I get asked all the time if you can WWOOF if you have kids. The short answer is yes! Many hosts do allow and even encourage volunteers to bring their children. But actually doing it can be challenging.
What is WWOOFing, exactly? Willing Workers On Organic Farms or Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, I’ve seen it called both. It’s an international program that hooks up organic farms with volunteers who want to learn about organic farming and help out. In exchange, the volunteers get a free place to stay and usually some or all meals are provided. It’s a fantastic program, and our family of three has been doing it the last couple years.
What should you consider when WWOOFing with kids? All WWOOF programs have some sort of directory, either printed or online, where you can search for a host who works for you. Many of these hosts will say right off the bad whether or not they love, hate, encourage or welcome kids. If someone says “no kids, please”, don’t hate them for this, just know that farm won’t work. Cross it off your list and move on.
When choosing a host from kid-welcoming farms, you still have a few things to think about:
What will your kid(s) do? If it’s during the school year, can they attend school? Will you homeschool? How will you pull off teaching or transportation? If it’s during the summer, can they help alongside you? This will all depend on how old your kids are. In Canada, we started homeschooling because it was just easier. All the free books and curriculum we needed were at the free store. My son did a lot of work on his own during the day to keep him busy, then he could play until we were done and we did some reading in the evening. This wouldn’t work for everyone, though.
If you have very young children, it might be best to wait for now. A toddler or baby will just get in the way. However, depending on the situation your partner may be able to take care of them while you work, and vice-versa. If your host has young children, you might be able to arrange some sort of childcare trading system, too.
Will there be other kids on the farm? Are their ages similar? Does your child get along with other kids well? If they’re together all the time, it’s easy to get the sibling-rivalry burnout that leads to fights, whining and utter chaos. Even the best of friends should have a limit on the time they spend together to avoid that.
Also consider how safe the farm might be for your child(ren). We were on an apple farm. Quite harmless. But it would have been different if we were working with machinery, large animals, and so on. Also keep in mind if the property has water, cliffs, wild animals and things of that nature. I felt very safe letting Jeffery roam free on a fenced-in 10-acre apple farm. We were away from any big roads, no water on the property, and bears were very rare. Ask about the features of the farm before you go and find out that it won’t work.
Once you’re on the farm, it is very important to set limits for your child. Where is it safe to play? What boundaries should they not cross without telling you? What are the times and situations when it is OK (or necessary!) to call you from work or talk to (bother) the hosts? If the host is OK with kids, it doesn’t mean they’re your babysitter. Don’t assume they will take care of your kid for you. Assume that your kid bugs them rather than the other way around. I’d rather someone tell me to not be so uptight than to tell me “get this little brat away from me!”
Use a trial period and have a back-up – I would always recommend this, but especially if you’ve got family along with you, I would suggest having a week or two as an official “trial period” when you and your host can decide if you all get along together (including the kids). And have a back-up farm fairly close by that you can escape to if things get too much. There’s nothing worse than feeling trapped without a place to go.
What are the benefits for kids who WWOOF?
They will learn an amazing amount about organic food, growing their own food, and sustainable farming and living. Kids are more likely to eat healthy food if they help grow or make it, and they are more likely to keep eating healthy if they start at a young age. My hot-dog, macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets boy got used to eating veggies, green smoothies, and all the apples he wanted. He’s a lot less picky now, and has tried some pretty cool things.
Just as with grown-ups, when kids WWOOF they will get to meet new friends. Whether at school, on the farm, in the neighborhood, or at events like farmer’s markets and local get-togethers, there will be other kids and the friendships and resulting penpals can be fun and last a lifetime.
Great memories, new experiences, culture and travel. We have WWOOFed in many different places with experiences out of the ordinary. Or at least out of our ordinary. Being near the ocean, riding a ferry, picking fresh apples, returning over 100 chickens to their pens after a storm, and learning to ride a bike for the first time are all mixed up in my son’s memories with WWOOFing. He’s been places I only dreamed of as a child, and has had a great time.
Are there any drawbacks to bringing kids along to WWOOF? Certainly! Some difficulties include:
Scheduling - if you have a school-age kid (or two, or more!) scheduling their school, activities, birthday parties, sight-seeing and all the related things around your WWOOFing schedule can be demanding. Are you up to it?
Moving around – This is the worst one for us! If it was just my husband and I, it wouldn’t be so bad. We’re attached to things and people, but at the end of the day, it’s just stuff and we can e-mail or call our friends. When you’re a kid, though, it’s so hard to leave behind that new friend you just made, or to choose 3 special toys from a plethora when it’s time to move on. It can be a good lesson to learn, but it’s hard to watch your kid go through it. Can yours handle it?
Kids come first – As with any job, your kids must come first. How would you handle a sick kid while WWOOFing? What about all the other little things in life, like knee scrapes and school appointments? WWOOFing, even within your own country, can involve a certain amount of culture shock. Would your location and job allow you to take some time away to help your kids adjust and take care of a sick child?
We have WWOOFed fairly successfully with our son. All of us are very rarely sick, independent, and used to traveling. We adapt quickly to a new situation, and WWOOFing has been the best thing for us. When we started, my son was 6. He’s learned so much in the last two years, and we’ve been blessed with great hosts who really liked us all. Some places have been better than others, but I’d say overall we’ve had mostly positive experiences.
How about you? Are you WWOOFing? Do you have kids, or not? What was/is your experience? Leave a comment below, or if you’d like to write your story for this site you can contact me here.