Waylon (age 2) and Katie harvesting calendula flowers

This summer our son will turn 3, and over the past three years we’ve found many ways to engage him here at Good Heart Farmstead through our daily farm tasks. By doing so, we spend quality time with our son, avoid the expense of child care, and give him the opportunity to manage risks and experience farm life.

Here are some ways he participates that have worked well for us:

In the Greenhouse

Filling trays: Soil is fun to play with! Filling trays, whether they're six-packs or 128s, can be a helpful way for kids to play with soil in the greenhouse. Depending on the child’s age and ability, the trays filled may be more for fun than for function, but this is a great hands-on activity you can do with your child, or have your child do while you are getting other work (like seeding) done nearby.


Waylon and his friend help with seeding

Seeding: Large-seeded crops (such as beets, squash, cucumbers, melons, corn, beans and peas) and pelleted seeds are easy for children to plant themselves. With supervision, our toddler can successfully place a specific number of pelleted seeds in each cell. Other crops easy for kids to seed include flowers such as calendula, sunflowers, and nasturtiums.

Hardening off: By gently brushing the seedlings with their hands, kids can help strengthen the plants by emulating the wind during the hardening off process. This helps the plants grow sturdier and can greatly reduce transplant shock. It's a task our toddler loves to do; he calls it “giving love” to the plants.

 

In the Field

Transplanting: We always dip our transplants in a mix of water, kelp meal and humic acid, and our son likes to help make the mix and stir it. We lay out a 100 ft. measuring tape to help us quickly and accurately space the transplants, and older kids can help by placing each transplant at the correct spacing; younger kids can help by handing transplants to mom or dad.


Harvesting is a great task for kids to help with

Direct Seeding: Large-seeded crops like beets, squash, corn, beans, peas, garlic and potatoes are all great direct-seeded crops for kids to help plant. Laying down a tape measure ensures accurate spacing (and sneaks in a real-life math lesson in the field).

Harvest: Our toddler has shown us that easy crops for young children to harvest include peas, cherry tomatoes, beets, onions, carrots, and all sorts of flowers (when harvesting flowers with young children, don’t expect a long stem!) It can take some time for children to learn the right harvest size for each crop, which can turn into a lesson on the stages of plant growth. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest, though, as you can tell them the right color to harvest (no green ones!)

On days we have our son in the field with us, we assume that only one of us will be truly working, and anything that gets done beyond one person’s work is a benefit. Farming with a toddler is an exercise in balancing efficiency and playtime. Though efficiency is one of the most important things on a farm, playtime is also important in life, and kids will always help you find time for it.