With school closings and cancellation of activities due to COVID-19, kids will undoubtedly be spending more time on the farm this spring. While this difficult time is challenging for all of us, the good news for farm kids is they have more opportunities to partake in spring field activities they would otherwise miss. Here are some tips for working with kids on the farm.
- Set a good example. Children are sponges, always watching and likely to emulate your actions. Spring field preparation and planting is a busy time and puts additional stress on everyone. Despite the temptation, don’t rush and take unnecessary risks. Calm down. Slow down. The best example you can demonstrate is to remain calm and emphasize — and demonstrate — the importance of safety.
- Teach equipment safety basics. This includes making sure equipment is in park when stationery and engines are turned off. Explain what power take-off (PTO) equipment does and how it operates and take steps to make sure all safety guards are in place.
- Grain bins are NOT a play place. Keep kids out of grain bins! By nature, kids love to climb, and grain bin ladders represent a big temptation. And if they get to the top, there will be a curiosity to jump in. This may be an obvious precaution, but it is crucial to be emphatic about explaining the dangers and forbid kids from even going near bins.
- Seat belts are just as important for kids as for adults, if not more so. Whether it’s a quick trip to the field or longer trip to town for supplies, make sure they are securely buckled in when riding along. Ensure doors and windows are locked, and don’t allow your kids to lean against up against them.
- Keep site of your child. If you can’t see them, don’t move or unfold equipment. Be aware of other potential dangers, such as being near machinery used to load and unload seed, fertilizer or chemicals. It’s also important to keep kids away from fertilizer and herbicide application equipment to prevent the possibility of contact with dangerous substances.
- Keep kids occupied. If your kids are old enough or capable of helping with spring farm work, assign tasks appropriate for the individual child. Know what each is capable of — and comfortable — doing. If the child doesn’t feel confident or ready, don’t force it. Every child is different, regardless of age. There may be a task a 14-year-old may be confident and capable of doing while a 16-year-old may not.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as appropriate and ensure your children do too. PPE has always been the required safety precaution on the farm when working with chemicals, seed and fertilizers. Wear safety glasses or sunglasses, gloves, sunscreen, hats, masks and hearing protection as necessary.
- Don’t touch treated seed. Brightly colored seed can be tempting for young children. Keep children away from chemicals and insecticides. If they are old enough and are engaged in helping with mixing chemicals or loading the planter, make sure your kids are protected with proper PPE.
- Have access to fire extinguishers. Know where they are and how to use them. In my high school ag class, we practiced putting out fires with extinguishers. It’s one thing to read how to operate it; it’s another to have hands-on experience. If you’re able to wrangle extra fire extinguishers, it can be a good activity to teach your kids on a day you’re out of the field.
Spending more time together with your kids on the farm is a great opportunity to teach them new things. A quick lesson on topics like proper planting depth and planting populations may spark interest. As for me, riding in the planting tractor and checking soybean fields for aphids is where I learned I love agronomy. If not for that, I may have never found my passion.
Have a safe and productive spring planting season.