This post reminds me of those beginning of the school year reports of "what I did with my summer vacation." Starting in May, my daughters and I have been having farm days, twice a week. My neighbor, Alice, is an urban farmer, owner of Fields of Plenty. We go to her farm on Thursdays to help with her fruits and vegetables. We attend Mr. John's Farm on Wednesdays. His farm is not actually a farm, since he grows and cares of animals for self consumption and not profit. But his side yard is gorgeous and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. (Which means the property is recognized for its commitment to sustainably provide essential elements of wildlife habitat: food, water, cover, and places to raise young). While at his farm, we feed the chickens, rabbits, and birds, while checking in on the tadpoles and bees.
Both farms are within a few blocks of my house, so I ride my bike, with the girls in the carriage behind me. I chose these two farms so that the girls will connect the word "farm" with both animals and plants. Saturdays, we attend a local farmers market, and often see Ms. Alice there and purchase items from her booth. This summer experience brings everything full circle: planting, harvesting, purchasing, and consuming. Two months in, and I look forward to our farm days. What's more, Miss Monster does too! Each morning, she asks "momma, what we doing today? We going to the farm?" Here are 8 reasons why farm days are summer days well spent.
1. Develop Gross Motor Skills
Gross Motor Skills are those skills that use your whole body. These activities are essential for getting proper exercise to stay healthy and for muscle development for young children. Farm life has gross motor skills everywhere. Miss Monster often helps move the wheel barrow or uses her farm tools to dig holes for planting. Pulling weeds takes more arm strength than I realized. She uses a measuring cup to scoop chicken and rabbit feed out of barrows and then carries it over to their containers to pour it in. She carries the animal water containers and uses the hose to fill them up. Usually on farm days, I can count on a pretty easy go down for nap because of all the physical activity she has done.
2. Develop Fine Motor Skills
Fine Motor Skills are essential for learning to write because you are engaging your hands for careful and precise direction. When planting, Miss Monster has gotten practice at pinching the baby plant at the bottom of the stem to lift it out of the planting container so that she doesn't harm the root system. She then carries it over very carefully and places it in the pre-made hole and moves the dirt around to plant it. Similarly, when harvesting, she needs to use a pincer grasp to remove the berry from the plant or the spinach leaves from the stalk. These simple tasks require lots of fine motor development and concentration. In addition, when she pours the chicken, rabbit, and bird feed into their appropriate feeding containers, she is using fine motor skills to direct the feed and not spill.
3. Develop Body and Spatial Awareness
Body and spatial awareness are very important developmental skills for toddlers to learn; otherwise, they are doomed to continuously run into the table or the door frame by not calculating their body movements correctly. On Ms. Alice's farm, Miss Monster has excelled at learning how to move around the baby plants and not step on them. We are working on her awareness of her movements, as well as, where she sits while harvesting a plant in front of her and where the plants are behind her.
4. Learn Where Food Comes From And Growing Seasons
In today's culture, it is so easy for children and adults to be removed from where food comes from. To be able to see food being grown and raised on a farm gives my children first hand experience of knowing that the grocery store is not where it originates from. In addition, they understand that strawberries grow on vines close to the ground, potatoes and beets are underneath the ground, raspberries are on bushes, apples and pears on trees, eggs are laid from chickens, and meat from animals (such as Mr. John's meat rabbits). They are also sensitive to growing seasons, since the strawberries have just finished, Miss Monster is sad to know that they are done growing, but is aware that now raspberries are being harvested. Knowing growing seasons is helpful to understand that certain produce have very specific criteria for growing and how the environment affects their growth.
5. Expansive Vocabulary
Toddlers are rapidly expanding their vocabulary, no matter what activity you engage in with them. Even so, I think the vocabulary Miss Monster learns on the farm is very exciting.
Miss Monster is learning how to distinguish between different plants. When asked, she can lead you to the beets and cucumbers she planted. To her own sampling delight, she can identify strawberry and raspberry plants. For instance, while on a walk, we came past a community farm we had never seen before. Miss Monster instantly identified the strawberry plants in the back row and ran up to gather some. She also is learning the parts of the plants, such as the stem, leaf, roots, and flower. She is learning the cycle of plants, starting from seeds that are planted and grown, to being able to identify seeds in fruits to tearing up rows of plants that are no longer needed or dead.
Creepy Crawler Lessons
There are many insects on the farm. Miss Monster is learning the names of different bugs: from different kinds of spiders, to moths and butterflies, to ants or pillbugs. When we find a new insect, I either name it, ask for it's name, or take a picture so that I can look it up later to name at a future time. Miss Monster knows many insect names, and while she doesn't correctly identify them all the time yet, she will get there eventually. I also try my best to pick up the insects to show her that they will not hurt her, that she should not hurt them, and they provide benefits to the garden. While Miss Monster likes to observe them, she is not at the stage yet where she wants to touch or pick them up.
6. Identifying Colors
There are many colors found on a farm, from the colors of flowers to the colors of edibles to the colors of the eggs. Miss Monster is also picking up on color variations, such as lighter and darker. This is especially true when picking ripe berries. She has learned that strawberries start green, turn white, turn pink, turn red, turn dark red--and the dark red ones taste the best. Miss Monster loves naming the colors of the hens at Mr. John's farm and the bunnies too.
7. Sensory Activities
Sensory activities are ones that engage a specific sense--touch, taste, sight, sound, smell--which is prefect to concentrate on while visiting a farm! Plants feel different, some are soft, some are more prickling, the animals fur or feathers feel different, and even eggs can feel different (eggs recently sat upon are warm opposed to the cold eggs not sat upon). Of course, there's alot of tastes happening on the farm and we use our vocabulary to expand upon if something is sweet, bitter, or tart. Farm animals make lots of sounds to listen for and mimic. Who doesn't love smelling herbs or flowers? And while I don't love smelling bunny poop, it's a powerful scent for my toddler as well.
8. Develop a Sense of Responsibilities
Miss Monster is learning about responsibilities and taking care of animals when we go to our farm days. At Ms. Alice's farm, we don't quit until we finish a row of the task assigned. At Mr. John's farm, we have our tasks we must finish ourselves. Miss Monster woke up one morning and we had this conversation exchange:
Miss Monster: Momma, what we doing today? We going to the farm?
Me: Yes, we are going to the farm today.
Miss Monster: Ms. Alice's farm? Or Mr. John's farm?
Me: We are going to Ms. Alice's farm because it's Thursday today.
Miss Monster: Okay momma. Ms. Alice is sad.
Me: Why is Ms. Alice sad?
Miss Monster: She need help on farm but I have to eat breakfast first.
Me: You're right, she does need your help, and she will be very happy to see you come today after breakfast.
Miss Monster: *squeel of delight* Yay! I make Ms. Alice happy!
With that, I encourage all of you to seek out farm activities for your toddlers. Miss Monster is currently 28 months, and has rapidly improved on her farming skills at such a young age. I am excited to see her skills development in following years and her responsibilities become more complicated, but even young toddlers can help alot on a farm. Don't let a young age scare you away from some great outdoor time with your children. Even Little Shark, at 14 months, is developing gross motor skills, vocabulary, fine motor development (she picks berries too!) and exploring with all of her senses.
How might you find farm activities for your kids? Go to a local farmers market and ask around. Very small growers might be excited to have your help. Or attend u-pick days at different farms and visit animal farms. If you have any sense of a green thumb (I don't) or space in your yard for animals, you can always do your own farming! However you do it, get out there, enjoy the sun and the farm!