“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.
More Thoughts on Kids on the Homestead:
- Raising Old-Fashioned Kids in a High Tech World
- I’m Teaching My Kids to Fail
- 7 Lessons My Kids Have Learned from Homestead Life
- Free-Range Kids: How & Why