On the homestead, everyone in the family needs to chip in to get things done. There are chores suitable for children of all ages from feeding chickens and taking out the compost to weeding the garden and harvesting fruit. Work doesn’t need to be drudgery but can be an enjoyable thing that the family works at together.
Our five children have grown up helping take care of the animals and garden. As toddlers, they followed us around or rode along in the backpack and as preschoolers they could start helping with simple tasks under supervision. From age 2, each of our children had a small garden plot that they could choose what to grow and then needed to care for it. The plot grew in size as they were able to take care of more and some even started growing some cash crops like kale, garlic, and dahlias in their garden areas. As the children grew, the chores grew with them. Now our 9- and 13-year-old sons completely take care of the pastured chickens from chick stage to butcher day (when the rest of the family helps out.) Our 16-year-old son is in charge of doing the rotational grazing for our cattle and is experimenting to get better grass growth. Not every chore is fun but it is exciting to see them each find farm projects they are interested in and take charge of.
Giving children appropriate tools is helpful to get jobs done. When they were little, we had a small wheelbarrow that was used to haul sticks, weeds, potatoes and more. Sturdy child-size garden hoes, shovels and gloves are helpful too. As they got older, we taught them to safely use a lawn mower, weed eater, tractor and skid steer. On days that dad is not at home, I can count on my boys to use some of the equipment to get things done and they are learning valuable repair skills also.
Feeding a family with real food is a significant task so many hands are needed to help with shelling peas, snapping beans, cooking meals, canning tomatoes, digging potatoes, washing dishes, etc.. Learning knife skills, cooking lessons and how to clean up after yourself are all excellent life lessons that can be practiced regularly on the homestead.
A valuable nugget I gleaned from a wise friend several years ago is to work together with your children when possible to get big jobs done. It is tempting to send the children out on their own to do the job list while I work on housework but for some tasks, teamwork is the better option. In the garden, it goes much smoother if we work together to tackle a weedy area, plant a crop before dark or harvest before the sun gets too hot. Sometimes it is motivating to reward everyone with homemade popsicles or an evening campfire if we accomplish something big.
I believe that giving children meaningful work is one of the most valuable things you can offer them. Learning responsibility, perseverance and work ethic is best accomplished in real life tasks, not in front of a screen. I sometimes wonder if many of today’s youth issues could be solved by teaching them to use a shovel and hoe to accomplish something useful.
So make your list, gather your tools and go out together as a family to tackle some chores and make memories in the process.
Editor’s Note: Originally published July 2018