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Summertime: Freedom and Responsibility

Lisa Prater 06/22/2013 @ 10:11pm

Summer is officially underway, and that means one thing: kids need to keep their minds and bodies busy. While I certainly don't recommend scheduling and over-scheduling every moment of their week, some guidelines are a good thing.

I've started something new with my boys this summer, and after about 3 weeks in action, I'm happy to say it's working great. Each weekday, they have to complete the following activities in the morning: 30 minutes of reading, 15 minutes of writing in their journals, 20 minutes of practicing (trombone, knot tying, math facts game on the tablet), 30 minutes of physical activity, and chores. This gives me a few hours to get some work done each morning, and it keeps them away from video games. I haven't heard, "I'm bored," once.

The "chores" department is where I get a little hung up. We only have a handful of cattle since selling off our herd last spring. We have hay ground, but no row crops. We don't have the kind of chore list families on full-time farms do. I can't imagine how tough it is for those parents to decide what's appropriate for their kids.

Sure, there are guidelines out there for parents to follow, and much more stringent rules when children are working on farms for other people. But how do you know what's safe?

Honestly, most of my kids' chores involve picking up after themselves in the house. They also take care of their pets, do laundry (you're welcome, future daughters-in-law), and pick up sticks out of the yard. Jake, my 11-year-old, starts and shuts off the water tank for the cattle. He and his brothers also help my husband with fence repair and yardwork when needed.

Jake and Luke, his 9-year-old brother, want to mow the yard on our riding mower. They each weigh around 95 pounds, and they can reach the pedals, so they're physically big enough to do it. But are they really old enough?

My husband, Jayson, says they are – under close supervision, of course, until they get the hang of it. Our yard is mostly level, although there are a few slopes that make me nervous, and lots of trees and flowers to mow around. He says that when he was 8 years old, he was already driving the tractor, doing fieldwork for his dad.

I don't think his experience is unusual. Working with University of Illinois researchers in 1988 (a few years after Jayson graduated), Successful Farming magazine surveyed 421 of its readers with children ages 15 and younger. The results revealed about 65% of farm boys were driving tractors before age 12. Almost 30% were driving tractors at ages 7 to 9.

My William is 7. He can barely ride a bike. I can't imagine turning him loose on a tractor, or even a mower. I didn't grow up on a farm, so this is new to me. I would imagine this same conversation goes on between couples everywhere, especially when one parent was reared on a farm and one wasn't. It's one of those things people don't really talk about before they get married.

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