We are contacted several times a week by parents asking whether they are able to WWOOF with their children. There are certainly plenty of great reasons for doing so:
They will learn about new places and people, about themselves and how to get on with life, about you, their family and their place in it.
They will discover more about their planet, organics and sustainable living (very important for the next generation to know).
It will make them more aware of their place in the cycle of life and generally more connected with the world around them.
They will explore new food, growing food and the enjoyment of eating food they gathered themselves, as well as learning about animal care and how to nurture.
They will make new friends, whether it be at the host’s, with the neighbours or at a BBQ, they will meet other kids at every turn. If you are visiting from overseas, they will experience another culture and traditions too.
As with any WWOOFing adventure – they will gather great memories along the way. It may be that your children have never planted a tree, collected eggs or milked a cow. You never know what opportunities will fall in their laps.
Even if you are WWOOFing in your home country your family will have the opportunity to experience a different way of life.
What better way to build tolerance and understanding amongst the younger generation than by showing them that we are all human underneath our differences?
That said it is important to remember that WWOOFing isn’t a holiday and wasn’t originally conceived with children in mind. If you are going to have a positive experience and your host is going to benefit too, there are a few things to think about before you set off.
Listed below are our top tips for WWOOFing with kids, compiled from information sent to us from members past and present who have WWOOFed with, or hosted, little ones.
1. Is your child ready for this? How will they cope with new places and people or sleeping in a strange bed? How will they react to moving on, and saying goodbye to dear new friends and family? If your child is not good with change then you may need to put off WWOOFing until they are at a stage where they can enjoy the experience.
2. WWOOFing is do-able with children of all ages – but will need extra planning and forethought if they are very young. Might their crying keep your host awake at night? Would it be best to wait until your son is potty trained? Is the host happy for you to liquidize everything?
3. Start small if you’re not sure whether this is going to work for you. Try WWOOFing locally for a weekend first. Work with your kids on things before your departure; change their nap times sometimes to try to make them flexible, get them trying new foods – and making sure they smile!
4. Choose the right host. About a third of our hosts say they welcome children. You can use ‘WWOOFing with children’ as a filter on our database. Look for families who have children of their own, ideally around the same age as yours. That way you’ll immediately have something in common (but don’t necessarily expect your offspring to like each other and be prepared for some upset around being supervised by new adults!). Think too about the kinds of experiences you want your children to have; animal care, planting, harvesting, cheese making?
5. Discuss as much as you can with your host before you arrive. This way there will be less chance of misunderstandings and disappointments around your stay.
Let them know you are WWOOFing with kids. Tell them the number of children you will have in tow and their ages. Check that this is suitable for the host. It may be that at certain times of year hosts are too busy, too full, or it simply might not be appropriate to have children around whilst they build a new barn or put up a polytunnel.
Make sure you flag any special dietary requirements or allergies that your family may have; if your child is terribly allergic to cats or horses then a farm with those animals is probably not suitable.
Do ask about the accommodation arrangements. Will you be sharing with other WWOOFers? Is the accommodation some distance from where tasks will be done?
Other questions to ask include…
What hours are you expected to help and what type of activities will you be doing?
What is there to do during your time off or on rainy days?
How does the host normally integrate WWOOFing families into their home and daily life?
6. Remember WWOOF is about a fair exchange. Our guidelines suggest each adult is expected to help for 4-6 hours per day in return for food and accommodation. Childcare distractions can make it difficult to always stick to this and the host will have your kids to feed too. So, you need to work out an arrangement that suits both parties.
Some compromises might include…
Providing food for your children during your stay, or one meal a day for your family.
Splitting shifts if there are two adults in your group – or one could do a longer day while the other looks after the kids.
Minding your host’s children so that your host can get on with work.
Doing a little extra around meal preparation and clean up and keeping the house tidy for your host.
Any of these can help ensure that you don’t become an added burden to your host.
Discuss this before you arrive at the host to make sure that everyone is happy with the arrangements you’ve agreed.
7. Once you are at the host it will be important to set limits for your child. Remember that many are working farms. Large animals, machines, and tools are a part of everyday life.
Most importantly let your kids know where it is safe to play, and any ‘out of bounds’ area. Agree these with your host.
When is it ok (or necessary) to call you away from your tasks? Children need to be aware that WWOOFing is about an exchange and that you and your host have things to get on with during the day.
Let your kids know who to go to for help, or advice, food or water. Remind them that they are guests and need to be respectful of the host’s property.
Do not expect your children to be looked after by the host or other WWOOFers unless previously arranged.
8. Can they join in? This is a critical question to ask your host. WWOOFing works best when your children are of an age where they can get involved and want to do so.
If you have teenagers accompanying you, do be clear with them about the terms of their stay and get them engaged as much as you can. Often young people can be the inspiration for a trip but if they are not on board with the idea, do consider whether the timing is right. A sulky adolescent can spoil WWOOFing for everyone involved.
For younger ones who are independent but not yet able to join in, try making a base camp for them to hang out in when you are doing something for your host.
9. Be mindful of your host family’s space. It is important for every family to have a little time to themselves each day, please respect this and give your hosts (and yourselves) the space and time-out they require.
10. Agree a ‘review time’ after a week. With all WWOOFing, but especially with children, it is a good idea to have an official trial period with your host. That way if things are not working out you can say farewell and no feelings are hurt.
11. Have a back-up plan. Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. If your children feel uncomfortable or unsafe it is best to gently let your host know that you need to move on. Be sure to communicate with WWOOF UK if you think there is an issue that may affect other WWOOFers too.
12. Most importantly RELAX and ENJOY the experience. Remember that all these things will shape your child for their future.
If you have WWOOFed with children or hosted WWOOFing families and would like to share your experiences, ideas or photos then we would love to hear from you using firstname.lastname@example.org
first image, Soillse Ecovillage Project
second image, Taryn Field