When Matthew and I decided to open up the farm to kids for a full week, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. We knew it would be fun, because, of course it would be. But what we didn’t know is that it would be transformational. Our campers were outside from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every single day. Rain or shine (we had both). On the first day one of the campers came to me halfway through the day and asked if she could change her shirt due to a relatively tiny amount of dirt on the sleeve (everyone brought a change of clothes, just in case). I said of course she could, but she might want to wait until after we did worm bins because she was going to get a little dirty doing that too. She agreed. And then we both completely forgot about her being dirty--It was her mom who reminded me when she happily reacted to her condition at pick-up.
Camp was structured into a healthy balance of free play, farm chores, and educational sessions. Camp was truly a family affair with Matthew's mom working as our head counselor. She did awesome! And, as a special bonus, we purchased coloring books for our campers designed by Matthew's step-dad, you can see them on Amazon! Throughout the course of the week I found myself researching the health benefits of playing outside, looking for confirmation that what we were doing was a good thing. In one startling statistic from the Child Mind Institute, “The average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.” That seems a little startling to me and my first response was that can’t be right. But then I thought, yeah, maybe it is. Because the key word is “unstructured”. The farm, with 11 acres of perimeter fence, provided enough of a clear boundary that allowed us to let the kids truly roam, explore, and, just be. They problem-solved, imagined, built, and worked as teams. Sure, they got a little “Lord of the Flies” on us at one point, but even that was pretty cool to watch.
The kids renamed every single animal on this farm (and wrote them down for me so I wouldn’t forget), created intricate villages (with entire oral histories to describe them), ate goat cheese or yogurt every single day (and loved it), and went home at the end of the day absolutely exhausted. By the end of the week the kids were milking goats on our pipeline machine like seasoned pros, “wash, strip, dip, wipe”; opening gates (and closing them behind them! First farm rule!); feeding a mass of unruly bottle babies without getting frustrated about being mauled by hungry goats; and, probably the most important, learning about how strong and capable their bodies truly are.
Matthew and I joke that when it’s time for our two children to head to Spring Break Camps we’re going to have to send them to the city so they too can get a different experience then they’re used to. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about-experiencing new things.
On the last day of camp, in the last hour of parent pick-up, as if we had planned it, Mary Jane gave birth to a little girl and a boy, right in front of the kids. It was raw, it was slimy, and, it was perfect.
Kind of like childhood should be.