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.
In part 2 we will be discussing the age range from 7 years old to 11 years old. These age ranges, of course, are variable depending on the child.
As I said in the previous post, the main focus is building a strong relationship with my children by keeping them with me as I work on the homestead. I am not leaving them in front of a screen while I work. I am not sending them to do the work for me. We are working together, side-by-side – building a relationship, making memories, learning, and having fun while we do.
This age range lends itself to some more independence and responsibility. Since my kids have been with me working around the home and farm since they were born, by the time they are 7 and older they are very capable of doing most anything around the place that is safe for their size. But we still work together as a team, just with less instruction from me. Constantly micro-managing and nagging a kid who already knows how to do something will just lead them to dislike helping and working around the homestead. Also, expecting too much and being too critical will squash them as well. We all make mistakes, there is no need to get all worked up about an honest mistake.
So what does this age range look like on a day-to-day basis? We are working as a team, but they have more independence and responsibility and less instruction. An example would be, “We need to weed the garden, which section do you want?” They already know how to weed, and don’t need me teaching them, so I give them their choice of area and then we go to work. Me in my area, they in theirs, and we are chatting and singing and having fun as we go about our work. If they have a question I am right there and ready to answer. When we are doing something new I include them in the learning process with me. I share with them the article or book I am learning from and then we go and learn through experience together.
Little Miss, who is 11 years old, is my main helper with this incubation we are doing right now. She was much smaller the last time we did an incubation, so this is really her first time learning how to do it and handle it on her own. We knew I would be gone for a few days during the incubation and she would be responsible for the incubators while I was gone since grandma doesn’t know how to do it. So to prepare for this, we started by checking the incubators together each day and then I would tell her what we need to do and why and show her how to do it. After the first week I started having her check them on her own once a day and report back to me what the status was and what she did with them. Then we check them together the other times that day. When we candled the eggs she was right next to me and helping me mark down how the eggs were doing. After the first few I stopped telling her which ones were fertile and infertile and instead asked her to tell me. When I was gone she did beautifully at keeping the humidity right throughout the day and checking on the incubators. And she felt proud of herself because I trusted her with an important job.
This age range is fun because you start to be able to let them do things on their own and see them feel good about a job well done.
Towards the end of this age range I also start letting them find their niche. At younger ages they participated in anything and everything I was doing – which was everything. But as they get older they start to see which parts of the home and farm are their favorites and I let them do more of those things and ask them to less of the things they don’t like as much. This does not mean getting to do the fun things and ignore the not so fun things (ie feed the livestock but not have to clean up their poop). It means getting to pick the types of livestock they like best or areas of the garden they like best. For example, Little Miss loves chickens and milk goats. So as she gets older she can take on more and more responsibilities in those areas, while not working as much with other things that she doesn’t have as much interest in. The great thing about a family as big as ours is that everyone seems to favor different things than everyone else. Sunshine would much rather spend her time working in the garden or with the sheep than with the chickens and goats, so the two girls like the opposite things. It is still important to me that each child learns how to do every different part of the farm, but as they get older they begin to be able to focus more on the things that interest them the most. And they are still working side by side with Mtn Man or I, for the most part, so we are continuing to build that relationship. They really like getting to be specific helpers for certain things. Like Little Miss being the milking helper and the incubator helper.
As they reach the end of this age range we also start including them in the decision making and research when we need to learn something new. For example, if Little Miss and I go to milk and notice something different with the goat’s udder I will discuss it with her and ask her what she thinks might be going on and what we should do. Then we will go to the goat book and look it up together and read about it and then do what is needed to treat it together. This builds knowledge and confidence in them that will serve them their whole lives. It also builds problem solving skills. Knowing how to find the information you need and then put it into practice is an excellent life skill. And it leads them to start recognizing what needs to be done and occasionally doing it on their own when needed. They are proud to come and tell me that they noticed that something was wrong with one of the chickens so they caught her, saw that she had some string around her foot, removed it, and then came to tell me about it. I can then praise them for seeing the problem and taking care of it without help and they feel a self-confidence that can only be created by actually doing something you know deserves praise.
And of course, it is important that they are not tackling just any task on their own. They know when they need to come get help and when they can handle it on their own. They know the ram is off limits, that they are not allowed to catch the rooster and can’t climb into the barn loft without an older sibling or parent, etc. They have a good respect for the dangers around the farm and the dangers of certain animals and are careful by this age to come get help when needed. They know these things because we have been working side by side with them for 11 years and they have seen the good and the bad – the safe and the dangerous. They have seen a rooster attack me and the bruise it left. They know they don’t want to get hurt like that. And we are still close by to be sure they are making good choices – they aren’t just given the run of the place constantly. They do get to go off and do a quick job on their own, but we are keeping tabs on them and making sure all is well.
Sometimes an emergency comes up and the confidence that has been built helps them to think fast and do their best to remedy the situation. The story that comes to mind is of the time that the goats got loose and were heading up into the forest. I heard the guard dog barking and sent Little Miss out to see what was up. Usually, when I send one of the kids to see what the dog is barking at they are out and back in within a minute or two to report what the issue is. But after about 2 minutes Little Miss had not reappeared and the dog was still going crazy. I was up to my elbows in meatloaf (isn’t that always when these types of things happen?) so I sent Young Man out to see what was up. He took two steps out the back door and immediately came back in and yelled for me that the goats were out. I ran outside right on the heels of Young Man, hands covered with raw meatloaf. You need to understand that Little Miss was about 9 at the time and is the skinniest little thing you have ever seen. A stiff breeze will blow her all the way to Kansas. As I came out the back door I saw her and our bully of a nanny goat, Gretchen, making their way up the mountain. Little Miss had both arms wrapped around Gretchen’s neck, holding on for dear life and digging her heels into the ground trying to stop the goat from moving forward. Gretchen, who outweighed her by an easy 100 lbs, was marching on up the mountainside to freedom and adventure. But Little Miss was not to be dissuaded, and she was slowing the goat down considerably. She pulled and wrestled that goat as Young Man and I ran towards them full speed, with me yelling “You are doing great! Don’t let go!!!” Our other goat, Heidi, was still standing just outside the gate watching the whole thing. As soon as she saw Young Man heading her way she went right back into the barnyard as if to say “I TOLD you we weren’t supposed to leave the yard, Gretchen!” I passed Young Man as he closed the gate behind Heidi and caught up with the still-wrestling Little Miss and Gretchen. I grabbed a hold of her and the two of us managed to get her turned around and back into the barnyard. We closed the gate and collapsed together in a heap outside the gate, completely out of breath. Then we started laughing hysterically together. If Little Miss hadn’t latched on to that goat she would have been long gone by the time we got out there because she was eager to run full blast into the forest. Little Miss slowed her enough that we weren’t out all day trying to get her back home. She wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that if she hadn’t been handling the goats with us all along with us teaching her and praising her for a job well done. And now she loves it when I tell that story to people because she knows she did something great and helpful.
Even if our kids never have their own homesteads or use these specific skills, they are building good character traits, a love of learning and the knowledge of how to be self-taught, and self-confidence that will spill over into whatever they do. And the relationships we all have from working together are strong and priceless.
I will finish up this series with Part 3 – 12 years old and up.