The school recess that started in mid-March due to Covid-19 and has been extended to January 2021 is the longest in recent times.
Children, who are kept busy in school for the better part of the year, have unexpectedly found themselves with plenty of time that they may not know how to use well. How do we keep them busy? That is the question on many parents’ minds.
Well, farming activities offer some of the best ways to keep children busy.
Engaging children meaningfully with farm work will provide the physical and mental health that they require during the period.
They will not only learn where food comes from but also help produce it and know how to relate with animals.
Through farm activities, they learn life and safety skills like handling cutting tools, get exposed to complex science topics like mating and child birth as well as appreciate nature and its vast resources.
So, how does one engage children on the farm? Age and the type of farm enterprise dictate the duties to be allocated.
For the younger children, avoid dangerous tools and toxic substances, including dusty environment. Make farm work fun and gratifying by apportioning most of the work that a child does to the areas that she enjoys most.
For example, you can allow a child to finish milking a cow and give some of it to his pet cat or dog. The child can also be allowed to cook and enjoy eggs produced by the hens she attends to.
Other issues to consider while allocating farm duties include “role modelling” as youths learn a lot from adults they admire and they tend to copy what they are doing rather than receiving instructions on how to carry out the task.
Attention span for activities increase as children grow older, thus the smaller they are, the less time allocated to a specific chore.
Supervision is critical as some of the tools, inputs, outputs such as pyrethrum, which is a chemical, and equipment can be harmful. Strength and stamina increase with age even for children who appear bigger for their age.
Age-appropriate everyday farm jobs
At this age, children are curious about anything in their environment, making them natural helpers. One should, therefore, take advantage of this positive aspect to teach them early how to carry out a few farm chores.
This is done best by letting them follow you on the farm as you carry out the day-to-day activities. Allow them to help where possible.
For example, if you are collecting eggs, give them a container and let them help.
Let them accompany you to the milking parlour even if they can’t make any contribution as they will learn that a cowshed is not a human house and its level of cleanliness is lower, thus, they will not reject milk at an older age when they realise that it comes from less cleaner premises.
They can assist in harvesting fruits where they are taught the difference between ripe and unripe ones. They can water small stock like rabbits, chickens and the more friendly sheep and goats.
Allocate a space on the farm where this group can play so that they are in touch with the gardening environment.
They can also be provided with appropriate toys such as tractors and lorries. At this age, don’t expect perfection, spilt milk and a few broken eggs are likely to happen.
At this age, children start relating gardening with food and they can be allowed to convert playing gardens into miniature farms.
They can be provided with inputs and agronomical information on crops and livestock that have short cycles so that they can implement a project from the beginning to the end.
An example is planting sukuma wiki (collard greens) or keeping rabbits. They can also assist in harvesting, whereas they might not be able to dig out potatoes, they can place the harvested tubers into sacks or containers.
They can also assist in opening and closing farm gates, feeding and watering small stock, preserving farm produce like cleaning, packaging and stocking the products in the fridge, assist the veterinarian with vaccination of small stock by restraining them as the officer goes about his or her duties and they can clean small stock houses and dispose of waste as instructed.
Children at this age can be introduced to milking, starting with small stock and, depending on their ability to learn and interest in the job, they can be allowed to finish milking a cow.
In addition to the chores in the previous category, these ones can be introduced to the real farming world, where they are held accountable for their deeds.
They can be allowed to milk, start using agrochemicals like acaricides that are used to spray animals against ticks, spray crops against diseases and pests but under supervision and be involved in the plant cycles at the appropriate season that is ploughing, planting, weeding, harvesting, transportation and storage of produce.
Like with adults, the safety gears should be provided.
These are adults in transition. They have reached an age of wanting to spend money of their own and peer pressure is high.
Thus, they might want to have some hairstyles or forms of dressing that can expose them to danger.
For example, short skirts in a sisal farm might prove dangerous. However, this category has stamina and carries out most farm work.
As such, they can operate machinery such as milking machines, maize threshers and poultry incubators.
They can also off-load farm inputs and load farm produce onto transport systems, take milk to the collection centre, assist in record-keeping for both hard and soft copies, transport and process farm produce like threshing maize and train or supervise and mentor and provide first aid to the younger ones, among other roles.
To pay or not to pay children?
This is a contentious issue not only in agriculture but also in household chores and other businesses.
In countries that allow a person to employ family members, farmers get tax relief as payment to the family is considered an expenditure.
Some people claim paying children does not sustain their interest in work and they can decide to forgo the payment anytime so that they stop working.
If one chooses to pay the child, the wage should be complementary to the work done.
Further, there are many apps such as the “busykid” that not only assists parents in paying their kids but also help the children to save, donate, invest and spend the earned cash. Payment can be in cash or in kind.
The writer is an agriculture expert [email protected]