Keeping Kids Safe on the Farm

Farm families have a long tradition of being multi-generational operations, where kids work alongside their parents.  While it is important, and often unavoidable, to involve kids in the farm, it is equally important to remember that they are kids.  Kids are impulsive, impatient and curious.  Often non-farm safety tips sheets or booklets say that a workplace is no place for kids, and that is the end of the conversation.  However, I know that is not realistic on our farm, and I am guessing that our farm is not unique.  So I would suggest a more realistic approach to educating kids and keeping them safe while they participate in farm life.  Here are some ideas of how to keep kids, and everyone, safe.

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1. Dress for Success - Dress for Safety

High Visibility clothing – We all have to get dressed before we go outside (I hope!) so we may as well choose clothing that is easy to see.  Put on your reflective gear or bright orange, green or pink t-shirts or hats.  Those of you who did the math after my birthday last week know that I am a child of the ‘80s so I have no problem bringing back the neon!  Also, remember that size matters.  I love hand-me-downs, but kids clothes that are too big are catch or trip hazards.

Cover your feet – “Summer feet” are a wonderful part of childhood, and there is a place for running around bare foot.  However, when you are by equipment or in fields closed-toe shoes are a must.

2. Communication – Knowing what others are thinking and doing keeps us all safe

Know who is in your space – when you enter a work site, know who is there with you and what jobs they are performing.  In our yard, we set out big orange pylons by the driveway any time the girls and I are outside so that everyone knows to be sure to include us in their headcount as they move around the yard.

Work time – The girls and I spend a lot of time talking about when it is safe to visit dad and when dad is busy working.  We have to continually talk about when a space is a play-space and when it is a work-space, because in reality we have spaces that function as both. 

3. Team – When we are working together, we can work safer

Ask for help - Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.  This can be counter-culture to traditional farmer folk-lore, so it needs to be an intentional part of your team’s safety culture.  Kids who see their role-models working together in order to be safe are more likely to make safe choices themselves.

Be real – Adults sometimes forget that kids are kids.  In an effort to teach kids life lessons about responsibility, the cycle of life, hard work, dedication or any number of other important values we can forget to let kids be kids.  Of course, working on the family farm is a great way to teach values and life lessons.  However, adults are the ones who need to step back and set the parameters around safety.  We need to set “future farmers” big and small, up for success, and safety, by asking them to help in ways that are realistic - physically and developmentally.

We all love our kids and we love to farm - working safely is a way to protect the way of life we love for the next generation.

Past safety posts:  

Safety Teresa strikes again October 3, 2017   

Kids and Farm Safety April 11, 2017

The Language of Learning- Words Matter

Our brains are busy hubs of activity.  There is a lot to pay attention to and farms are busy places. Our senses can be on overload – especially if we are not used to being on a farm.  Sometimes it can be hard to pay attention to the task at hand or to manage our emotions.

Here are some tips to remember when teaching kids (and adults too):

1.  Use positive language, in other words, tell them what you want them to do.

  • Wait until the truck is turned off and walk in front of the truck so that Dad can see you coming.
  • Get yourself to safety first, if you can, and then call 911.

2. Be specific.  Telling kids to “be good” or trainees to “be careful” does not help them to know what that looks like or sounds like.

  • You can ride along but you need to stay in your seat and be quiet to listen when someone is talking on the CB radio.
  • Pay attention to the power line that crosses the field and open your auger when you are clear of the lines.

3. Be real.  Get dirty and do experiments: plant seeds in the sandbox, dig up roots, open pods… And don’t expect every experiment to end in success.  It is important to let kids discover what works and what doesn’t.  The same is true of adults – that is the whole premise of field trials and research plots.  We want to try it for ourselves to see what works.  Kid’s experiments can be just for fun, but adult experiments should be more structured and intentional; although there still might be surprises!

  • Determine your purpose and focus before you start (minimize input costs, maximize yield, reduce people-power required to complete the task, increase protein, reduce fuel required).
  • Set parameters for experiments before you start to minimize risk (physical and financial).

 Finally, remember to have fun.  Hands-on learning is naturally fun.  Remember to let the fun happen.  Having a one-on-one lesson in the driver’s seat of the combine is way more interesting than reading about the combine in the manual. 

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Have Fun &

Learn something...

The best way to learn about how plants grow is to get started and plant a seed. 

Little Learners

Sometimes learning comes easy to us, and other times learning is hard work.  Why is that?  Blame it on our brain structure.  We need some place to anchor our learning - a place to “hang” it in the walk-in-closet of our brain, otherwise it becomes one of those long-forgotten items that fall behind the dresser.  I have experienced this in my own farm learning… Marcel has explained put options and call options in marketing to me at least a half-dozen times.  However, because this isn’t part of my usual farm function it gets lost "behind the dresser".  As a trained teacher and farmer extender, one of my key roles around our farm is education and training for our kids.  There is a lot to learn about a farm operation.

Farming 101:  I love it that the girls recognize all sorts of farm equipment and can talk about soybeans and scratchy stubble.  And, I think this makes Marcel equally happy and proud to be raising two farm girls.  But they didn’t turn into farm girls by accident; I am constantly teaching.  Every time we take a meal to the field, drive to school or play in the yard we are talking about what we see and hear.  So, here are five easy ways to bring the farm to conversation with your kids:

  •  Make a meal together.  Talk about what you are eating and what it is made of. 
  • Read fiction and non-fiction books about farms and farm-life. 
  • Attend local small-town fairs and festivals – many Manitoba festivals are named after fruits, veggies and farm products and have strong ties to agriculture.
  •  Attend a free ag event, like Open Farm Day http://www.openfarmday.ca/
  • Participate in contests, like SAFE Farms Drawing Contest
  •   BONUS ACTIVITY: Watch fun videos! 
    • Peterson Farm Bros for fun music parody videos
      • My favorite – Frieling Farms Harvest 2016.  It’s about the people, not just the equipment…

Back to the closet – hopefully for each of these activities you and your kids can talk about the “hangers”.  How can we connect this farm learning to what we already know?  Clearly, this depends on the age, experience and interest of your kids (or young adults).  Some easy ways to increase connections are:

  • Talk about similarities and differences to your own experiences or situation
  • Connect with more than one sense (smell, texture, sounds)
  • Connect to an emotion, either through memory or empathy

New learning isn’t so much about specifically what we connect new information to, or even how we connect it.  Rather, the key thing is that information gets connected - it needs a rack to hang on.