It's morning here on the farm. The squash are on the vines in abundance and there is basil for all.
I'm itching to can. There is something so wonderful about canning. It takes a whole day to really do jams and the like if you are doing a dozen plus jars, but the ability to slow down and make it happen is magical. There is something so special about bringing in the harvest--either from the store or your garden--that leaves a mark on your soul. There you are in your kitchen with jars sterilizing on the stove surrounded by bunches of colorful fruit and veggies. In that moment you feel saturated in abundance and the notion of bottling that abundance for colder, grayer days days; and those days are coming is so gratifying.
I want to encourage those of you with young children that you CAN can. You can even include them. There is tons of stirring to be done. Pull a chair or stool up and let them ascend and descend to their hearts delight. Jams need cut up fruits. Who cares if they get them perfect! Its all turning to a big bowl of sweet goo, and what child doesn't like sweet goo? Did you know that you don't have to do 30 jars? How about 2? The joy of getting the fruits and jars, talking over the magic of it with your kids, prepping, and then putting your treasures up on the shelf for later is a wonderful seasonal memory to share for a lifetime.
In winter you can take the special magic jar of summer from the shelf and release it in darker days. What fun!
Tips for working with smaller children:
Cultivate knife skills. Go ahead and give them a butter knife to cut up raspberries. If you are at a tantrum stage and wish to avoid a tantrum when it ends, give them a bowl with their supply and explain this is their portion--when its gone they are done.
Keep it simple! To keep little kids engaged in a sometimes long process let them know in kid language the different stages and how they can choose to be involved. Children with shorter attention spans (some of you are thrilled to get a concerted minute) can come in and participate at the onset of each new stage, then run off and play till the next.
Decorate your jars. You can buy full sheets of sticker paper. Avery makes them. Use your rings to draw circles on the sticker page on the INSIDE of the empty rings. Leave markers or crayons on the table and let them create special jar top decorations while you stir and chop.
Decide to can for Christmas or your gift stash. OK. I know that thinking about that right now could be overwhelming, but engaging your kids in the idea of thinking ahead of ways to bless family and friends is, in my humble opinion, imperative to the survival of our nation. Raising children's awareness of others and how to serve and love on them from an early age is a character trait that is passed down from generation to generation.
Start small if they are small. Let's face it, if you have a nursing baby in a carrier and one under foot while you are stirring and cutting, your time and attention is pretty used up. Don't get overly ambitious and set yourself up for failure! Your canning experience can grow as your kids do. Maybe this year you make 2 jars of jam and next year you make 4. If you over-extend yourself you won't enjoy it and neither will they.
Educate. As a teacher, homeschooler, and mom I would encourage you to be verbal, but not overly so. Make sure to use first, second, and next in your language. Life is about processes. Briefly explain the steps before and then proceed through them together. If you can actually go to the store together (and it's enjoyable) take them with you to "oooo" and "awe" over your veggies or fruit. Let them help you "pick the best ones" and praise them for their wonderful help. Educate them as to how to pick the fruits/veggies and why. If you are doing this every year, you will be amazed at how their knowledge can grow and stay with them for a lifetime. Too many parents never tell their children how to pick produce and as adults it is a mystery to overcome.
Take pictures. You can even affix a picture of your kids stirring to the top of your jar or in a Christmas card and give them as gifts. Grandma will love it. You can do a round shape or get creative. If you have a local craft store, some offer free punches for use.
Let your kids test for that pop in the lid. After your jars have sat their 12 hours your kids will love to press down on the tops to see if they pop back up. For most kids you will need to show them a jar closed and not sealed so they can see the difference. It's a joy worth waiting for. Don't be surprised if they want to double check. Some kids will simply wish to push the unsealed jar again and again. If only I were so easily amused!
Laugh a lot. Remember that you are having a good time. If you start to get stressed, stop, regroup, and remind yourself, "this is fun."
Buy extra if you can to munch as you work. Let your kids eat as they work. It's only a day or two of the year. Who doesn't deserve 1 day or berry gorging?
OK, so now it's your turn to share some of your ideas for canning with kids!