Exactly why do we have kids do things on the homestead? Free labor – sure. Big farm families were once commonplace for just that reason in America.
But then as it is now, there is a lot more behind assigning kids copious amounts of chores on a homestead or farm than just a need to complete a task as cheaply and quickly as possible.
People who homestead or farm do so because they love it. Without an enormous amount of affection for this type of self-reliant, natural, and gloriously simplistic lifestyle no one would be willing to withstand the rigors and sacrifices linked to working agricultural land for more than a year or two.
Cultivate little adventurers. Turn the little ones as loose as is safe and let them explore every nook and cranny of your dream homestead – so that one day it becomes their dream, as well.
We work kids on the homestead because we want them to learn and love this lifestyle just as we do.
Not only will the skills and knowledge kids learn while doing things on the homestead teach them what they need to do to carry on, on the family land by themselves one day – they will also learn responsibility, self-confidence, resilience, self-control, and perseverance in the process.
Children do not simply wake up one day, turn 18 years old and become functional adults. A lot of training, successes, failures, and trials and tribulations both nurture and test them as they grow – and hopefully mature.
I want to help raise young human beings that will turn into men and women when they are 18 and not merely be overgrown boys and girls with no real life skills or knowledge base to guide them.
Start ‘em young. Introduce the joys of homesteading life to your children from day one – even if they need totes around on your hip or to take a little break in the shade of a hay bale every once in awhile during baling time of the year.
Adulting is hard. Use your homestead as a teaching tool of not just farming skills, but life skills. That, my fellow homesteaders, is the thought process that guided me when creating this list of things to never let your kids do on the homestead.
That may not be the same topic scope the editor had in mind when offering me the chance to answer this important homesteading parental question.
But, if you are reading this now, he thought my take on the topic was as cool and valuable for homesteading families as I do … and hopefully you do as well.
Also included on this list are items that can be dangerous if proper safety precautions and the maturity level and not just the age of the child, are taken into consideration, as well.
Good ‘clean’ fun. Do not make your children keep their shoes on all the time, and stay out of the mud. Let them go exploring and experience, discover, and wonder about all things nature.
Below are 10 things only homestead and farm kids know or do… things that will make you proud to be their parent!
1. They’re Outdoors Most of the Time
As the learned homeschool maven Charlotte Mason once said, “Never be indoors when you can rightly be without.” Spend as much time outdoors as possible connecting with the land, doing chores with your children, teaching them skills, and tasking them with doing chores solo or supervise them at a distance one their maturity level matches the task.
If you are a homeschooling homesteader, allow the world that surrounds you to become the classroom.
There can be a time and place for seat work, but paper and pencil are not required for learning to take place.
Even if you do not homeschool and have young children, do story time with them outside under a tree instead of cuddled up on the couch. Pack a picnic, make it routine and eventually, a cherished childhood memory.
2. They’re More Judicious About Personal Hygiene
I am all for allowing the kiddos to get dirty on the homestead. They should be knee-deep in dirt and mud and all kinds of barnyard fun. But, little ones are prone to putting their hands in their mouths and touching things (manure, for example) that they should not, with bare hands.
Severe and even deadly bacteria inflicts young children annually stemming from at least similar scenarios. Usually, the young children who contract illnesses stemming from handling livestock and items in their habitat happen at petting zoos, and not on the family farm or homestead.
Starting proper hygiene practices early on, and keeping homemade natural wipes or homemade natural waterless antibacterial soap with you – or stored in the barn with other first aid supplies, will help prevent little ones from sticking fingers laden with fresh manure, anywhere around their mouths.
Children often have little boo-boos on their hands, feet, and legs, these areas should be kept away from livestock bodily fluids and manure as well – and promptly cleaned when exposure does occur.
3. Have Daily Screen Time
You wouldn’t let your children eat pizza and ice cream every day because it is not healthy, right? Sitting indoors or out with their adorable little faces buried in a cell phone or tablet is equally unhealthy, and teaches them to be sedentary, isolated, and addicts them to constant stimulation.
The sounds of nature, the feel of dirt beneath your feed, the smell of the woods, or witness the miracle of birth in the barnyard. Playing video games, watching YouTube videos, and browsing social media will not enhance their lives.
There are actually homes in America where no video gaming box even exists, nor do children get smartphones when they are still little enough to need a booster seat in the car.
If you feel you must allow tech gadgets in your home for more than educational reasons, treat screen time like you would the junk food noted above, as a once a week treat and not permit it to become something their existence revolves around.
4. They Can Learn About and Watch the Garden Grow
Children as young as 18 months old can help the family grow their own groceries.
Buy some kid-sized gardening tools and teach the children how to grow food by having them work alongside you in the traditional ground plot or raised bed garden, or make them a small vegetable and plant container garden of their own to tend.
Make a science lesson out of learning about soil types, the growing process, parts of plants, how weather impacts the crop yields, the difference between good and bad garden bugs, about plant diseases, and the nutrients in the food you are raising or growing.
Children who cannot remember when they started to learn how to grow their own food will develop a healthy and productive habit that will last a lifetime.
Homesteading children who do not help take care of the family garden until they at least hit double digits will feel forced into the activity and look at it as a chore instead of a cherished skill, and an important part of their lives.
5. They Don’t Think Plants Come From The Store
Teach the children how to collect seeds from harvested produce grown on the homestead, how to preserve them, as well as when and how to grow them into plants that can be cultivated in the garden.
This is yet another earth or agriculture science activity that can be a part of the homesteading homeschool curriculum – or general skill building plan for the youngest members of the homestead.
Space a few green bean seeds so the children can “plant” them in a plastic Ziploc bag with a cotton ball soaked in water.
The baggies can be hung in a window so the children can get what would otherwise be a below ground view of how the seeds sprout and the root system develops.
6. They Get to Watch You Preserve Food
Allowing the children of all ages to help you dehydrate, water bath or pressure can food, or pickle food should also be a part of their homesteading experience.
The last time you canned green beans the family grew in the garden, did all of the children have a hand in the process? Were they even in the room?
Give each child a task in the process, even if it is a small one like washing the produce, sorting rings from lids, or listening for the sound of the lid to ping once the jars are set out on the kitchen table.
While the children are actively engaged and learning about food preservation, memories will be made you are given the opportunity to pass down some of your favorite stories about learning to can and doing so in the kitchen with your own mother or grandmother.
7. They Don’t Think Meat Comes From The Store
If you are raising and hunting to put meat on the table, involve the children in the raising, hunting, and butchering process.
New homesteading families often struggle with when and how to explain why chickens and cattle go missing from the barnyard, and addressing how the meaty meals they are enjoying come from the land they are being raised upon.
As you and the children spend time in the barnyard or in the woods, talk about the purpose of the animals, and how you take great pride in raising them naturally, humanely, and appreciate what the lives of each animal.
It will not likely scar your child for life or turn them into an ax murderer if they are involved in the humane harvesting of livestock, or witness it at a young age.
This has been a part of farm life for centuries, most children cannot even recall when they first watched a chicken or hog be slaughtered for meat.
The personality and maturity of each child varies (only you can know when your child is ready to engage in this aspect of homesteading), but the earlier they can understand the farm-to-table process of how meat appears on their plate, the better.
8. They Get to Learn How to Drive a Tractor
If you grow up country, odds are that you rode on a tractor while still in diapers. The age when children should start learning how to drive tractors and other operate other agricultural equipment varies by not just their actual years, but also the child’s size and maturity level.
I have seen children of 12 drive tractors expertly, but there have also unfortunately been older teenagers (and even young adults) who do not take the responsibility seriously enough, and wind up mained or crushed in a tractor accident.
Start the learning process early by taking young children for rides on the tractor, and teach them about safety not just related to the machine, but the environment and terrain it is rolling upon.
Children should work their way up to the operation of heavy equipment by watching adults run the machinery, doing ride-alongs, and first operating manual then motorized push machinery and work their way up to going solo on a tractor after safely and responsibly driving recreational vehicles designed for their size and abilities.
9. They’ Don’t Believe That Nuts Come From Cans and Berries From Plastic Containers
Take the children foraging with you until they are old enough to identify safe-to-eat items from those that are not. Picking acorns, walnuts, hickory nuts, blackberries, etc. is an age-old and cherish childhood tradition.
Picking your own snack when going on a hike, horseback ride, or journeying along the trails on an ATV is exquisite fun for young and old alike.
Making something delicious with the nuts and berries foraged (the ones that did not get immediately consumed, that is) once you are back to the homesteading kitchen, will create even more fond memories, and self-reliance skills.
10. They Don’t Think All Medicine Comes From Bottles
Allow the children to toil along beside you in the apothecary patch and forage for wild medicinal plants, herbs, roots, and “weeds” with you on the homestead.
Teach the children how to identify the healing bounty nature provides, how to preserve and use it. Making salve, tinctures, syrups, as well as all natural soap, shampoo, and other beauty items will be so much fun the kiddos will not even realize they are newbie students in your own private wildcrafting school!
When deciding what things to let and never let your kids do on the homestead, the chronological age, maturity levels, size, and physical abilities or each child must be taken into consideration. Safety is always a top priority when engaging in any type of homesteading skill building with children.
What one 9 year old is capable of may be several years away from what another 9 year is capable of doing. Simply because one of your children could saddle their own horse at age 10 or another could snap green beans solo by age 3, does not mean your other children will either be ready to do so at such a young age or need to wait that long to give the activity a try.
To raise independent and responsible homesteading children, we adults need to know both when and if we should take a few steps back. Sometimes stepping away when asked even though we know we should not (providing there is no safety issue) is called for.
Allowing a child to fail is an important learning skill – there may be no better way to instill perseverance in a child than to force them to deal with and then overcome a failure.
Do not be afraid to turn over the reins, and allow the child to lead a project or activity. When I first started taking our toddler grandchildren into the woods on “real” hikes, I told them at the start they were in charge of finding our way back out to the starting spot – where the side by side ATV was often parked as an easy visual focal point.
They both took such great pride in being the leader and paid a lot closer attention to their surroundings than they would have with me constantly harping on the need to do so.
I started with somewhat shorter hikes with only a few bends or diversions from the trail to allow them to gain confidence in their orienteering skills.
Then I introduced more intricate paths along the same trail until they new it by heart – starting the process all over again on a different part of the homestead so they could learn their way around in that section as well.
Not only do such homesteading activities help ensure even a young child will not get lost in the woods and panic, but be able to find their way back out, they teach them orienteering skills, independence, the ability to function alone or with a peer to solve a problem without an adult dictating their every move.
As noted above, it a great self-confidence building skill that can translate far outside of the woods into other aspects of their lives for many years to come.
As I see it, there are two primary roles of parenthood: keeping the children safe and turning them into functional adults. There is just not better training ground for character building than on a homestead or working farm.
Follow some common sense safety tips as detailed on this list, but do not coddle your wee one.
One day when they are competent adults and raising their own children, they will thank you for it.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.