Being homeschoolers we have a lot of kids around here; five of our own and then a myriad of children roaming around with one school group or another. It’s always amazing to me how children who visit are fascinated by the vegetable beds and the goats and the fruit trees and the chickens and, of course, the bees (they’re stinging insects, duh). Several years ago, when we moved to our acre here in Utah, we decided to offer homestead tours, specifically for kids. We keep them simple and short (about an hour unless the kids have lots of questions) with just a few activities, depending on the season. In case you’re interested in trying one, here are some tips on planning and performing a farm tour for the kiddos.
In order to engage the children and help them stay focused, we created a homestead scavenger hunt with about ten items on it. During the tour we make sure to cover all the information on the scavenger hunt and if the children are really young, we make sure to coach them a bit. Doing this will require you provide things to write with and something on which to write, like a clipboard. It’s not really that big a deal if they don’t complete them (some types just wont be interested in something so formal); it’s just and exercise to help them listen to the information you decide to share.
What you share is, of course, dependent on what you have on your homestead at any given time and what you think will interest the children most. In the spring, children love to see baby chicks and goats, newly emerging seedlings and fruit tree blossoms. As the season progresses, learning how to pick tomatoes and plums can be super fun. Into fall, what child doesn’t love a pumpkin patch, complete with hayride (in our case, it’s a riding mower ride with straw thrown in the trailer as Daddy drives it up and around the property)? As I teach all ages of children, and in keeping with how I learn best, I like to teach as we do something with our hands. For example, a great way to teach about the life cycle of a plant is to have the children plant their own seeds and take them home in a paper cup. A bean seedling becomes the school master and your work is done. You will want to consider how many kids you can handle, especially for things like visiting with possibly fragile baby animals and working with possibly fragile plants. I limit my tours to around ten participating children with their parents. Younger siblings have the trampoline and the slide to play on while the rest of us talk.
If my visitors are older, then I like to engage them in some meaningful work as opposed to a craft, which I favor for the younger ones. For the older boys, I like to have them cut or chop or dig, especially if my husband is home to help supervise. For the older girls, handling the animals, even milking the goats if I have enough grown ups to help supervise. Two notes here: 1) I’m very sexist on the homestead and feel there are girl jobs and boy jobs and I don’t apologize for that; I live here and I know how it works. 2) Make sure you make it clear that only supervised children are welcome to visit your homestead and emphasize supervised children because sometimes the parents get talking to each other or you and their kids set your barn on fire. Ok, back to activities. For the younger children, an indoor craft is great if the weather is cool but outdoor crafts are so much more fun, in my opinion.
Make sure you create a document that includes lists of rules and items they might need to bring with them like water bottles, hats and cameras. Make sure you send the homestead rules via email to the participating families before they come, if you can. I like to get an RSVP so that I can make sure I have enough supplies on hand and that’s not an unreasonable thing to request from participants. You may also want to create a liability waiver form for anyone who attends to sign. I usually have attending parents sign for their minor children and have them provide a phone number and signature. I decided early on that community outreach was important and I want to especially reach out to children and help this generation reconnect with the land BUT we live in a litigious society and that’s just how it is. I’m not losing everything I’ve worked for trying to give back to the community by sharing my homestead only to lose it all because some crotchety, greedy idiot slips on chicken poop in my yard. I just went online and looked for typical language in legaleze and tweaked a form to suit my homestead. You can have your lawyer draw one up for you, too, if you’re cool enough to have a lawyer on retainer.
I think, bottom line, the most important thing to share with children is your love of your homestead lifestyle; your passion will connect them to you, and through you, to the land. A child who enjoys a relationship with the earth and all it has to offer, is a happy child.