Fourteen years ago, when we first started homeschooling, I never would have imagined that there would come a time where so many kids would be schooling at home due to a pandemic. But, as we close in on the start of a new school year, students across the nation are facing a new way of schooling - from home. Whether a family is choosing to use the virtual schooling through the public school system, or choosing a more traditional homeschool method, or a combination of both - due to COVID, families are having to adjust to having the children in the home instead of away at school all day. If you have a homestead or backyard farm, this is an excellent opportunity to include the many life skills and lessons from the farm alongside their more formal education.
First and foremost, get the kids involved as much as possible in the homestead. This will look different depending on the age of the child and the type of homestead you have. Younger children will enjoy working alongside you as you teach them about the things you are doing together. Whereas older children will enjoy the freedom to take charge of a certain aspect of the farm, research and learn about it, and make it their own. If you have a garden and some chickens in the suburbs, that will offer different opportunities than a several-acre backyard farm in a rural area. Either way, giving the kids a break from the screen and the school books and getting them outside or in the kitchen to help with homesteading activities will be good for their bodies and their minds.
Kindergarten to Middle School Grades
The homestead is full of awesome, real-life, hands-on learning experiences that include a lot of math and science. In the garden, kids can learn about seeds, germination, pollination and pollinators, the life cycle of plants, soil composition, worms and insects, weather and water. Add in some art or composition by letting them sketch plants and bugs from the garden, or write a nature journal or poem. Take your harvest into the kitchen and learn about measuring, cooking, canning, freezing, dehydrating, root cellaring, and nutrition. Throw some history and geography in there by learning about preserving and using food throughout history and across the world, and cook something from a different culture for fun. In the barn, students can learn about animal classification, animal life cycles, basic biology and anatomy, treating illness or injury in animals, animal reproduction, and basic animal nutrition.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time putting together lessons about these things, the learning will just come naturally as you work together around the homestead and will supplement the formal education they are getting. Children are so curious and eager to learn new things. As you are working together, they will ask questions. If you don’t know the answer, go look it up together online and see what you can learn about it and then expand on the idea and learn even more. Kids learn best when they are being taught about a topic they are interested in. One question leads to another and then another and all of a sudden you will realize that together you have learned more than you thought you would ever know about something that started as one simple question from your child.
Photo Credit: Kade Ludlam
Middle and High School Grades
Similar things can be taught to older kids, just in a more detailed and expanded way. For example, they can learn about genetics, Punnett squares, and heritability with your livestock breeding program. They can go into more detail learning about animal nutrition and feeds and feeding, analyzing the foods you are using and how they can be improved. They can learn about soil analysis and take some of your garden soil to be analyzed. Then they can figure out how best to amend it and fix any issues they found with it. They could also study cross-pollination, plant genetics (Punnett squares again), and seed saving.
Keeping good records about what you produce on the farm and what you spend is a great way for teens to get started learning accounting. And don’t forget that it is not all dollars and cents spent and earned, you need to take into account the value of the products produced by the animals for your family use. Each egg you eat from your chickens is one less egg you buy at the store and thus has a dollar value you can place on it. You also need to put a value on your time spent working on the farm. If your homestead is also a business, there are many opportunities for older kids to learn business management skills and customer service.
The thing our family finds most enjoyable for older kids on the homestead is to let them take charge of something around the farm, or plan and start something new on their own. Let them have a section of the garden, or a particular animal or group of animals. They can choose what to plant, when, how, and then harvest it and preserve it. Challenge them to make it as profitable and productive as possible - not necessarily by selling (though that is a good option too), but by providing food for the family. Have them keep track of how they do and whether or not they have improved production. Have they always wanted to add dairy goats or meat rabbits to the farm (or any other animal for that matter)? Let them do the research into the different breeds, costs, housing, feeding, etc. Then have them come up with a plan on how to add the animals to the farm, including cost and income estimates. Help them gather the supplies and build what is needed, working together to find the least expensive ways to do it, potentially re-purposing or buying used. Then let them get the animals and raise them, managing them on their own, with your accountability, and learning as they go. When we have done this with our older children, we have been surprised to see how much more productive they can make it than it was when we were doing it without them.
Life Skills and Character
The most important thing that your children will learn from the homestead are life skills, work ethic, and good character. As they work alongside you, they will learn to be compassionate to animals and the importance of taking good care of the animals we choose to bring into our care. They will learn that not everything is fun and games, and that the not-so-fun work is just as important as the fun work. But that when you are working together as a family team, even not-so-fun work can become fun and strengthen your family relationships. And they will improve their self-esteem as they see their value and worth as part of the family unit working together towards something bigger than themselves.
Having your kids unexpectedly at home all day this school year will present your family with both challenges and opportunities. Get them involved in your homestead and you will likely find that you all learn and grow more than you expect.
To read more about our experiences homesteading with children, and tips for success, check out my blog post series Homesteading With Kids.
Kat Ludlam is a high-altitude homesteader and owner of Willow Creek Farm in the Colorado Rockies, where she breeds landrace sheep, chickens, and crops accustomed to elevation. Check out Kat’s custom fiber-processing business, Willow Creek Fiber Mill, and read all of Kat’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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