I often get asked how we do all the homesteading we do, while raising and homeschooling 5 kids. Families with kids go perfectly together with homesteading! I thought I would share some of the tips and tricks for how we accomplish it all and get the kids involved.
First, we will focus on the youngest ages, birth to about 6 years old. This can be the most challenging and time-consuming age range. But I look at it as an opportunity to teach them and build a relationship foundation in them that will lead to them being capable helpers and enjoy involvement when they get older.
Many people feel like they can only work in the house, garden, and barn when their toddler/young child is sitting in front of a TV or other screen, or otherwise distracted or sleeping. There are some things that are just too hard for me to accomplish with a toddler in tow and those things I wait until nap time to do. But for the most part, baby/toddler/young child is always by my side as I go about my day. We do not have TV and we do not expose our younger children to screens in any form.
So how do I go about all the tasks with the little ones with me?
I plan carefully before a baby is due to arrive. I make sure to make everything about life as easy as possible because I think it is important that I am resting and soaking in all the time I can with the newest member of the family. I make plenty of freezer meals and make sure that we don’t plan butchering or other big projects during that time. If things come up that absolutely HAVE to be dealt with I do them when the infant is sleeping (which happens a lot throughout a day) or I wear them in a front sling-type carrier (my absolute favorite is the Mobi Wrap). But for the most part I lay low during the first 6 weeks and by planning ahead I am able to take a lot of time to just cuddle my newborn and rest.
6 weeks – able to walk (about 1 year)
At this age I use a wrap/sling carrier and have them strapped to me. When they are smaller they are strapped in front, and as they get bigger they move to the back. I can often be found in the garden or barn with a baby strapped on my back as I work. I have had some back problems in the last few years because of an injury so I can’t do it for as long at a time as previously, but I have found that if I use a back support/brace that is elastic and velcros around my my back from very low to about mid back it really helps me to wear the baby longer.
Once the baby can sit, another option when I can’t wear them is Blanket Time.
I have a specific floor blanket that is about 4 ft by 4 ft, and I set aside some specific “blanket time” toys that the baby can only play with while on the blanket. Then I teach them to stay on the blanket and not get off during blanket time. To do this I set them in the center, say in a happy voice “it’s blanket time!” and give them the special toy. Then I pretend to ignore them and be working on something a couple feet away. If they try to get off I quickly put them back on the blanket and say firmly “no, stay on the blanket.” They usually try to get off many times in the beginning, and I expect that so I don’t get myself exasperated constantly putting them back. I don’t end a session unless the child is staying on it, even if they are only staying for a few seconds. The first session lasts only about 5 minutes, and I slowly increase the time over a week or two until they can happily play on the blanket for thirty minutes. All my children will try to get off occasionally, even after they are really good at staying on, but I just be careful to be 100% consistent with putting them back and never ending without them staying on of their own accord.
Once they have learned to stay on the blanket it is a very convenient skill to use when I can’t be wearing them. I never leave them alone on the blanket, I am always working a few feet away. So we still have that side-by-side interaction of keeping the baby with me, but I have freedom to not be wearing them and not have them right in the middle of what I am doing. For example, if I am working in the kitchen, I set out the blanket and work while the baby plays. Or even working somewhere outside, I can set the blanket on a flat spot and work within a few feet of the baby while they play (outside takes some extra practice since it is a new environment and they want to get off and explore). I have also used blanket time at church and Bible study.
A similar option would be to use a pack-n-play if I really need them to be confined. And I do use that is special situations, but usually I like to use the blanket because I think that learning to control themselves and stay in one area is a good skill for a child to have.
I also use a stroller sometimes when I am out and about around the homestead working and can’t be wearing the baby. They are strapped in the stroller right next to me while I work. I am talking to them constantly and teaching them as we go. It is amazing how much little ones can understand when you just talk to them as if they do understand from a very young age. As we work in the garden I am showing baby the carrots and saying “this is a carrot, it is orange,” and other such things. Learning colors, identifying objects, identifying animals and their sounds, and counting can all start right around the home and farm just by keeping a conversation going with your little one while you work with them with you.
Able to walk – 4 years
I will warn you, these can be the very challenging years. This is when a little “helper” is not very helpful at all. But it is important to keep them involved and give them opportunities to help so that they will see that they are an important part of the family and farm and will want to continue helping as they grow. This stage involves a lot of messes and mistakes.
I keep my little one that can walk next to me and let them “help” with whatever I am doing. They can reach up and open a smaller gate or door, hand me things, pour the feed into dishes and feeders, use the hose to fill waters, water plants with a little child-size watering can, pick weeds with guidance (some non-weeds will be picked as well), harvest veggies from the garden (some stuff I don’t want harvested gets harvested sometimes too), sit on a kitchen counter and stir things in a bowl, add ingredients, wipe a table, help mop a floor, help fold laundry and deliver it to drawers and closets….the list is endless. This is all done right next to me – not on their own. They just do my day with me. And yes, it makes the jobs harder and take longer, but it is putting in time building a relationship that will matter long-term. I know this from experience because my first couple of little ones that were constantly with me are now teenagers who I have great relationships with, and can help around the homestead all one their own and really enjoy it too. Of course not every kid will grow into a teenager or adult that loves homesteading just because they were raised this way, but even if they don’t love homesteading nor plan to have a homestead when they grow up, they still love the family unity and the time spent helping with something for the whole family.
4 – 6 years
This is where some independence comes into the picture. They are still going through my day with me, but they can be sent to do things as well. Like we fold the laundry together and then they can take the piles to the different drawers and closets on their own and then come back to me. Depending on the child they can also be trusted to water the garden without me right there, or harvest a certain area. For example I show them the carrots and tell them to pull up all the ones that they can see the top of the orange part of the carrot and then I go to a different part of the garden and harvest something else. I am still close by, but not right next to them overseeing everything. Sure they might pick some that aren’t supposed to be picked, but the sense of accomplishment they get as they are left to do it “on their own” is very important to their development and character. When I come back and see what they did I don’t point out the ones that were too small to harvest, I just praise them for their good work and talk about how wonderful it will be to eat what they have picked.
These are the ways I am able to homestead and keep my baby-6 year old right by my side, learning, helping, and having fun. Next time we will discuss ages 7-11.