I sprang out of the yurt last week and happened upon two preschoolers yielding axes. They were the boys that live on the farm too and their dad was with them. They were cutting fire wood together – the nights are chilly now. Their axes were small but sharp and they were carefully cutting the logs with precision. They were also having, as you can imagine, THE BEST TIME EVER.
I love that the environment on this farm is so supportive and respectful of children. Sometimes society seems to be set up to disallow a child’s proper participation, and there is often an attitude that accompanies this – that children aren’t really capable. It is so good to be in a space where everyone is happy with children cutting with knives and digging with spades and banging with hammers.
Ramona will often come about with us on our farm chores. She climbs right up in to the coup to fetch the eggs from the chickens and hands them down to me. She’ll then carry one home in her hand, treating it like the precious cargo it is. There have been one or two smashed eggs in this process but they are just likely to be from one of us older ones. Last week my husband Tim insisted on carrying one home in his pocket. The conversation sort of went like this:
Me: In your pocket? Are you sure? Tim: Yeah, it will be fine.
30 seconds later….
Me: Er, what was that?
An egg had cracked right into his pocket but in order to not lose face he pretended it hadn’t!
I can laugh at him because my own experiences (did you notice how I resisted writing “eggsperience” then?) with the chooks are less than successful. We have 14 chickens but we only get 7 eggs each day. I spent an evening diligently researching how I could encourage more of them to lay and then the next day went into town for supplies. I told the kids all about my research and they helped me fill some bags with hay and then we marched up to the coup on a mission. We padded out their beds with extra hay and in each little nest laid a golf ball. This was the magic trick which I was certain was going to be the ticket.
The very next morning we bustled up there, bursting with excitement about all the eggs we would be bringing back with us.
In a blatant mocking of my efforts the feathery blighters had laid ONE egg. ONE EGG.
Then there was the time that we were moving the cows from one paddock to another. I was in charge of making sure they didn’t go wandering up the road in the wrong direction. I had to stand there in the middle of the road waving a massive stick, this would deter them from continuing up the road and would encourage them into the field, right? Erm. I had grabbed a massive stick but it was still filled with branches and leaves and it was the cows FAVOURITE kind of leaf.
Me waving my massive stick was like waving a lollipop in front of a toddler. They CHARGED.
Shit a brick.
In the nick of time I hurtled towards the gate and flung the branch in their field and they tore after it.
(Sometimes I feel the animals here are in cahoots, doing their darndest to highlight my very urban upbringing!)
We are all learning together, mostly through trial and error, that is for sure.
In the Guardian at the weekend there was a fantastic article about a playground in Wales that has very few rules- the only one, as far as I could tell, was that if you want to start a fire you must have a staff member close by and a bucket of water! . It was basically a field filled with junk and tools and the children were free to play however they like. Children had built two storey houses, a water slide from the top of the office and a bridge over the creek.
Left to their own devices the children are proving every day just how capable and creative they are.
I think this kind of arrangement would be the ideal school for children. Imagine how much they would learn through this kind of discovery-filled play?!
It is a little bit like the farm, but without the Neverland-like tribe of kids that I think is crucial to this kind of play. Having all –age children is really helpful for free play as older ones often take some of the responsibility and also often lead the way into new corners of play.
I would love to, one day, have one day a week with a whole load of children somewhere in the forest with just a few tools, some matches and some really magnificent wet weather gear. It is a little dream of mine, to try and make that happen, before the end of the year.
Meanwhile we are trying to trust Ramona and Juno more, to give them chance to learn on the spot, to not make a big deal about mistakes and to extend the grace we give other adults (no one told me off for waving a juicy branch in front of the cows!) to our children too. You know what they say – there’s no use crying over cracked eggs! Unless they’re in your pocket, that is…
Lucy writes a parenting and lifestyle blog over at Lulastic and the Hippyshake (lulastic.co.uk) and she just recently launched a thrifty blog, Wonderthrift, especially for stylish and eco minded folk who want to save money. Lucy, her husband, and her two daughters have just moved to New Zealand and you can follow their adventures in wilderness each month here on Loved By Parents.