To kick off the “official” start of summer, Kristen Boye takes you back to her 1980s childhood summers spent on their organic farm. If you’re a parent raising kids in the country, this will provide some summertime inspiration. And if you grew up on a farm, it should give you a humorous dose of nostalgia!
If you grew up on a farm or had access to one as a child, then you know the tangible feeling of freedom, creativity and joy that comes from a country summer.
I was one of those lucky kids.
I grew up on a 40+ acre organic farm in rural British Columbia during the 1980s and 90s and had lots of neighborhood kids to play with.
Our summers weren’t spent at day camps or in front of the television or computer (though we were always begging to watch TV!). Our activities were rarely structured and free-ranging was a way of life. I have no idea what time we went to bed, but it was long after the moon and stars came out...and we were always dead tired, happy and at peace with our little worlds.
If you’ve recently moved from the city to the country to raise your family and aren’t quite sure how to entertain your kiddos with school out of session, then I hope this piece will inspire you. And, if you were one of the lucky offline 1980s farm-brats like me, I hope it will make you smile, reminisce and count your country blessings.
Here’s how we kept ourselves busy and mostly out of mischief all summer long, with a few authentic photos taken with an old disposable camera.
We swung on the rope swing
This simple rope swing was nothing but a thick sturdy piece of rope tied in a huge loop in which we could place one foot, hang onto the knot for dear life and swing from a huge hill (created from a big pile of mounded fill dirt) across our creek to the other side.
Sometimes we landed in the creek. Sometimes we lost our footing and got dragged down the hill into the creek laughing all the way. On rainy days, we slid down the dirt hill and ruined our clothes. There were minor injuries but nothing bad enough to stop us. Our fun on that rope swing lasted for hours. It never got old.
We helped in the gardens
Me around age 7, washing fresh carrots from the garden.
We had extensive gardens that needed tending, and no child was off the hook when school was out of session.
Our farm chores were kept very reasonable, brief and fun. I remember pulling huge, double-legged carrots out of the ground, tending an unfortunate (and very gross) crop of blighted tomatoes in the greenhouse, planting pumpkins (and giving them beer to enhance their growth...Molson Canadian I believe), harvesting rhubarb, hauling compost out to the pile and cutting comfrey, mint and other herbs for tea. When we were teenagers we even got paid to help out, so it was a fair trade.
We picked loads of berries
Pacific Northwest salmon berries, which can be yellow, red or orange and grow wild all over the place.
I still remember the order in which they’d come: salmon berries (similar to wine berries but larger, pictured above), thimble berries (like a small delicate raspberry), huckleberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries (my Dad and I stumbled upon a “hidden” blueberry bush one summer and thought we’d died and gone to heaven), saskatoons (the most delicious Northern blueberry-like thing you’ll ever taste) then blackberries.
I’m sure we managed to bring some home for jams and pies, but I mostly remember stuffing my face until my stomach would hold no more.
We had epic water fights
The luxury of safe acreage combined with the timely release of Super Soakers and Slip and Slides created some pretty memorable water fights and play.
We bounced on the trampoline for HOURS
We also used it for stargazing, sprinkler bouncing and camping out in our sleeping bags on warm summer nights. Our trampoline had no safety net and somehow no one ever broke a bone.
We played in the hayloft
Nothing says fun like a big hayloft stacked nearly to the rafters with square hay bales and a group of rowdy kids. We’d jump, roll, play hide and seek, fall, laugh, throw loose hay down the shoot to the cows, build forts, rest and do it again the next day.
I’d venture to say, nothing was more fun than that hayloft in the spring and summer.
We milked the goats
I still remember the warm feel of their flank on my cheek, the swishing sound of the milk streaking into the pail and how the barn cats would hang around hoping for a squirt...which I was all too happy to provide.
We swam...and swam...and swam
We did have a pond but we also had a pool, and we used it every afternoon. This was a big incentive for friends to come over, help with chores, then swim.
We built forts
Out of scrap lumber, hay, logs, twigs, old sheets, tarps, whatever we could find.
We traveled the creek
Our creek ran throughout the entire property. Ranging from narrow and shallow to wide and deep enough to swim. And we always came back with what we Canadians call “soakers”...which means a boot or two full of water.
I remember on one creek excursion convincing a young neighbor that it was okay to drink the water and getting into deep trouble for that! Fortunately, no one got sick and we resumed creek play the next day.
We camped in our campsite
The campsite was very simple. Just a flat piece of land situated next to our creek with a fire pit, zipline and room for several tents. I have fond memories of roasting marshmallows with my Dad and singing campfire songs with our Scout-leader friends.
We played with fire (!)
I’m not recommending you let your children play with fire. But, my mother had the foresight to have an outdoor educator friend teach us the basics of fire safety including how to light a campfire, put out a fire, take care of a lighter, what to do if a fire got out of control and what NOT to light on fire.
I’ll admit, we did enjoy lighting small fires in our firepits after that, but we did it within safety guidelines and never had a bad incident. I guess mom was pretty smart.
We practiced our outdoor knife skills
Same disclosure as above, knives are not for small children!! But, when we were teens we got our first Swiss Army knives (which I cut myself with almost immediately) and learned how to use them safely to whittle, cut branches, open cans while camping, the whole nine-yards. If we didn’t care for them properly or were reckless, we lost them for good.
We hung out at the Airstream
We kept an old Airstream camper in the back of our property for guests (of which we had many). But, when it was unoccupied we were allowed to use it to play house, etc. It made us feel very grown-up.
I transformed an old quail coop into a clubhouse
After our quail flock was sold, I snapped up their coop for a girls-only clubhouse (a la the Bernstein Bears) and spent hours scrubbing it from top to bottom repeatedly...likely whilst singing “Sing Sweet Nightingale” from Cinderella. But, alas I gave up after realizing you just can’t scrub the smell of chickens or game birds out of a well-used coop. Oh well, it kept me busy.
As tweens, we rode and took care of the horses
I’ll never forget the summer of 1991 I spent in the interior of British Columbia at a friend’s farm/ranch. The interior of B.C. is more arid and has wide open, gently sloping fields that go on for miles...and they had horses. Since we were tweens, her parents trusted us to take care of the horses without supervision. So, every afternoon me, my best friend Katie and a couple other friends would go down to the stables, saddle up and ride like the wind for miles.
Windston “Winnie” was my horse that summer. He had a bad leg and didn’t go as fast as the others, which worked just fine for me. I developed such a bond with that beautiful creature and will never forget how free I felt on those summertime rides.
We took nature walks
Our property had a nice half-mile trail called “the loop” which we frequented, searching for tree frogs, wild flowers, moss, impressive logs, rocks, ferns and elusive nature spirits.
Nighttime was for epic games of hide and seek
This is something you just can’t do safely in a city. But, with 40 acres to ourselves (and a low-threat of dangerous wildlife) you’d better believe we would play hide and seek in the dark until our parents called us in. Yes, we had boundaries which didn’t go much beyond a 5 minute walk to the house, but boy did we enjoy those nighttime games.
Our mothers made us learn to sew
This was my least favorite part of the summer. But, my bestie and I endured and one of us turned into a master sewer (hint: it wasn’t me). Regardless, I appreciate how our mothers took the time and patience to plan enrichment activities for us at home.
We hung out in the treehouse
Our treehouse was a simple platform situated in a beautiful birch tree near our campsite. I remember bringing books up there and reading, while being oh-so-tempted to peel off long strips of the beautiful bark. It was a sweet getaway.
We played by the pond
I wasn’t into fishing, but I loved hanging out on the dock, throwing rocks, collecting tadpoles, attempting to make a raft which never floated and picking loads of bull rushes/cat tail reeds.
We adopted barn kittens, calves and baby chicks
I remember a particularly beloved gray fluffy kitten named Sukey. Bottle feeding a ravenous calf named Oreo who knocked the wind out of me on several occasions. And trying to turn a gosling into a pet...which, let’s just say you should not attempt. Barn animals should remain in barns. That's me (to the right) with one of many barn cats.
We rode our bikes all over the farm
I remember tearing down gravel roads, racing through puddles and coming home with mud splattered all over the back of my shirts.
As a parent myself now, I can't believe how my children complain about the perils of riding on gravel, to us paved roads were a luxury.
We stargazed...and the stars were brilliant back then
I remember lying on the trampoline, in a lawn chair on our pool deck, from my hide-and-seek spot or out in a field for hours just wondering at the universe. There were no stargazing apps back then, so we had to use our imaginations and rely on our parents. I can still remember which star I deemed “my star”. It was the second one from the end on the handle of the big dipper and I liked it because it had a tiny “sister star” beside it. Sadly, from where I live now in North Carolina, I cannot see that sister star, but I still love to gaze up at it.
We even rescued a pig and got our pictures and story in the paper!
I wish I had this newspaper clipping, but the gist is whilst returning from an errand with a neighbor we found a stray pig running down our rural road (for real), enticed her onto our farm, named her “Willamina Piggy Sue” and kept her in an unused chicken coop. A friend of ours worked for the local paper and wrote a story about this most unusual event.
My friend got her picture in the paper with the pig, and thanks to the article her owners got in touch and Piggy Sue was returned to her rightful home. We cried over that pig for days.
The Point (besides a trip down memory lane)? Let your kids Go Out And find their own fun.
While writing this article, I seriously debated leaving the parts about fire, knives and all our unsupervised play outdoors. As a parent of young children myself now, I often wonder at how much freedom our parents afforded us.
But perhaps that’s the lesson within all of these sweet memories. Our kids need to be allowed to take risks, run wild and find their own fun (within reason).
City life makes this difficult for many reasons. And that’s a true gift of living in the country on private acreage: the freedom and safety to let your kids roam a bit, explore, be bored, take risks, fall down and pick themselves back up and enjoy being kids.
Yes, they need boundaries. And yes, they need rules and commonsense supervision based on their age, abilities, personalities, behavioral tendencies, your property’s unique attributes, etc. My parents told me years later that they actually checked on us more than we realized.
Whatever this may mean for your family, I wish you a wonderfully adventurous and fulfilling country summer!
For more inspiration, check out:
- 13 Unstructured Play Ideas to get the Kids Outside
- 15 Summer Fun Activities for Kids---Country Style!
- 5 Ways Rural Living Builds Healthier Kids
You can also download our free eGuide: How Country Living Makes Children Strong and Resilient, detailing the latest scientific research behind the health benefits of raising children in the country.