[ podcast: Homesteading with Children part 1 here. ]
As promised (although admittedly a little late), I’m writing a part 2 to Homesteading with an Infant. In that article, I went over the things we had learned in P’s first 6 months of life while juggling our homestead’s responsibilities. The hardest part to swallow was the things falling through the cracks part. Our homestead isn’t impeccable by any means, but I’d hardly say it was in disarray. It was for a short time during those infant months, but we’ve come out on the other side of that, projecting away per usual, and taking the thousand of baby steps in takes to mold the homestead into what we envision.
So, What Have We Learned While Homesteading With A Toddler?
1. Patience. Patience. Patience.
Duh, right? But, when you have somewhere to go and need to feed quickly or it’s pouring rain, waiting for her to “feed” aka dump out the chicken feed and play it in feels like a hurdle. Feed time is usually now about a 30 minute to an hour process when it could be 10-15 minutes. She wants to open and close feed bins. She wants to watch them eat and pet them. She wants to grab tomatoes off the vines while we feed our cat in the garden. She wants to play in the duck water. She wants to… learn. All of this leads to her learning how the world works. It’s fascinating to watch and very important that we give her the time to do so. Who cares if feed time takes a little longer or weeding/watering the garden becomes a few hour affair? We
have make the time.
So when they start crawling, it’s still easy to throw them in a wrap, but when they start walking, no matter how wobbly, they want a little independence. During this wobbly phase, we used a little bike that we could push around the homestead. She wasn’t attached to me so she felt like she was a big girl, but she was still safely put in a spot. No falling and bumping heads. When P started walking, she wanted to walk. Sometimes this took awhile, and there were a lot of spills. She didn’t seem to mind them, but her little bruised legs looked terrible. Then one day, there were less and less falls. She started running where she wanted to go. Logistically, this is great! Freedom! But, then with that freedom comes a whole new layer of attention needed. If I pop into the greenhouse for a minute, she can disappear. She’ll be in a bush or around the corner of the house, but in that second, I have a panic moment. Sometimes even now at 19 months, I’ll throw her in a wrap if I just want to do something outside real quick. She’ll tolerate it for a few minutes, but if it’s too long, she wants down right away to walk where she pleases.
3. Outside Time is Your (& your toddler’s) Best Friend
Of course it is! I/You knew that! But let me tell you… when it’s raining or really cold or sweltering hot, I am not feeling being outside, but she is. She doesn’t care if there is inclement weather. Outside is just where she wants to be, and as long as she is dressed appropriately (and it’s safe like not lightening) and provided enough snack/water, outside we go. Even when she was just starting to crawl, we’d lay out a blanket on the grass and let her go. We don’t provide a lot of toys for her. We don’t constantly entertain her. She finds toys in nature like sticks, leaves, rocks. She collects her favorites to save in a pile for the next time we go outside. Butterflies, the wind and of course the chickens/ducks/guineas entertain her to no end. Sure, there are times when she decides to sit down with the chickens in their coop that I cringe a little. It’s definitely not a pristine, germ-free surface in there which brings me to my next point!
4. Designate Outside Clothes
Designated outside clothes are a must. In the summer, we used lightweight long sleeve sun shirts and pants for sun and bug protection as well as skin protection from germs in say, the chicken coop. In winter, we use jeans and jackets. She always has on a hat and boots. She knows when we go out, we have to put on our outside clothes. It’s her routine. I used to try to dress her in her cute little outfits to go outside so that the pictures while she was playing would be cute and different. After a lot of laundering, I got smart. Who cares if she’s in the same outfit in every outdoor picture? She’s well protected and having a blast in mud puddles, the horses’ water trough, you name it. If it’s messy, she’s into it. We keep soap outside by the hose at all times to wash hands sporadically, especially if she’s been in the coop, and also to wash up before we go inside. Most often, she’s stripped naked before we go in because her outside clothes are so filthy. She and her clothes go straight into the wash those days.
5. Let Them Help
Even when P was wobbling around, she wanted to help. If that meant just carrying one bean around in her basket while we were harvesting green beans, to her, she was participating in what we were doing. She “helps” all the time, and sometimes that help is undoing something. If it’s not truly destructive/unsafe like breaking eggs or playing in the duck water (ew), I let her do it her way. She sees what I’m doing. I show her the “right” way of doing it, but she has her own ideas on how to help, like taking handfuls of chicken feed out of the feed bowls and throwing them to the chickens…
6. Monkey See. Monkey Do.
This basically sums up a toddler. The reason we worked so hard to get settled on a homestead before we had children was so that when the time came, they could benefit from all of its benefits, including knowing the worth of hard work. (See: What Are You Going To Do When You Have Kids?) Now, I’m not talking child labor, but I am talking about responsibilities. Even as a toddler, P has and can have her own set of “chores.” She can’t fully carry them out by herself yet, but she sure tries. When it’s time to feed the dogs, she lines up their bowls. When it’s time (and even when it’s not time) to harvest things from the garden, she’s right there with you picking and putting whatever it is into the basket, sometimes even the unripe ones. She watches what we do intently and tries to emulate it. Considering how much effort and care goes into a homestead, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better place for her to copy the behavior she sees.
7. Let Them Be
I mean this in the nicest way possible. I already mentioned above about not entertaining them or giving them a bunch of toys. Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educator, calls it “Masterly Inactivity.”
“We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education” (Vol. 3, p. 27).
There are times when I want to jump in and play with P and of course some times I do, but for the most part, I refrain and sit back and watch her take in nature and our homestead on her own terms. During these times, she puts together items that I wouldn’t put together myself. She’ll find a stick and bang different surfaces to hear the differences in sound. She’ll sit in a puddle with her basket and watch the water go through its holes. When she brings me leaves or anything else she’s found, we talk about their color/shape/texture and then she goes on her way. Sometimes, I’ll point out an airplane or bird or butterfly, but more often than not, she points out an airplane/bird/butterfly to me. She found the rosemary and sage plants and discovered herself that they had distinct smells. Sure I could have shown her those and I have shown her things like that, but the wonder and excitement she felt when she shared this new discovery with me was unlike anything else. Let them be. Be attentive. Be there for questions. Make sure they’re safe. But, let them be toddlers. There’s a whole wide world to discover in your yard, especially on a homestead. There’s no better way for them to learn.
I’m sure there are more things we’ve learned, but those are the main ones I keep coming to. Having a toddler on a homestead adds a little extra work, but the joys are immeasurable. Every time she yells, “bean!” when she’s picked a green bean or when she’s snacking on tomatoes or kale while she’s walking around or hearing her kiss to the horses or laughing when the guineas fly over her head or calling the dogs to come inside. Every time she joins in on our homesteading venture with her bubbly spirit and excitement, our hearts melt. Raising a child on the homestead is everything we thought it’d be and more. One thing is for certain, there’s no where else we’d rather be.