I have a rule about bringing house toys out to the barn – it’s forbidden. I learned early on that house toys brought outside are at high risk of being lost, driven over, irreparably soiled or eaten by Skippy. 

Then, when the half-eaten house toy is desired in the house, I have to explain that the toy cannot be allowed back in the house or, worse, that it is no longer with us. Hearing this inevitably results in tears and tantrums. Dan knows my answer so well he doesn’t even ask anymore.

So how does a 4-year-old entertain himself for hours in the barn while we do chores? He uses imagination and improvisation.

We got our first glimpse of Dan’s creativity when he started building “campfires” in the machine shed a year-and-a-half ago. Everything Dan’s little arms could carry was piled up on the floor in the middle of the machine shed. 

His campfires were made mostly of the ear corn that had been picked by the insurance adjuster and small pieces of wood from the wood pile. But it wasn’t unusual to find the cats’ food dishes, a couple scoops of calf feed, the scoops themselves, or fistfuls of dirt, grass and hay mixed in with the corn and wood. 

Each evening when the campfire was complete, Dan would insist that we not move it or drive over it. Well, there was no way to park the tractor and mixer without moving the pile – it was usually that big. So, Dan would rebuild his campfire again the next night.

Dan hasn’t built a campfire now for quite some time. I suspect it’s because running with Skippy now occupies most of his time. But his imagination still runs wild.

I have a picture from this summer of Dan in the sand pile driving eggs around like race cars. He had gone into the chicken coop and helped himself to as many eggs as he could carry. When one of the eggs broke, he ran back to the coop to get a “new car.”

The other night he asked me if I had seen his snake. I had to ask Glen about that one. Glen told me to check the milk house. Sure enough, there on the milk house floor was Dan’s “snake” – three pieces of green baler twine twisted together. The next time I saw the snake, Dan was dragging it behind him trying to entice Skippy to grab it.

We went from snakes one night to turtles the next. Dan had an empty cardboard box – one of the boxes our towels come in. He was running around with the box on his head. As soon as Skippy got close, he would drop down to the ground and hide underneath the box, giggling the entire time.

Not all of Dan’s toys are improvised. He does have a little plastic shovel and a wheelbarrow that he “works” with. It is immensely rewarding as a parent to see him take on real jobs, like scraping the walk or shoveling feed.

He also gets a kick out of playing with a syringe and a cup of water. I don’t particularly enjoy this activity, except for watching his delight when he finally draws up enough water to shoot it out. But I figure it’s a good way to develop his fine motor skills. And it’s a better option than letting him play with the milk house hose. If Monika could say so, she would agree, too (but that’s another story).

The latest addition to our collection of farmboy toys is a small fleet of paper airplanes. Another dairy couple was telling us about how much their children enjoyed flying paper airplanes in the barn, so we decided to give it a try. 

Glen folded up an old DHIA worksheet into an airplane and showed Dan how to fly it. Dan was enthralled. He played with that first paper airplane for over an hour until it took on water in the milk house and had to make an emergency landing.

I sure hope Dan’s pre-school teacher appreciates Dan’s imagination as much as we do.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children – Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she’s not parenting or farming, she’s writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.