in the noise: the call of the wild.
Whether you are an aspiring farmer, established homesteader, or entering the “grandfarming” stage of life, getting your kids or grandkids into the great outdoors and connecting with nature will teach them invaluable skills and help prepare them for a prosperous future.
Nurture a Work Ethic
Federal labor laws prevent businesses from employing anyone under 14 years of age. While the intent of these laws is laudable, there are serious unintended consequences. Meaningful labor is a blessing; it builds confidence and character in young boys and girls. A young person who has not worked until the age of 14 will have a hard time adjusting to the demands of life. But any child who can walk can start contributing to a farm economy.
“A farm is a good place to teach kids a work ethic,” I once opined to a former dairy farmer and grandfather of three. “It’s the best place,” he corrected me.
Collecting eggs, feeding rabbits, and picking strawberries can be done from the earliest of ages, and are a real service — assuming some of the strawberries make it back uneaten. As kids grow they can take on bigger chores, including weeding the garden, watering the livestock, and mending fences.
The work on a farm is never done. But as long as the work is readily connected to rewards — a fresh strawberry pie or tasty BLT sandwich — kids will learn the value of work early and be well equipped to meet life’s challenges.
Offer ‘Unscreen’ Time in Nature
There are screens for every crevice of life. Screens for theaters and screens for home. Screens for work, school, supermarkets, restaurants, billboards, gas stations, and of course, screens in our pockets. If there is one virtue that connecting with the land brings, it is respite from screens —taking our eyes oﬀ of what is simulated and artificial and re-orienting us to what is natural and real.
Unless adults take the lead, our kids will grow up immersed in a virtual reality and miss the wonder, imagination and rhythms of the natural world.
Wonders such as: tasting that first ripe cherry tomato of the season, whether grown on an apartment balcony in the city or on a two-acre garden in the country. Or watching the tulips sprout suddenly after a long winter. Or witnessing the miracle of new life emerge from a pregnant ewe — and then its twin a few moments later.
Immersing our kids in the natural world away from screens leads to increased imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills — qualities that are highly sought-after by employers today. It also helps to balance one’s perspective of life and the role technology plays in it.
Plan Productive Play to Foster Love for the Work
The old adage is true: “If you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life.” The best way to get kids involved in farming is to start them young and make it fun.
There are many chores on a homestead that are quite enjoyable in small doses: transplanting seedlings, caring for baby chicks, milking a goat, or harvesting pumpkins. Conversely, the worst thing you can do is assign your kids chores you don’t like yourself. (Yes, I am referring to cleaning stalls.) That is a recipe for alienating kids from the land, as I have heard from many who have fled the farm as young adults.
Splitting wood might not sound like fun to most. But to a 9-year-old boy, pushing the lever on the log splitter while his dad sets the logs is genuine play. When the woodstove is keeping his family warm through the winter, he’ll take satisfaction in knowing he wasn’t just passing time but using it productively.
As children get a little older, starting a farm-based business selling flowers, eggs or purebred rabbits, is entirely within the capacity of a 10-year-old boy or girl. And such enterprises, regardless of success, will teach valuable lessons about stewardship, finances, and working with people.
Teach Intergenerational Skill-Sharing and Relationship-Building
Before the Industrial Revolution, before the factory displaced the home as a center for production, families worked together. From our 21st-century perspective, it can be diﬃcult to grasp how diﬀerently families lived and worked back then. Children were raised, educated, and employed their whole lives on the family farm, often for several generations. Those who did not stay on the farm were apprenticed to local tradesmen, supplying much-needed goods and services to the local community. While they did not have most of the conveniences and creature comforts we enjoy today, they did have one thing in steady supply: relationships.
One of the tradeoﬀs we made for our modern conveniences — whether consciously or unconsciously — was giving up opportunities to mentor our young people through the context of work. Factory production meant the end of the apprenticeship model, the method by which generational skill, culture, and faith had been passed on for thousands of years.
But we don’t have to accept these tradeoﬀs. We can reclaim our place as mentors as we work alongside our kids. We can teach our children about stewardship as we kneel beside them in the garden. We can model resourcefulness as we harvest lumber and firewood from our woodlots. The deepest conversations usually surface while working — shaping souls happens more often in the barn or field than around the dinner table.
We are not merely making connections with the land, we are making connections with our kids. The growing season is short: Our sons and daughters will be moving on soon enough. This is our chance to sow the seeds that will prepare them for a healthy, happy, and abundant future.
Photos by Rory Groves
Rory Groves is a technology consultant and family farmer who lives in southern Minnesota, with his wife, Becca, where they farm, raise livestock, host workshops, and homeschool their five children. He is author of the forthcoming book Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of Time (Wipf & Stock). Connect with Rory at The Grovestead, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.