If it’s a cliche that homesteaders tend to be homeschoolers, I now fit the stereotype. But why? In my last blog, I talked a bit about my own experience going from total resistance to the idea of homeschooling, to fully embracing it and encouraging others not to rule it out as an option. (We came to this decision pre-covid, by the way).
Why does homeschooling go so well with homesteading?
Homesteading is more about mindset than acreage, I often say. It’s a journey into greater self-reliance and that requires a degree of independent thinking. Wanting to get away from factory-style education is a significant step on the homesteading road, which is one reason it goes hand-in-hand with homeschooling.
Another reality of homesteaders is that we are consummate learners. We are in the business of knowledge. We are constantly expanding our skill set. People who love to learn usually make great teachers. Such passion and enthusiasm for learning is contagious.
Finally, the homestead lends itself well not just to theory and to abstract ideas, but to hands-on, applied knowledge. When my children learned about the components of the food chain, consumers, producers, and decomposers, there were tangible examples of these three on our farm Trying to explain the process of decomposition isn’t nearly as difficult when you have a compost pile out back and your children already know what organic matter can go in it and what cannot. When they’ve helped you shovel that same compost onto garden beds, and you’ve explained to them why the bunny droppings can go right onto the soil but the cow manure can’t, or why we mix in grass clippings to break down the wood chips faster, that’s practical science.
Up until a year ago, I never owned a dairy animal. Now, my pre-teen daughter can milk our goats and she’s getting real, applied chemistry by helping me make cheese and yogurt and learning about how the process of aging and of using different components such as vinegar or cultures affect the texture and taste of food.
One of my children loves to cook from scratch. She finds recipes and whips things up, all on her own, and this requires knowledge of fractions and measurement. She would not have had these opportunities in the traditional school that she was attending.
Teaching finances and money management lends itself very well to the homestead. Because the children help with the chickens, feeding and egg collecting and letting them out to free range and then closing them up at night, and even cleaning out the brooder when we hatch new chicks, I let them reap the reward of their efforts by collecting the egg money. Now, they don’t get to do whatever they want with that money. They are in charge of keeping a ledger. And in that old-fashioned, pencil-and-paper ledger they record what money comes in, they have to give 10% to a charitable cause, they get 10% to spend, and the rest goes into savings. (They do have opportunities to do extra jobs primarily for spending money, but the egg money is part of learning fiscal responsibility skills).
And when your children are right there in the barn helping with the live birth of a ewe that has triplets, you can’t get much more hands-on biology than that.
So the homestead is truly a classroom. It’s a workshop and a laboratory and an apprenticeship all wrapped up into one. And one of the truly remarkable aspects of homeschooling is that you overlap the subjects and blend them together so that you begin to see how nature and science connect to mathematics, and how mathematics is relational to music, and how history sheds light on where we are today. So instead of subjects being compartmentalized and seemingly unrelated, your children begin to grasp how they relate to each other, and how they apply to every day life.
You know something I don’t hear as much now that we’ve started homeschooling? “When am I ever gonna need to know this?”
How about you? What kinds of things have you taught – or would you like to teach – your child on the homestead? How do you incorporate some of these forgotten life skills into your children’s education?