70: Homesteading with kids can be tricky – do it anyway (with Teri Page)

70: Homesteading with kids can be tricky – do it anyway (with Teri Page)

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I am frequently asked questions about homesteading with kids, especially little ones. My family came to homesteading later in life—my sons were turning 8 and 9 when we moved to the farm. So while I can answer some questions of the the ins and outs of homesteading with kids, there are also some phases of life we didn’t experience on our farm, because we weren’t here yet.  Thankfully Teri Page from Homestead Honey (author of Family Homesteading: The Ultimate Guide to Self-Sufficiency for the Whole Family) does have experience with that and was willing to sit down and talk with me.

(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)

Teri and her husband started homesteading in 1999, pre-children. So from the very beginning, their kids were immersed in the lifestyle. For them, it wasn’t even a question of are we homesteading with kids? It was more this is our life and the kids were along for the ride because homesteading is what their parents did.

What are the pros of homesteading with kids?

We all know that when electing to live as homesteaders, there is so much stuff we have to learn. As a homesteading family, you get to learn that stuff together. Your kids will see you learn, fail, adjust, and make decisions. There are a ton of life lessons that happen on the homestead that are hard to get elsewhere.

I also think kids have a much deeper understanding of the circle of life and what it requires to get food—vegetables or meat—from the land to their plate. They have a much deeper comprehension of that process and how much works goes into it.

Teri agrees, and offers that homesteading with kids is really all about the values you want to share with your kids— you’re out in nature, connected with plants and animals and something bigger than yourself. You are teaching your kids how to be self sufficient, work hard, and respect other beings. As Teri sees it, the homesteading lifestyle is an outward expression of those values. 

Teri says, “the homesteading lifestyle is about creation—making and doing—and it’s the ultimate gift I can give to my kids.”

What are the cons of homesteading with kids?

There are things that can be tough about homesteading with kids. For instance, growing up on a homestead that raises animals for meat brings with it many challenges in dealing with the reality of life and death—both for the kids, and as the parent witnessing the emotions the kids may experience.

When involving kids, sometimes the reality of what is and isn’t possible on the homestead can also be a tough discussion. Sometimes money is tight, space is limited, or schedules are full.

“My kids’ wishes and their desires (of what they want on the farm) doesn’t always mesh with the adults’ desires,” says Teri. “If it were up to my kids, they’d have baby chicks every day of the year! I mean they are adorable, but sometimes reconciling the reality of this is what we can do and this is what we can’t do can be tough.” 

Having a life off the homestead can sometimes be tough as well.

“I love traveling and I love being able to take the kids out on adventures,” says Teri, “but it’s so hard to find house sitters and animals sitters and it can be hard to get away for periods of time to do some of those adventures. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. Especially now as the kids are getting older, I feel like the time we have with them to do those kinds of things off the homestead is really fleeting. When we talk about are we going to get cows again, are we going to get goats again, there is part of me that is really hesitant because I know that not only do I want to do those (traveling) adventures, but my kids are also getting into a phase of life where they may want to choose their own adventures.”

“How do you know what tasks are age-appropriate when homesteading with kids?”

I often receive questions from readers like, “I have an 8-year-old. Do you think it’s okay for them to (fill in the blank) on the homestead?”

And it’s undeniable—as a homestead blogger who shares my life here and on social media, I’m going to receive comments when someone doesn’t agree with what I’ve allowed my kids to be involved in.

So is there a set age for age-appropriate tasks as a homesteading family?

“It’s a hard question because I don’t know I’ve ever had a schedule in my mind for if my children were ready for such and such,” Teri explains. “I think the most important indicator of whether it’s ‘age-appropriate’ is are they interested and do they lean into what you’re doing…this is the homestead, this is what we do, and you’re part of the family. So, you’re going to be involved.”

Obviously there are places to exercise caution. You’re not going to hand your three year old a knife. And you should always use common sense, especially around large animals. 

“I think it’s pretty obvious what kids can do at certain stages,” Teri says, “and you just have to trust as a parent that you can see what they are capable of. Draw those connections from what they’re capable of in the ‘toy area’ to what they might be capable of doing on the homestead…trust your intuition as a parent and let your kids explore.”

“I have an infant and a toddler. I don’t know how to get everything done on the homestead. Please help?”

“So, you have a little baby and you have a toddler. You’re not going to get everything done. Period,” says Teri. “Let go of that right now.”

Teri says as a parent of young kids, she had the most ideal situation possible: supportive partner, both parents working from home with a flexible schedule, both parents ‘present’, 10 years of previous experience as homesteaders—and she still couldn’t get everything done.

“Your number one priority as a parent of small children is to be the parent of small children,” says Teri. “It’s so precious. You never get that time back.”

You probably won’t be able to do all the homesteading things when you have itty-bitty kiddos. Teri said they usually raised their own pigs, but there were years her family bought a pig instead of raising a pig. Sometimes they cut back on the garden. Sometimes they sold their extra milk instead of making cheese because there just wasn’t time to make cheese.

After understanding the reality of the phase of life you’re in as a parent of small children, Teri does suggest a few ideas. For instance:

Use nap time to do as much as you can.

Her son loved to sleep in a stroller, so she’d push the stroller around the farm until he fell asleep and then park the stroller and quickly get some work done nearby.

Teri remembers putting a shade umbrella over a blanket in the garden.

As their kids got a bit older, they turned one of the raised garden beds in their greenhouse into sandbox for kids.

Get creative with projects to keep them busy. For instance, “fill up this basket with grass for the goat”.

Involve them with harvest when they know “what to pick”.

Give them projects that make them feel involved, but out of your hair. If you’re building, your kids can do something with the scraps of wood you’re not using.

Give them their own row/section/bed in the garden.

“But…how do you let your younger kids help when they’re not actually being helpful?”

Yeah. That.

“(Having kids help) takes twice as long and it’s not really helpful…and do it anyways,” says Teri. “Because they are learning such great skills. They are learning what it is to be a contributing member of your family. You are setting up an expectation that as a member of the family, we help and we contribute. And it is really hard to go from no, we don’t want you to help to later on asking them to help in any capacity, even if that’s just cleaning their room.”

Understand this: your kids will reach a point they don’t want to help, or they have so much of their own stuff going on that they’re not around to help. It’s important to let them help when they show interest. Let your kids be involved. It may be messy. It may take longer. You may have to explain things many times.  But that’s how the kids go from not understanding something to eventually being able to do something on their own.

If it’s a task you really need to get done quickly without interruption or chaos or drama, then don’t involve kids. But understand the way they learn is by being involved—and learning takes time and a patient teacher.

What if my kids don’t like homesteading?

Yeah. That could actually happen.

Teri explains that as a homesteading family, it’s important to have clarity on what things are mandatory. What’s expected of you as a contributing member of the family, what things are optional, and what ways can you help the family differently if there are parts of homesteading you absolutely detest.

In all honestly, your kids might not grow up to be gold star homesteaders. That’s okay. In my opinion, I think some parents freak out about their goal to raise chickens, have a huge garden and live a simple, wonderful life…and then take it personally or feel like a failure if their kids aren’t as interested in it as they are.

But think back to your own childhood. Did you latch onto everything your parents did? Everything they were into? Are you living a similar lifestyle as how you were raised?

“If my kids grow up to be hardworking individuals who know how to take care of themselves and respect the earth and respect other creatures and maybe make some basic repairs or build some basic things, then that would be amazing,” says Teri. “I feel like that is the gift we are giving them here (as a homesteading family).”

“How can I live the homesteading life with my kids if I’m in the city or in an apartment?”

Great question, because in all reality, most folks aren’t living on 120 acre farms. 

Teri always suggests that you start with food. Teach your kids the basic skills of how to cook from scratch—learn along with them if you need to! Tackle how to preserve food: canning, dehydrating, freezing, fermenting. It doesn’t take a lot of equipment and you can get produce from elsewhere (farmers’ markets, local farmers) if you can’t grow it yourself.

Teri also suggests foraging—if you have access to wild spaces where it’s permissible. It takes a bit more know-how, because you really have to be 100% sure that what you’re foraging is not going to kill you. But foraging can also feel like a treasure hunt, so it’s great for kids!

More about homesteading with kids…

It was so great to talk with Teri about homesteading with kids. There is SO much more information in the podcast episode, so if you want to hear our actual conversation, click the play button at the top of this blog post—or find episode 70 of the Farmish Kind of Life podcast at your favorite podcast player. Check out Teri’s Family Homesteading book, or connect with her at her website, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or at her Etsy shop!

Homesteading with kids can be awesome. It can also be really tricky. Here's why you should do it anyway -- with some tips on how to get stuff done.

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