Before I had children, I had endless amounts of time. I had no idea this was the case - but given how much I got accomplished then and how little I seem to get done now, this must be how it was. Now that I have little people to care for, it seems I have zero spare time. Homesteading with children can, I've learned, be utterly exhausting.
Yet my husband and I are working on the homesteading lifestyle especially because of our children. We want them to have the freshest, most nutritious food. We want them to have self sufficiency skills. We want our family to have an outdoor, down to earth lifestyle.
But again: How does one accomplish this with young children underfoot?
After our daughter was born, I planted a vegetable garden as usual, keeping our into-everything baby in her stroller. But by the following year, that wasn’t going to cut it. Our little go-getter wanted to help Mommy. With everything. Fine, I thought. All those old-timey advice books recommend getting children started with chores as soon as possible; I can start teaching her how to garden now! It'll be wonderful!
First, my daughter dumped all the carrot seeds into a single hole. Then she over-watered them, so they floated into the garden’s pathways through the swiftly moving streams she'd created. Later, when a few carrots still managed to come up, she trampled over their tender baby leaves with oblivious little feet.
Now our daughter is 8 – and her little brother, 5. And I’ve learned a bit more about homesteading with children. I still don’t make it look as easy as Ma Ingalls, but each year, we do seem to get more accomplished – and as a family, working together.
Ideas to Try:
* Give each child a small garden or his or her own. I found giving my daughter a large pot worked better for us than giving her a piece of land. While your child will be in charge of his garden, help him choose seeds wisely. Offer him a selection of easy to grow plants like peas, green beans, and sunflowers. Show your child how to plant, how to water, and how to weed. Then make sure you don’t tend to the garden - even if you fear the garden will fail through lack of attention. A dead garden is an equally good lesson as a thriving one!
* Work on the family garden in short sessions, giving very young children something else to do while you work. Babies and toddlers are fine in a playpen. Slightly older kids can spend a lot of time in a sandbox, with a mud puddle, or digging holes nearby.
* When children are older, teach them simple gardening chores according to their abilities and level of maturity. My children love pulling weeds and feeding them to the chickens. Other good chores include using a watering can and helping to harvest.
* Give children animal related chores. Yes, you will have to make sure they follow through, but kids love animals - and having another creature’s life in your child's hands is a great way to grow her level of maturity. Good jobs include collecting eggs, feeding and watering, and rounding up animals into their houses.
* Keep hand sanitizer near chicken coops, animal pens, and compost bins. Teach your children to use it after touching anything that might contain manure. While you’re at it, teach them to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth.
* Let your kids get dirty. Yes, they will track mud and dirt into the house no matter how many times you warn them not to. But getting dirty is a childhood joy and will help instill a love of homesteading in your children.
* Get children involved in the planning process. What vegetables would they like to eat next summer? What fruits? Do they want to raise rabbits? If so, what can they do to help care for them? And will they be willing to eat rabbit meat if you do raise rabbits? (Trust me; that’s an important discussion.)
* Do give children homesteading chores, or you’re likely to burn out. Besides, you want to instill these skills in your kids, anyway. Accept that they will probably not do the job as well as you. But every time they do the chore, they will get a little better at it.
* Allow your kids to eat food straight from the garden as long as they ask first. This is my children’s favorite way to eat their veggies.
* Make it easy for kids to clean up outside. An outdoor sink is a delight, but a hose with soap nearby and a place to put dirty boots is essential.
* Keep children away from potentially dangerous projects. Good examples include canning (although they can help with the prep work, like peeling fruits) or running tillers.
* Don’t neglect to keep part of the yard open as a place for kids to freely run and play. So many people today talk about how useless lawns are, and seem to want to pack their yards with gardens and adult eating areas. But lawns and open space are very useful - nay, necessary! - if you have children.
* It’s tempting to work during children’s naptimes - but don't! If you’re a super mom and really not sleep deprived (Really? How do you manage that??), go ahead. Otherwise, rest during their nap times. You’ll be a better parent – and homesteader – if you do.
* Allow time for your children (and you!) to pet the goats, blow dandelion seed heads, notice wild animals, and generally experience the homesteading life. Study how a cucumber miraculously turns into yummy food after starting out as an unassuming seed; that you must move slowly and calmly to catch a chicken; that dirt feels great between your toes…These are the things too few children get to experience these days. And that’s why you need to homestead with them.
Thanks, Ma Ingalls, for teaching me that.