“How on earth do you homestead with small children?”
I get that question a LOT. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about how to answer it for a while now… I haven’t addressed it yet, because, well, I haven’t been exactly sure what to say.
You see, I don’t really have a formula or schedule or routine for homesteading with kids… We just do it. As messy and chaotic and imperfect as it is, we somehow manage to get (most of) our homesteading goals accomplished and keep two small children fed, clothed, and
clean happy at the same time.
I’ve never really known anything different. Being the rather impulsive, glutton-for-punishment that I am, we brought home our first dairy goats when I was 9 months pregnant. And they ended up kidding only six days after Prairie Girl was born. I guess you could say that I entered the worlds of motherhood and homesteading almost simultaneously.
As I write this post, Prairie Girl is almost four, and Prairie Boy is one and a half. They’ve been outside with us since Day One and have never known anything different. In fact, Prairie Girl is still shocked to find out that not everyone has a milk cow or chickens. Our lifestyle isn’t special to them, it’s just “life.”
So, even though I totally do NOT consider myself an expert with really anything related to child-rearing, today I’m sharing my top five tips for raising small kids alongside your vegetables, eggs, and beef.
How to Homestead with Small Children
1. Embrace the Chaos
You wake up early, grab a cup of coffee, and sit on your front porch soaking up the morning sun–watching your chickens pecking in the yard. After breakfast, you pull on your work boots, grab a pair of gloves and head out to the garden to devote the morning to weeding, pruning, grooming, and watering. After a leisurely lunch, you shift your focus to the barnyard and work on mucking out pens, turning the compost pile, and giving the goats a scratch on the head. You enjoy a from-scratch meal that you prepared and then fall into bed (early of course–you’re tired!) peaceful and content.
<—–The paragraph I just wrote? Yeah, that’s totally not how it works when you are trying to homestead with small children… It’s a nice thought, but reality? Not so much…
A typical day at my house looks more like:
- Wake up, quickly feed the kids breakfast, and maybe start the dishwasher (if I have time.)
- Get the kids dressed for going outside–this may or may not include combed hair, and most certainly does not include matching clothes.
- Put on boots (and coats and hats and mittens and snowpants, if needed) and head outside.
- Come back inside because someone needs their a) sippy cup, b) pacifer, c) toy, or d) blanket.
- Head back outside and get halfway to the barn.
- Head back to the house because someone suddenly has a poopy diaper.
- Attempt to make it back outside, but get snagged by the phone. Talk for 10 minutes while the kids take off their clothes.
- Redress everyone and finally make it to the barn.
- Repeat this theme several times throughout the day, all while mixing in meal prep, the occasional load of laundry, and blog work.
Is it the most time-efficient way to homestead? No.
Do I get as much accomplished as I could? No.
Am I still able to get the necessities completed? Yes. With a bit of flexibility and creativity, somehow, the animals still get fed and the water tanks still get filled. It may not be as streamlined as I would like it to be, but somehow, I still find a way to function in the midst of the chaos.
Some days are better than others. There are some days when I can get the whole barn mucked out while they play happily and they don’t want to even come inside for lunch. There are other days when I only fill half a wheelbarrow before there is a meltdown. And you know what? It’s OK to just throw in the towel on those days and do something less ambitious. 😉
2. Give Them a Job
Everybody likes to feel they have a purpose–kids included. Even though Prairie Girl is still a preschooler, she LOVES having “jobs” when we go outside. It might be sweeping the barn or gathering the eggs, or brushing her goat, but everybody has fewer meltdowns (and way more fun) when they have a task to keep them busy.
3. Be Creative with Your Schedule
Naptimes are sacred times for me… During the winter, I use that naptime period in the afternoon to work on blog stuff, but during the summer, I’ll often sneak outside to do some watering or weeding in solitude. It’s good for mama’s mental health, too. When I’m milking the cow, I usually try to do so before they wake up in the morning. However, there are plenty of times when they wake up early and I pack everyone outside with me for morning milking.
Sometimes hubby will keep an eye on the kids in the evening so I can go ride my horse, or do an outside project that’s a bit more intensive. But the name of the game is flexibility, and being willing to do various tasks at potentially odd times (weeding at 8 o’clock at night anyone?).
4. Get the Right Tools
I seriously could NOT live without my jogging stroller (it’s a stroller like this one with big, knobby tires). It was a garage sale find and has logged many miles as I’ve pushed all over our homestead. Both of my kids loved to take naps there as well and I can easily stick a basket of eggs or veggies on top if I needed to take them up to the house.
I also used bug nets a lot when Prairie Girl was a baby. She was only a few months old during her first summer, and the bugs were awful. I would set up her playpen in the cool barn, stick a bug net over the top, and she would take long naps while I cleaned pens.
Many mamas find frontpacks or various baby carriers to be lifesavers as well. However, even though I’ve tried a bunch of different models, I’ve never really found one that I loved. I think I move around too much– I always found them uncomfortable when I was trying to fork manure, weed the garden, or coil up hoses. But, your preference might be different than mine, so they’d definitely be worth looking into.
Once Prairie Girl and Prairie Boy could sit up on their own, I would simply lay a blanket on the ground, toss a few toys on top, and allow them to play there while I worked. They especially loved it if they could grab a handful of dirt or grass to “inspect” or taste… *a-hem*
5. Let Them Mess Things Up
As a recovering perfectionist, I still sometimes cringe inside when Prairie Girl flings flour all over my kitchen, or plants my bean seeds a 1/16th of a centimeter apart. But if you don’t let them participate, they won’t learn. And if you are constantly pushing them away, but the time they are older, they’ll have completely lost interest. Foster their natural curiosity and encourage them to participate–even if they do sweep all the dirt that you just swept out of the barn right back in. 😉
To sum it all up? Homesteading with kids is one of the craziest, busiest, messiest, and most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
NOTHING makes me smile bigger than watching Prairie Boy squeal and smile as he hangs out with the chickens, or watching Prairie Girl as she learns to milk our cow and knows that food doesn’t come from the grocery store–it comes from our backyard.
So even though I’m not the perfect homesteading mama, and sometimes my kids wear their boots on the wrong feet, I simply cannot think of a better way to raise kids–chaos and all.
Kelly L. says
I absolutely LOVE this. Teaching children when we rise up, sit down, or ‘fling cow poo’ lol is definitely rewarding. I can’t think of a better way to raise children than to teach them about life, so that when they get older, they are equipped to handle life.
I definitely agree. I also think that it might be healthier. Me and my four brothers and two sisters grew up on a farm and played on the crap pile when we were young and we have no allergies or asthma. A lot of my friends have tons of health problems.
Sarah Auzina says
Your kiddos are precious! Your organized chaos sounds heavenly. 🙂
I agree completely!! My kids don’t know any different so my 6 year old is like ” what not every kid milks a goat before they go to school?” They understand the cycle of life, they know food doesn’t magically appear on styrofoam in the store … It’s a precious gift to give our kids for sure!! Mine help out but I never force them and that seems to work better! They wanna weed the garden, help milk, stack wood etc. not all the time and it’s not always for the whole duration but its a big help!! This year my son asked if he could have his own garden… He’s planning out what he wants to grow and what he’s gunna do with all those veggies!! I’m so proud of him … I wouldn’t wanna homestead without my kids!!
I can’t agree more. Our “baby” is now 4 and her job is to collect the eggs. We decided a long time ago that it was worth a few (dozen) broken eggs so that she could learn responsibility and feel a part of our homestead. Of course the rest of the kids have jobs too, and they don’t always get things right, but we want them to learn and grow the the homestead.
Just Trixie says
I absolutely love this article. It brought back so many memories for me of growing up on a farm with homesteading parents (wayyyy before it was cool). I miss those carefree (but busy) days in the sun taking care of the animals and the garden so much. You gave me a moment when the suburban view out my window faded away. Thank you. 🙂
Melissa @ Bless this Mess says
Yea!!! I comment on FB but I have to say it here too… we have 4 babes ages 6,4,2 and almost 4 months and we love our little hobby farm that we want to grow into more of a homestead. I loved this post, your babies are gorgeous, and we need to be BFF’s. Come to Southern Utah often?!
I miss my organized chaos. My kids are grown and if I could do it again I most certainly would. Enjoy every minute of it.
Oh, but you ARE accomplishing so much even when it seems to be so little! You’re teaching your kids about life, real food, the world God has given us, and SO much more!
Jill Winger says
Awwww, thank you Jacqueline. <3
April S. says
You are definitely doing great by letting your kids be a part of what you are doing and teaching them they can help (and should) too. I did well at that when my kids were little like yours but have realized with my daughter who is now 10 – that I really haven’t increased her responsibilities since she was 5 and now she is worse than my little guy who is 5 at helping and staying focused on a task. I kept those “more important” tasks for myself because I wanted them done a certain way or it was just easier to do it myself and I now have to be purposeful in making sure I am delegating so they learn to do it for themselves instead of swooping in and taking care of everything. Good job momma!
What an adorable post! I think I read on another post you plan to homeschool, when will you have time to do that too? I have four that I’m homeschooling with another on the way and we are saving to buy some land to homestead on, so I’m just wondering how I’ll do it all 🙂
VP of Farming says
Agree with every last one of these. We have 8 children, all of them under 14. Embrace the chaos indeed! We are city slickers, new to this lifestyle, with a steep learning curve still to climb, but we’ve never had so much fun.
This is so cute! I have three little ones and one on the way. I plan being outside in the barn/field/garden ALL the time with them. Busy…yes. Really hard…yes. But hey, the house stays clean! LOL!
My thought when I started to read was what a silly ?. people have done this sense time began. cute kids and good response for those who have in my opinion been spoiled….
Crystal @ Serving Joyfully says
Wow! I had no idea you had such a little one! You are doing amazing things, and they are so blessed to be able to grow up in the way that they are 🙂 We have done a lot of homesteading things, but we’re not completely where we want to be. We grow food and have just this year tapped maple trees, etc. No animals for us yet though…we’re hoping to get in the country ASAP!
Good for you !!! Kids need to learn like you are allowing to participate and feel the little successes of everyday chores. This life style creates responsible people, that inculdes you as well as the children. God Bless and Enjoy every day as it is a gift.
Jill, you are an amazing mom! Your kiddos are blessed to have the parents they do. Choas is great! Every day is different, and that makes it even more exciting to look forward to the next.
Jill Winger says
Awwwww, thanks Tiff! 😉
Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! Oh my gosh, number 5. I am just figuring that one out now, and I wish I had figured it out sooner. My 3 year old helped me plant garlic this fall, and I had to really remind myself to chillax when he’d plant stuff too deep or too shallow. He actually did a pretty good job, and if I lose 10% of my yield this year because of it, you know, in the long run do I want a little more garlic or a kid who feels capable, included and responsible?
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Right there with you Jill! (Homesteading with a 5 year old and 1 year old). One thing I’ve done is make a list for the day and then categorize what can be done when: (during nap only, with both kids, need husband helping, etc). This helps me maximize my time efficiency. And being willing to stop and start a task as needed, which works with just about everything except getting jam to set or making a roux, haha!
I am glad others are in the same boat. My boys are 2 and 6. My oldest just started kindergarten and when he started talking about how we butchered pigs his teacher told me how real he is and how obvious it is that he doesnt sit and play video games all day. I do have day about 99% of the time when I look out my window and see things that didnt get done but I do love my life
Answer the phone?! That is what answering machines and voice mail are for. If it is important they can leave a message. Otherwise, I agree.
Jill Winger says
If it’s my husband, or an important call I’ve been waiting for, I usually try to answer it.
Little Mountain Haven says
This is great! There are so many homesteading moms that need to talk more about this subject. I can’t believe you had goats and a baby at the same time! I I have an almost 4 year old and a 16 month old and I’m finding it tough and we don’t even have dairy animals! It’s amazing what you do 🙂
Samantha @ Runamuk Acres says
You did a great job showing the homesteading-with-children lifestyle in a realistic light, and I thank you for that! It’s not easy–and often it’s through our own sheer determination to lead this lifestyle, knowing in our hearts that this is the right thing for our families. It’s messy, and turbulent, and fraught with peril, and not for every Momma–but I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way–melt-downs and all. Thanks so much for sharing!
kirsten mia says
Thank you for this! When my husband and I got married I had 2 “grown” children and a teenager, our baby. We were used to a house that needed dusting and sweeping occasionally and the daily stuff to do but the childhood clutter was behind us. Then our baby had a baby… we became “parents” again to Little Gupper and we were doing it so well that, I believe, we got cocky.
We adopted an little autistic guy… to make a long story short…. we live, we love and we play. The house is the place where we live… the clutter is here as long as the children are small, eventually they will grow up and things will stay in their places… and as you said… we just do.
But to add to the fun we have decided this is the year we get “our” homestead! Hubby has a new job in the place we want to move to. The kids and I will will go and look for property when school gets out and hopefully we will get a little bit of a garden in this season but we are doing this, stepping out in faith, getting the kids out into the country so they can have trees and dirt and chase frogs. Things do not have to be perfect and now that Little Gupper is 8 years old and Beautiful is 4 years old and out our Rocket boy is 7 years old we need to do this and not wait any longer!
Your story has reinforced our plan, in my mind! Bless you and yours!
So timely!!! I
Have four kids, from 19 down to 2, and it’s really tough to get certain things done with the two year old around! We just moved out to our farm several months ago, and only have chickens so far, but it has been awesome and I have learned so much from you. I, too, have to wait to get some things done until I have a sibling babysitter, or an older kid worker! Hard to focus on cutting the right stuff with power tools and worry about the safety of a toddler at the same time! But, yes! We gather eggs, started seedlings, and painted the chicken coop all together! Sometimes we change clothes three times a day if it’s rainy here in Louisiana! It is a great lifestyle and we are blessed.
Exactly ! fun post 🙂
OMG I freaking love this. This is JUST how it is at my house. I was reading your first paragraph about how dreamy it is to homestead and thought you were serious! I was like, ok, are my kids the only ones that poop themselves as soon as I bundle them up to go outside to milk?! Thank God you were joking!!!
Jill Winger says
Oh honey… yes, very much joking! haha 🙂
The other day I realized that my three year old is going to know how to grow her own food probably before she can write! I’m happy with that. My boys do farm chores every morning and I don’t think they would trade it for anything. Butchering a chicken, watching newborn goats, gathering eggs, it’s all they have known. Great stuff!
Guess I never really thought about it being difficult to homestead with small children as I was raised on a farm in the 50’s when things were actually a bit rougher and it really didn’t seem to be a problem for my parents, although I’m sure it was. Now I’m not saying things are easier now, just different. But that is all anyone in our rural community knew, so you all pitched in and did it. There were 3 kids with only 1 boy. That meant that Dad needed another son and I was chosen. So I might help Mother do the laundry with the wringer washer and get it all hung on the line, then go to the barn to help with whatever needed done. We had cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and horses that needed to be fed and taken care of, so we got up at either 4 or 5 according to the season, took care of chores, then went to the house to help with breakfast, eat, then get ready for school. I remember many nights when no one got much sleep because an animal was having problems giving birth, so we went out to do what we could. Often times, I had baby animals in the house in a box behind the stove to keep them from dying and you were up and down all night with them, but I lost very few. Spring I helped plant the extremely large garden, about 1/2 acre, plus another acre of sweet corn that Dad planted, then went to the field to help Dad get the planting done. Fall found us harvesting the garden and canning for days on end, then helping Dad with the field harvest. We did our own butchering and I helped with this also, then started hauling the meat to the house where my Mother, sister, and I cut and packaged meat. We didn’t have freezers back then, so we took all the meat to the locker where we kept a couple of lockers rented year round. Any time you ran out of meat at the house, you had to run to town, pick up about a bushel basket of meat, and take it home. (Freezers are really nice to have!) I could go on and on, but the bottom line is I loved this way of life, which is one of the reasons I so enjoy your posts! And I still miss living this style of life, but a farm was not where my hubby wanted to be. But I have continued to have a garden, canning and freezing the produce to be enjoyed year round. Have always made our bread and have never bought a bread machine. Still make most of the cleaners, detergents, etc that I grew up doing. So many of the things I learned at my Mother and Father’s knee, I still do today and I love it. Keep up the great work you are doing on your homestead and keep putting up your wonderful posts as time allows as I love reading them! I know it’s difficult, but you are raising your family the right way, in my opinion. Keep up all your great work!
I hear ya! 🙂 We have 5 under 6. We were expecting our twins when I picked up our first dozen chicks and it was all downhill from there! 🙂 Homeschooling, homesteading, family life, it all falls into place and works when it’s what you love! I’m ecstatic that our kids are growing up with goats and chickens and gardens and such! Love it!
Breanna D says
I am a little bit of a hobby farmer, we have chickens, 2 sheep soon to have lambs, two meat bunnies and lionhead bunny, have had pigs also. I have three children. I love to garden and have our own fresh food, but I have struggled with having my kids help in the garden my oldest is on the autism spectrum and tends to be rough with things. I want my kids to appreciate what they have and learn the value of hard work, but at times I don’t know how to incorporate it. I am a teacher and have the summer off which is the nicest thing, you have inspired me this summer to let my kids be kids and play and explore:)
I’m a new follower. I found you and facebook and wandered my way here. I love this post. We don’t have much of anything but dreams that resemble a homestead, but the kids love getting involved in the gardening and preparations every year. It gets difficult to get it all done at times, and your post reminded me that nothing has to be perfect all the time.
Wow, more power to you! I was just wondering how you got all those things done! Thanks for sharing.
Lee@ Lady Lee's Home says
Jill, you are so amazing! Not only you homestead with your kids but also has an online business which I know is a lot of work. I am in the same boat more or less…. 3 under 4, home with me, family business and a blog. Sometimes it gets overwhelming but you are right, you have to stay flexible (and take advantage of nap time ;-)). Do you plan to homeschool? Lots of homesteaders do, it seems to fit with the lifestyle.
Good post. I can remember working in the rabbit barn with my parents when I was a young girl and my brother was a toddler. My mom would put my little brother in a rabbit cage with a litter of bunnies to play with. We’d be cleaning and working with the rabbits while he played with those bunnies and stayed happy as he could be for what seemed like hours. We’d get our work done and he’d stay out from under the cages. You do what you have to do to get the work done! 😉 Now I’m a mom of 3 trying to balance housework, gardening, goat/rabbit/chicken/bee keeping, homeschooling, soap making and whatever else is going on seasonally while trying to keep my sanity as well. Wow…it is a challenge. And people wonder why I’m as gray as my father at 32? Ha! But, I wouldn’t trade it for any other lifestyle. This is all I know and is what makes me happy.
Reading your schedule made me laugh until I cried! I have a 5 year old, 3 year old, and a 10 month old, and we’ve had goats for four years (plus chickens and a garden over that time). I can relate to your “efficiency”. Thank you so much for this post. I was feeling very discouraged today and actually googled “when homesteading feels too hard” to see what would come up. Lo and behold I get this wonderful encouragement.
God bless you, homesteading sister! Thanks for the smile =)
Jill Winger says
I am so happy this article came up for you when you needed it MelissaJoy! We definitely all have those days!
That is such a cute post! I think you are giving them the greatest gift of connection with the earth, and appreciation of the little things in life. Btw are they home-schooled?
Found this awesome site through Pinterest. Prairie girl is beyond adorable. Do you grow fruits? You should, they’re really good for you and your kids. Please feel free to email me for more info. There are thousands of different fruits in the world just waiting for you all! Tasty, healthy, beautiful and easy to grow.
Organic/wild fruity vegan
Kristen Courtney says
OMG! Thanks for such a great post. I have been homesteading and homeschooling for 4 years in the jungle, through many strokes with 3 mall children. Some morning I fantasise about living in the other house and letting them go nuts on the other! Check out “The Durells In Corfu”. It’s awesome and poignant. Anyway, I could never live without those little girls cuddled up to me whether they bring a chicken or a snake to bed… Thanks for giving me some perspective on a crazy morning. I can’t believe it took me 4 years to check out other mother’s going down this awesome yet often turbulant life.
T. Papaioannou says
You just exploit kids and use child labour for your purposes. Shame on you.
Angela Miller says
Man this post ( I know it is older) came at just the right time for me. The overwhelm I felt/feel like is this huge tug between being a mama and being a homesteader. But thank you for showing how you mix two of my favorite things to be and how to be their for both. I was feeling like maybe these things aren’t meant to work together or can be done together. But, your post gave me hope for today! Thank you.
Thank you. And thank you again. I really needed to see this today.
– Homestead mama of an I-do-It 2.5 yo.