We began homesteading because we had a desire to grow chemical free food and raise livestock in a humane way. In the process of reaching these goals, this lifestyle has provided my children with many unforeseen benefits that have grown their character in ways that I did not expect.
Teaches Useful Skills
Through gardening and animal husbandry, our children have learned how to plant and nurture seedlings, harvest foods, prepare them, preserve them, save seed, hatch eggs, check eggs for viability, handle livestock, build basic animal shelters, the uses of medicinal herbs, and how to harvest, dry, and store herbs.
There are also many other skills they have picked up that are not directly related to our original intentions. Here are some examples.
They have learned to identify and forage a range of local wild foods. Our property contains wild mushrooms, blackberries, multiflora rose, wild pears, sumac (the non-poisonous kind), and countless others. They have also been right alongside me as I was learning to make bread, as a result my older daughters (currently 10 and 7) know how to make a traditional sourdough and they understand the nutritional benefits of fermenting grains. They have learned how to sew, crochet, needle felt, ferment vegetables, make lotion, lip balms, candles, and more. There is always something new and interesting to learn about, or a skill that has already been gained but can be strengthened.
In the future, robotics and artificial intelligence will replace many of the jobs available today. The skills that are predicted to be of value in the future? Creativity, innovation, self-determination and emotional IQ.These are all cultivated in a lifestyle where children are given the freedom to learn things they are interested in, build things, and are given the mental space to be bored – boredom is often the first spark toward creativity.
Cultivates a Strong Connection with Nature
Farming attunes people to the seasons and natural cycles. My children know that Spring is when many breeds of baby animals show up and that it is time to start most of our seeds. They have learned when the weather is just right for hunting wild mushrooms and that rose hips ripen in the late Fall. They can orient themselves according to where the sun is in the sky (something I could not do until just a few years ago to be honest).
My children, at their young ages, can properly identify many more animals, plants, and types of rocks than I was at their age, or even much older. Their skills of observation are powerful. I have to admit, I am learning right alongside them, and in many cases, they are even teaching me.
Nature is uncontrived and full of universal truths. Observing animals, plants, seasons, and cycles cultivates the habit of strong and deep attention. Patience and wisdom are the natural fruits. They learn the seeds you sow predict the plants that grow, that keeping your garden weeded, watered, and pest free will increase your harvest. These are powerful hands on lessons that will teach them that good yields are a direct result of hard work. When someone feels connected to nature, they are also more likely to desire to protect it, I think the future needs as many champions of nature as it can get.
The rule on our homestead is that as soon as you are capable of doing a task yourself, you are expected to do it independently. Children dislike busy work, meaningless work, and not being seen as an able-bodied person. Allowing them to be a part of things and giving them “real” jobs that lead to tangible outcomes teaches them to enjoy work instead of dodge it while building their self-esteem. Encouraging kids to lend a hand, and gently guiding them through the learning process if necessary, allows them to feel capable and like a valuable member of the team. When I witness the pride on the faces of my children when they collect the eggs, harvest vegetables from a garden they planned, planted and tended all by themselves, or help their dad successfully work the animals it fills me with absolute joy for them. I can see how it is shaping them into strong young women who believe in themselves and have the bravery and perserverance to go after their goals.
In this day in age, for the first time ever, the internet and social media occupy the lives and minds of many children and young adults. The surveys done communicate that the impact of these things on the lives of children is a negative one. Social media in particular has been linked with elevated feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. While many youths are spending time looking at the highlight reels of others and feeling as though they do not measure up, young homesteaders, farmers, and entrepreneurs are building skills, self-esteem, and small businesses. Our children our still young enough that we shield them almost entirely from technology, but at some point, it will make an appearance in their lives because they are their own people and they will probably want to participate in it someday. What I hope to teach them is to use social media and the internet as tools to connect with people and gather information. That is it. My hope is that they will have so many positive things going on in their lives they will not have much time for the internet.
Technology has proven to be so destructive to children’s minds, in fact, that there are “tech free” schools springing up. One example is Brightworks, a school in California’s Bay Area. Sixty percent of the children who attend the school have parents that work in the technology industry. There is very little attention devoted to screens in the school. Instead, children are given the freedom to study pursuits they are interested in, they have access to power tools and saws, and they have no teachers, only “collaborators”. They aim to go on field trips once a week. They put an emphasis on keeping children engaged and passionate. They say at Brightworks if you want to play a video game, you have to make one yourself. The annual tuition for this low-tech teacher free school? $30,000 a year.
Whether planting a garden, hatching chicks, inoculating and cultivating mushroom logs, harvesting and saucing apples to sell, or another one of the endless ways to create a modest income, homesteading presents many opportunities for youngsters to create business plans on a small scale. They learn how to forecast costs, price and track merchandise, stick to a budget, create and implement a marketing plan, come up with a delivery system for customers, basic customer service (they are always right!), and good communication skills. They learn how to carefully manage money, reinvest in their enterprises and grow them.
Another wonderful bonus to children starting businesses when they are young is that even their failures are valuable lessons in which they learn much. The failures are small failures, they may lose a hundred dollars for example, as opposed to failing big when they are older and they have a great idea but no solid business experience. Many businesses fail, and if they did not learn how to budget, market, and understand their customer base when they were young and working with relatively small amounts of money, the chance of them taking out a bank loan or risking their life savings and then failing is a real possibility. Practicing entrepreneurial skills when they are young does not guarantee they will be successful as adults, but practice makes perfect, Right?
Nurtures Strong Bonds Within the Family
We are a family who works on our enterprises together, and this makes us closer. My two older children have even created little mini ventures together. They learn the value of teamwork and how to cooperate with a partner. When we succeed, we succeed together. When we fail, we learn together. There are, of course, many ways to bond as a family, but working hard together towards a goal is one of my favorite. One of the favorite sayings in our house, one you will even hear my almost 3-year-old saying is, “Teamwork makes the dream work”. When siblings learn to put aside petty disputes because they just don’t have time for it, and the end result (getting to market with their vegetables, getting all their applesauce canned) is more important to them than their egos, they are learning a valuable lesson about life.
You Don’t Need 40 Acres to Be Homestead-ish
Some people feel held back from trying to create a more self-sufficient existence because they don’t have a huge amount of land, or maybe even no land, in the case of apartment dwellers. Do not let this stop you from teaching your child skills of self-reliance. Look for opportunities like community gardens in which you can purchase or rent a plot and cultivate it, learn how to do one or two new things a year, like baking sourdough bread or making wreaths, for example. Making bread or candles is even something a young person can do while living in an apartment with no land at all. So are things like sewing, needle felting, embroidery, and more. Sometimes it is easy to feel stifled from one’s desires because things are not perfect or exactly as they were pictured in one’s mind, but the only way to move toward a self-sufficient lifestyle is one step at a time.
Our family began our journey in a small house on a half-acre. We had a (very) small garden and a few chickens. Now we raise grass fed lamb, we have goats, ducks, chickens, and sometimes we keep a few cows or pigs. Our vegetable garden has expanded every year and now we are able to feed ourselves almost completely from our own food during the Summer and Fall months. During the Winter and Spring, we live partially off of frozen and preserved foods and spend more on groceries. The goal is to be completely self-sufficient for all of our food needs at some point, trading for what we don’t grow ourselves with local farmers. It didn’t happen overnight for us, it has been almost 10 years since we started walking down this path and every year we expand our knowledge and our capabilities. Before our journey began we were just a young married couple who had lived our entire lives in the suburbs and had zero knowledge of our current way of life. If we can do it, anyone can!