Homeschooling and homesteading when you have young children is most definitely not the easiest path a family could choose. It is one of those choices where you have to look to the long-term payoff, instead of the short term hardships. I wrote a post a few weeks ago, and in it I asked my readers for any advice they could offer to families like ours who homeschool young children and would like to or have started homesteading while their children are young. I got some nice responses from the ladies who answered, and today I want to share some of their answers along with some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Today’s post is not short, but I don’t think it would be appropriate to cut short such a topic because there is a lot to go over.
Before I dive in, for those of you who aren’t familiar with our situation, let me explain. We were a family of 6, living in the city and homeschooling, while working on gardening and learning a few skills here and there to make us more self-sufficient. An unexpected opportunity arose for us to be able to move to the country, so we took it. Just two weeks before we were to move, we found out that we were expecting baby #5. That was in August of 2015. We moved and worked on getting settled in to the best of our ability, but morning sickness and fatigue slowed me down, and Scott (my husband) did the best he could to get as much done around the property before winter came. During the winter months we were doing a lot of reading and thinking, and we realized that what we really wanted was to be homesteaders. In reality, we were doing most of these things already, but it gave us some more direction and more clearly defined goals to work towards as a family. Baby came in April and it was time to go to work on the gardens immediately, and so our first “official” homesteading efforts began. That was spring of 2016. It’s been a lot of fun, and we’ve learned so much, but this hasn’t been the easiest path for a family to take. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but I do know that there are things we could work on to make our situation a little easier to manage without giving up the things that are most important to us. My biggest “complaint” has been that I have had a hard time finding time to get things organized and running somewhat smoothly.
I’ve been trying to find a way to write this post without sounding like I am complaining or ungrateful for the life I have, or without sounding like I am stressed and overwhelmed. I am grateful for this life, and I absolutely love it. But the fact is that I have been stressed and overwhelmed from time to time ever since we moved. I understand that this is not the easiest path for a person to take. There’s so much to do, and it is bound to take it’s toll from time to time. I know to outsiders we seem crazy for choosing this life. I don’t seek criticism or “excuses” to give things up, but rather ways to make this easier without giving up what is important to us. I never expected that this would be easy, but I know that it can be done, and done more efficiently than we are doing it right now.
The question wast “how can I make our home function more smoothly without giving up the things that are most important to us?” Thanks to the answers from some lovely ladies, I was able to find some helpful advice, and I want to share that advice with you. I know there are some of you out there that are embarking on this journey yourselves, or are at the very least contemplating it, and I want to be able to help and encourage you as well. And I think that most of this advice will hold true for those of you who are home with children, regardless of whether or not you are homeschooling or homesteading.
If you are part of that classification of families like ours who are homeschooling or homesteading with a gaggle of young children at home, there are two pieces of wisdom that were offered up by our readers that I think are important to take note of. First of all, they admit that this is hard, and it will stay difficult until the kids become old enough to be very helpful…it’s going to be hard, but keep your chin up! Second of all, they say that in those younger years, EVERYTHING takes longer, so adjust your expectations. Anita says “We were already homeschooling (when we started homesteading) but I can say that everything takes longer to do- not just the day to day- but the farming and rebuilding and educating. Our 3-5 year plan went out the window- we had to do everything at a different pace.” And Angela says “I’d say the best advice is to just take it one day at a time and remember that you don’t have to be perfect at this.”
The next two points are also valuable tips. A few of the ladies said that having a running list of tasks to be completed along with marking them by order of importance has been very helpful to them. Rebekah of A Pastorale said “What creates a good routine in our house, honestly, is following eating schedules.” These two concepts, keeping a running list of to-do’s, and building a routine around an eating schedule, reminded me of the period of time before we moved here when I did both of those things. Our home ran pretty smoothly, and I did much better with staying on task. After the move, we fell out of these habits. I have more to say on this, but I’ll come back to it at the end.
Little Homestead Adventures says “Keep it simple (meals, housekeeping,) prioritize, and sometimes lower expectations.” There are a few things she mentions here that tie in with comments from others I already mentioned. I think the idea of keeping meals simple is key. The hardest part for me in this has been that I have been working on cooking from scratch, so working out a menu that is simple but easy has been a bit of an adjustment for me, though I’m getting there. The best part of having a simple menu to refer to is that you can use that as part of your routine like Rebekah says. If you know what you are going to eat and when you will eat it, it frees up a lot of in-between time. Anita suggested having pre-made meals or freezer meals on hand.
As for the housekeeping, a few people touched on this. Anita recommended de-cluttering, and I think everyone with kids old enough to help said to make sure that the children are involved in the cleaning. We’ve been striving to de-clutter as much as possible since moving, and I think we are about due for another round of purging. I was having such a hard time keeping on top of the cleaning prior to our first real purge, because let’s face it: kids make messes faster than we can clean them. By getting rid of all of the clutter that was contributing to our messes, I was able to make clean up much easier on everybody. We’ve always had the kids participate in clean up, but when they are little, there is only so much they can do. As they get older they do more, and with the older two now being capable of setting a good example, it has helped the next two know what to do and how to do it. On that note, Little Homestead says “there’s a learning curve, but it’s worth the effort.”
Besides having the kids help with the cleaning, there were comments about having the kids each be responsible for caring for an animal. At this point in the game, that won’t exactly work for us. I’m not about to get extra animals just so the kids have something to care for, nor do I think that is what anybody was suggesting. However, at some point in time, we will end up with more than just chickens, and we will most definitely have the kids each be responsible for caring for something as they become capable of doing so.
Mid-Life Blogger says “With homeschooling, see that many (if not all) of your homesteading tasks are educational. Think ‘animal science’ and ‘biology.’ If you can see the learning that takes place there, then maybe it will not make you stress about getting behind in ‘book work.’ Life skills are far more usable than much of what we study in homeschooling.” And I think her comment ties in well with the concept of having the children care for an animal or participate in gardening. Use learning opportunities as they arise, but be careful about pushing things on them. Mid-Life Blogger admits that her children weren’t fond of gardening, so she just enjoyed the quite time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t call the children out to the garden to learn about and study the growth or biology of the plants, but it’s absolutely okay for the kids not to enjoy all of the aspects of homesteading.
In regards to homeschooling, we largely do what Mid-Life Blogger suggests, and we would mostly consider ourselves “unschoolers,” but there are times when we feel it’s important to work with the kids on certain things like reading and math. Tiffany suggested finding some kind of curriculum to use, even if it’s really loose, and Becky says “I have a planner for school lessons that has space for all of the kids work that needs to be done for a month.” My problem with using a curriculum has been that they can be expensive, and they won’t all necessarily work for every one of your children. But I think Tiffany and Becky are correct. If Scott and I can come up with a list of goals for the kids for the month, we are essentially building our own curriculum, and having a month to complete the tasks gives us something to work towards while still allowing us to have a flexible routine or schedule.
Little Homestead also mentioned was that they wished they had not added so much all at once to their homestead. Pacing yourselves will be so important. I know that it’s very hard to know what will be too much, but she recommended learning to master a skill before adding a bunch of new ones…something that Scott and I have talked a lot about this winter. We do plan to do a few new things this year, but if any of it is too much, we’ll let it slide until another year. This year we will mostly focus on improving skills we already have.
And the last (but certainly not least) thing to remember is to pray and to trust God to handle your needs. Chances are that if you are living this life, there is something about it that has caused you to feel led here. You are doing good for your family and children, so stay strong and have faith!
Alright, now I just want to go back and touch more on this whole routine thing since that was ultimately the source of my frustration to begin with. After reading responses from all of these wonderful people, it reminded me of a binder that I used to keep. We’ve finally reached a point, post-move, post-baby, where I feel like we can set up some kind of rough routine. When I looked at that binder again, the first thing I realized was that when I had made it originally, I had built it around our eating schedule. Even if there’s a baby in the house, the big kids have got to eat, so starting there makes sense. Then I thought about what our weeks look like. Right now we have a few things that are “routine” for us. Pay day/paying the bills/grocery shopping, Thursday afternoons with friends and family, Wednesday’s we try for family movie night, and Sundays are typically a day of rest. With these basics on the schedule and meals to work around, I could suddenly see how easy it would be to set up a basic day-to-day and weekly routine, and I adjusted each day of the week to fit our current situation.
I also had an old weekly meal plan that we were roughly using. Breakfast and lunch were the same for each day of the week. Mondays were oatmeal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, Tuesdays were yogurt and muffins for breakfast, leftovers for lunch…And for dinner each night of the week there would be a vague meal suggestion that I could plan around on a week-to-week basis. Mondays would be a veggie dish, Tuesdays something with meat, Wednesday would be pizza…Again, I tweaked this plan to fit our current situation.
When I looked all of this over, I realized how unnecessarily long we had struggled to get some kind of order back into the house. There was no reason I couldn’t edit our daily/weekly routine, and I could have easily adjusted the meals to how we are currently eating. It took maybe 30 minutes to get all of it re-typed and printed. 30 MINUTES! I struggled through the better part of a year and a half, and all it would have taken was 30 minutes to make things run more smoothly. The thinking portion of how to get things operating in a way that would work for our family right now, that took more than 30 minutes, but still. I had put it off because I thought it was going to take so long to come up with a plan.
I’m not going to suggest that now that I have my binder, life is perfect and I never have issues with sticking to a routine. Truth be told, it’s been hard for me to stay motivated enough to stick with it. BUT, now I at least have something to work towards, and I think I’ll be able to do a better job staying on task now that I do. I have one obstacle to overcome yet, and that’s fatigue. I’ve realized recently that there are several aspects to these feelings. The first is that I know I could be eating more healthily, the second is that we’ve had the gloomiest winter that I remember in quite some time (really, I don’t remember ever having such a rainy winter!), and lastly, I have come to understand something about nursing a baby that I never truly grasped before. It’s exhausting! Even after they stop nursing as often as they do in the beginning, our bodies still go through this amazing process of taking the food we eat and turning it into milk for the sake of our babies and fuel for our bodies. No wonder I get tired! That process happens naturally, without us ever taking any time to think about it.
But now that I have a flexible plan, I’m feeling a lot better. I think I’ll be able to get my eating in check since I have that menu to refer to, and I know that having a rough routine will help me to pace my workload so that I don’t get quite so overwhelmed. And if I start making my lists again, I think I’ll remember to make time to prepare some freezer meals for the days I feel too tired or we get sick.
Like I said in the beginning, I know that this isn’t the easiest life, and I never expected it to be, but I know that it can be done without making a person go crazy 😉 I hope this helps others of you out there, be you parents with kids in school, or homeschoolers or homesteaders. As always, you are free to like, comment, and share. Your feedback lets us know if what we share here is of value to you. If you have questions, or you would like to add to what I’ve written, please leave your comments. Happy Thursday!