If you live in a homestead and try to homeschool your kids, then doing so may be one of the most challenging tasks you have to face every day.
On top of gardening, food preservation, animal care, mucking, cooking meals, child care AND a dozen more chores in the home and farm, homeschooling is an added responsibility that doesn’t always fit neatly in your day-to-day schedule.
Depending on the number and ages of your children, homeschooling can be either a complex or tedious job that places constant demands on you – mentally, emotionally and time-wise. Whether you use structured curricula or opt for more flexible, non-traditional teaching methods, and whether you do it alone or with others’ help, it’s still a ball to include in the juggling act you already do every day, keeping a family and a homestead together.
And, whether you’ve just begun with a single preschool child, or you are a seasoned veteran who’s homeschooled three or four middle and high schoolers, you know how things can go crazy both in the home and in the farm without warning. A nanny goat gives birth to a kid who gets goat chill, needing emergency care; a fence gets broken and needs repair before nightfall; baskets of fresh produce sit in your kitchen, awaiting canning; one of the children gets a fever.
Life on the farm is a far cry from the routine of an office job. At times, in fact, it can be downright dirty and unpredictable. How on earth can you provide a semblance of order, regularity and sanity in the midst of chaos and complexity?
Here are a few tips that can help you manage the homesteading-homeschooling lifestyle without practically losing your mind.
1. Follow your own time. Choose a time of day that works for you and your household. If you prefer finishing the morning chores first – watering the garden, taking animals out to pasture, baling hay — do so, while the weather is mild. Then get indoors when the sun is too hot so you can settle down and shift to your role as teacher. That goes for months and seasons as well. There are those who choose to follow an agrarian calendar, since the autumn months are spent harvesting and canning. Others spread the school load throughout the year, stopping to enjoy one- to two-week breaks on different months only as needed.
2. Integrate homesteading into homeschooling. If you desire and foresee your children pursuing the same lifestyle as you and your spouse’s, begin training them in the farming way of life as soon as they’re ready. Children as young as five or six can already be taught simple skills like watering plants, weeding, feeding chickens, harvesting eggs.
Whenever any of our goat dams give birth, I immediately stop class; rather, I transfer the class into the barn for an on-the-spot training in animal husbandry. My 11-year-old daughter started serving as “birthing assistant” when she was eight. Holding a tray in her hands containing gloves, scissors, iodine, cotton balls and towels, she’s assisted my husband many times in the birthing process and already knows what to do. In a few years she can probably birth a kid on her own.
Remember that homesteading is a lot of science education in itself. Seed-starting is botany. Composting is soil science. Animal processing teaches anatomy. Fermenting kombucha is chemistry. Where else can you find a diversity of real-life, real-time lessons on the spot and on a continuing basis?
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3. Provide the basics, then take it from there. In terms of courses, provide the “3 Rs” — reading, `riting, `rithmetic — then see where your child’s skills and interests take him. After setting a rudimentary course, add and tweak as you go. As years progress and he matures, decide which path he (and the Lord) wants for him and choose which subjects to give priority to. Will it be the sciences? Math? Language? The arts? How about non-traditional lessons that complement an off-grid lifestyle: Beekeeping? Carpentry? Aquaponics? How to harness renewable energy?
4. Include lots of fun stuff. Take the class outdoors. Camping, hunting, bouldering, building a fort, making a small waterwheel, designing a hover craft, the list goes on. For every age and stage in a child’s life there’s a hundred things to learn and discover that can’t be taught in the classroom, and aren’t dependent on the grid. On days that are way too busy or when emergencies arise and you can’t follow the day’s assignments, keep books, analytical board games, puzzles and Sudoku on hand to keep a child mentally busy for several hours. Meanwhile…
5. Don’t forget the “university” of the Internet. There are countless sites online that teach lessons, academic or not, for free. Our children have acquired dozens of skills from YouTube — from piano to sewing to bushcraft to baking.
6. Take periodic breaks. A weary, burned-out, unhappy parent-teacher makes for an unhappy home, homestead and schoolroom. Try to enlist the help of a husband, grandparent, friend or sitter (if your children are young) so you can go to town and take a breather. If you can’t leave your kids, bring them with you and go on a bi-monthly or quarterly field trip where they can learn without your direct supervision. A trip to the museum, zoo, the ballet, a permaculture farm. Even just a half-day visit to the library every couple of weeks can take some load off your back.
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7. Realize you can’t do everything. Homeschooling takes a whole lot of patience, commitment, sacrifice AND the humble admission that you won’t be able to do it all, all of the time. Find a homeschool co-op. Start one if you can’t find any. Look for other homeschooling families in your neighborhood, church or county. Even just joining an online forum can provide the encouragement you need when you’re in distress, overwhelmed and ready to give up.
8. Ultimately, major on the majors. What skills, habits and values do you really want to develop in your children? For my husband and me, it’s their love for reading. Writing. Research. Critical thinking. Finding alternatives. Innovation.
What work ethic would you want them to have? Are diligence, self-motivation and perseverance encouraged? Over the months and years, as you see your student improve in these traits, give him – and yourself — a pat on the back. You’ve both done a great job! These are attributes not usually applauded or emphasized in traditional schools, where rote learning is the norm and the highest praises are reserved primarily for getting good grades.
What advice would you add on homeschooling while homesteading? Share your tips in the section below: