Image by Strassel Shots Photography
The Dandelion Farm Hands commissioned local business women, owners of Handmade by LMJ and Strassel Shots Photography, as they learned about how to follow their dreams into a profession.
What would happen if a mom of a six-year old girl scrapped the play dates and endless time in front of the television during the summer months?
What would happen, instead, if that same mother opened the doors of her home to four other six-year old children between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.?
Some might call this daycare. But Kristina Robinson calls it Dandelion Farm Hands.
“We call it farm camp,” Robinson said. “It’s much more glamorous.”
Robinson, who is part of the Class of 2029 Facebook group, reached out to other incoming first grade parents at the beginning of the summer to see if anyone needed help with their children during the summer months.
“At the beginning of the summer, the girls fought like cats and dogs,” she said. “One said [tomayto], and the other said [tomahto]. We just dug out heels in and worked hard on learning how to get along.”
When the five girls, including Robinson’s daughter, Nora, arrive at Dandelion Farm Hands each morning, they are responsible for cleaning up after the family’s two dogs, two goats and two miniature donkeys, which arrived on the farm July 5.
On Mondays, the group visits Bridle Brook Assisted Living Facility where Robinson teaches Zumba for the residents. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the girls work with Anna Webb and her daughter, who is the same age as the Dandelion Farm Hands, on a summer musical titled “Barnyard Moosical.” On Thursday afternoon each week, the girls get out in the community for a Thoughtful Service Project.
Then on Friday, they celebrate the week’s hard work with “Fri-Yay!”
“We have some sort of celebration,” Robinson said. “Each week there’s a different lead farm hand and we have something special catered towards that person as part of the celebration.”
Robinson’s niece, Audra, is part of the group. Her mother is expecting another child, so for Audra’s recent celebration, the girls hosted a baby shower for Audra and her mom.
“Everybody wrapped presents and dressed in pink,” Robinson said.
And while other six-year old children may be spending endless hours on their personal device this summer, Robinson does not allow the girls to be in front of a screen from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The exception is on Friday when the lead farm hand gets to choose a movie to share with their friends.
But the girls are having so much fun away from the screen, Robinson said the girls have chosen to spend the last two Fri-Yays screen-free.
The first month of Dandelion Farm Hand camp was difficult as the girls weaned off of their screen time, though.
“I would say the thing they learned this summer is how to play,” Robinson said. “Which is silly to say, but kids don’t know how to play anymore. And I realized that’s why the first month together was so hard. That was one of our biggest challenges because we don’t have any screen time.”
Robinson said the girls constant fighting has now turned into beautiful compliments.
“They’ve learned what each other’s buttons are, and they’ve learned to be patient with each other,” Robinson said. “The other day we were scooping donkey poop in the pasture, and they were taking turns telling each other what they’ve learned to love about each other. ‘I’ve learned to love the way you’re always thinking about other people.’ ‘And I’ve learned to love the way you always fill my water bottle for me.’”
‘I’ve even told them that they don’t have to be best friends, but that they are going to learn that when you’re on a team or you have a job and go to work, you don’t get to choose who is on your team. So we have to learn to let things go and to get our jobs done even if we’re with someone who pushes our buttons.”
Overhearing the conversation while swimming, the girls yell that they are best friends, though.
Robinson said that each morning the girl who is the farm lead always chooses to scoop the poop from the farm yard. They have to let the goats and donkeys into the pasture, give them fresh water, and often work on leading the animals.
“I thought (scooping the poop) would be funny for the first week, and then they’d get over it. But it’s still the thing to do,” Robinson said.
“We fight over scooping the poop!” one farm hand yelled.
“So we just got more shovels so they don’t have to fight over it,” Robinson said.
“During poop scoop time is when the girls have their best talks,” Robinson said.
“It’s quiet, they have my full attention and they are working on a common goal.”
At the beginning of summer, Robinson followed close behind the girls, making sure they were safe while completing their chores. But now, while she is still nearby, Robinson said the girls, who have adopted the “Girls can do anything” mantra, are independent with their chores.
“They chant that from time to time when one of the girls is having a hard time doing something, like pulling a big weed out of the garden,” Robinson said.
The group had t-shirts made and photos taken by local female business owners to show the girls that as they get older, they too can follow their dreams.
But Robinson said she had to put her money where her mouth is when an opossum was found in the goat barn.
“My husband and I had encountered it a couple of times during the night,” Robinson said.
The girls noticed the goats being restless, so the group decided it was time to get rid of the rodent.
“And then as, ‘I’ll wait for my husband to get home so he can help me,’ came out of my mouth, I said, ‘You know what? I bet we can figure it out.’ So we gloved up, dug out the trap and YouTubed how to set it up. We finally got the opossum.”
“As I went back to the house to wash up, I heard them going to their clubhouse chanting, ‘Girls can do anything!’”
“It’s hard when there are five girls watching you to be their example,” she said. “It’s a lot of pressure.”
But Robinson is rising to the challenge as she makes almost any moment a learning moment.
The girls who like to “go, go, go” all the time are learning about how to listen to and take care of their bodies by talking about the amount of fuel they do or do not have.
Robinson has talked to the girls about how each person begins the day with a definite amount of fuel that is gained by a good night’s sleep, eating healthy food, their health, and their emotional well-being.
She said now girls will begin their day by sharing statements like, “I have low fuel today, so I’m going to need your help.” Or, “I got a great night’s sleep so I’m going to be on top of it today.”
The girls have also learned to be more self-reliant so that they do not use up their caretakers fuel throughout the day.
“At the beginning of the summer the girls would toss their towels on the ground, and I’d hang it up for them so that it was dry and comfortable for the next time they’d use it,” she said. “Then I reminded them once or twice that it was their responsibility, and then I stopped.”
“I’ve taught them that I have a certain amount of fuel, and it’s up to them to decide if they want me to help with all the things they are responsible for or if they want to use their own fuel,” she said. “If they want me to use up my fuel with these things, then I won’t have fuel to help with the special stuff, like water balloon fights and ice cream cones.”
The girls are also learning important lessons like how they should not talk about other people’s bodies and how to have a conversation with someone who might be three generations older than them.
Robinson talked to the girls about how to use their “strong and confident” voices when they visit their friends at Bridle Brook because sometimes, “as people get older their ears get tired.”
While Robinson teaches the Zumba lesson, the girls participate, often leading the movements in the middle of a circle where the residents sit while dancing.
“Today after class, they all walked around the circle for Zumba, and every single girl gave every single adult that was there a hug,” she said.
But that bond has not just been built during their time at Zumba. Oftentimes on “Thoughtful Thursday” the girls will choose to visit Bridle Brook.
“I love them,” Bristle said.
Robinson said her niece is also so fond of the group’s time at Bridle Brook that the girls will often travel there when Audra is having a tough day because the environment just lifts her spirits.
One afternoon the children and adults all sat in the living room together while the girls asked the residents questions like, “What did you play when you were my age?”
The residents told the girls about jump rope and yard games they played when they were six. Then the girls went back to the Dandelion farm to play the games they were taught.
“The residents come alive when they are there,” Robinson said.
The girls attended two vacation bible school camps at local churches earlier this summer. Robinson said when she visited for Zumba class on Monday morning, the scene “got ugly” when the girls were not there.
“They will be really disappointed when (the girls) go back to school.”
“Everybody, no matter young or old, like to feel like they are a part of something, that they have a purpose and that they are loved,” Robinson said.
And that’s what the Dandelion Farm Hands have learned this summer.
“I tell each of them this,” she said. “When they are having a hard moment, I remind them that they belong here, that they are loved and even on their hardest day or moment, we’re glad you’re here.”
“We definitely do have hard moments, but knowing that, we’ve made a little family and they take care of each other.”