Homesteading 101

We’ve been so busy “putting things up” the past few months, and we have one more big push to do now — pumpkins — before we’re nearly done for the year.

Daryl picked up 19 pumpkins from our local farm family source for $5 today.  Daryl told Mr. H that we needed one jack-o-lantern pumpkin and 9 pie pumpkins and Mr. H told him, “How about you take as many as you want for five dollars?”.  After Thursday, all the ones left over are going over the fence to the cows, after all.  🙂

We have 5 gallons of hard apple cider brewing on the kitchen counter right now and 18 pie pumpkins waiting on the lawn to become pumpkin puree tomorrow.

Oh yes, and Mr. H had a couple of extra flats of tomatoes and another big box of peppers he threw in cheap, so we need to prep those tomorrow too…

It is a lot of work, but I honestly really love this time of year and this work we do as a family together.

Over this growing season, we’ve canned, dried, frozen, foraged and otherwise “put up”:

  • applesauce
  • apple juice
  • hard cider
  • apple pie filling
  • chopped apples
  • green, yellow, red and purple pepper strips
  • roasted onions
  • shredded zucchini
  • wild elderberries
  • elderberry honey syrup (anti-flu medicine)
  • pears in light syrup
  • peaches in light syrup
  • roasted pumpkin seeds
  • simple roasted tomato sauce
  • rhubarb
  • refrigerator pickles
  • traditional pickles (various recipes)
  • corn (frozen and canned)
  • cattail stalks
  • cattail pollen (used as a flour and incredibly high in vitamins and Omega-3 fats)
  • acorn flour
  • mulberries
  • black raspberries
  • raspberries
  • triple berry sauce
  • mulberry fruit leather
  • dandelion syrup
  • tomatoes
  • roasted corn salsa
  • easy fresh salsa
  • fresh tomato bisque
  • grape juice
  • grape jelly
  • milkweed pods (when tiny, they can be cooked like breaded and/or sauteed and the insides are like melted mozarella cheese)
  • walnuts
  • various other wild berries (gooseberries, etc.)
  • whatever I’ve forgotten!  🙂

I love the fact that even 6 year-old Alex knows how to ID wild asparagus and he can’t pass by walnuts in the park without gathering them up in his shirt to bring home.  🙂

I get a kick out of teaching my kids how to do things like baking, canning, gardening and preserving the harvest. Most people used to think of these skills as those of our parents and grandparents, but I grew up with different role models.

My mother was a single mom who put herself through doctoral school and became a professor and then a prison psychologist.  Her mother was a teacher, then a principal, and eventually the dean of education at an Ohio university.  After retirement, she opened an educational resource center and ran that for over twenty years (she’s nearly 90 and just sold it and retired a few years ago).  Her mother was a factory worker.

My mom was actually a phenomenally terrible cook.  Not a single woman in my life seemed to know how to sew, garden, can, cook, bake or anything else remotely domestic.  Even normal jobs related to the keeping of a home were missing from my upbringing, since we moved at least once a year, rented wherever we lived and didn’t even own furniture.

Since my mother hid me from my father until after his death, I grew up not knowing anybody on my father’s side of the family.  I have been told that my grandfather loved to garden and my grandmother may have known all of the skills I missed out on from my mother’s side, but they were all dead before I found them.

So I had to teach myself.  I’ve become a regular pro at some of it (cooking and gardening, especially), and I’m still working on a few of those domestic skills (like using a sewing machine and keeping my house tidy).

I do love knowing these skills, though, and I love that my kids are growing up learning them.  They can choose to become deans of education and know how to grow an organic garden and pressure cook twenty-five quarts of back yard salsa. 🙂

Maria Montessori actually advised that the middle school years should focus on teaching homesteading skills instead of academics, for many reasons.  We loosely follow that during the middle school years, since it seems to suit the tween years so well, developmentally.  (Montessori taught that the high school years should see a refocus on academics, along with real-world work opportunities in the form of internships and volunteer work that provides helpful experience for later careers.)

I recently wrote up 10 Homesteading Skills Every Child Should Learn, and I pointed out some of the reasons it’s so good for kids to learn homesteading skills:

  • They have skills that can save them a lot of money when they’re on their own, since they won’t have to hire others to do them.
  • They are able to be self-sufficient and don’t have to rely on other people to help them or take care of them.
  • They are able to help their neighbors and communities. They can pass on their skills and use their knowledge to help others. Homesteading practices tend to help the environment, too.
  • They have the skills needed to not just survive but thrive even in difficult financial times.
  • They are prepared for emergencies and challenges.
  • They have what they need for financial freedom and are equipped to live comfortably within their means.
  • They have added pride and the sense of accomplishment that comes from “doing it yourself” and doing it well.

I’m still working on teaching a few of the top ten list to the kids (and myself!). I put links to lessons for each category in the article, like free woodworking pages and sites that help teach kids to sew.

If you’re interested in teaching your kids homesteading skills, I also have all my favorite stuff pinned on Pinterest to boards like:

You can see all my Pinterest boards here(BTW, if you’re on Pinterest too, leave a comment and let me know!)

Daryl also focuses on some homesteading skills like making applesauce, using wild foods, foraging with kids and “putting up” foods in his cooking with kids column and his urban foraging column.

I honestly think that teaching our kids homesteading skills is one of the most important parts of their education. It gives them so many advantages in life, and sneaks in plenty of science, math and other subjects along the way.

I also just find that it greatly improves our quality of life, and gives us some pretty neat memories together — and really good food.  🙂

Folktales, Freebies and more

Jason snatches the Golden Fleece. Greek Vase from the 5th century BCE (Metropolitan Museum, New York).

Here’s a round-up of stuff I’ve been meaning to share…

Fairy Tales, Folktales, Fables, and Folklore

This great web site contains hundreds of stories from mythologies around the world.  From Finnish folk tales to Anderson fairy tales to parables of Buddhism, there’s something for everyone.  This would be great to combine with studies of countries or family heritage.

70% of science fair winners are children of immigrants

Only 12 percent of Americans are foreign-born, the NFAP report says. Even so, children of immigrants took 70 percent of the finalist slots in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search Competition, an original-research competition for high school seniors.
Of the 40 finalists, 28 had parents born in other countries: 16 from China, 10 from India, one from South Korea and one from Iran.
“In proportion to their presence in the U.S. population, one would expect only one child of an Indian (or Chinese) immigrant parent every two and a half years to be an Intel Science Search finalist, not 10 in a year,” wrote the report’s author, NFAP director Stuart Anderson.
…”Our parents brought us up with love of science as a value,” David Kenneth Tang-Quan, whose parents emigrated from China to California, told Anderson, according to the report.
Pinterest pages
I’ve heard about Pinterest, where you “pin” web sites you like and can see what others pin, but I wasn’t all that interested.  Until I saw this mom’s homeschool pins and realized what fun this site could be.  I could lose a lot of time here!
Newest homeschool writings
Here’s what I’ve been churning out in the HS front lately at the examiner, on everything from free transcript templates to how Montessori changes from middle school to high school years…

And here’s the latest in other subjects…

And a little sap…  🙂

The Never-Ending Parent

On the personal front, the baby is now very, very wiggly.  He/she doesn’t have a certain time of day or night to bounce around.  It seems to be most of the time!  Hopefully we’ll get an ultrasound next month and finally get to know whether it’s a girl or boy.  I’m so impatient to know.

Victoria is visiting homeschool friends a few hours away this week.  I’m impatient for her to come home, even though I’m sure she’s having a blast.

Anna is taking Irish step dancing lessons for a performance she’ll be doing with a small group of girls in the pageant this year.  The teachers are local homeschool graduates who taught themselves to do Irish step dancing years ago and have performed all over through the years.

Jack and Alex are currently helping Daddy at the cabin and museum.  They’ve been spending much of their time outside and generally end each day covered in mud, sand, scrapes and who knows what else.  I do like summer!


It's Turns Out I'm a Montessori Homeschooler

A while ago, a friend asked me if I knew anything about homeschooling older kids with the Montessori method. I had no clue but I promised I’d look into it for her.

I still had it on the back burner (being 5 months pregnant with 4 kids, too many gardens and an affinity for the internet and junky TV will send a whole lot of things there) when I happened upon a blog post where a mother was talking about how she homeschooled her middle schooler.

Even though her daughter had been educated in a Montessori school and loved it, they abandoned that when it came to the middle school years because the mother said Maria Montessori believed kids of that age should mainly be doing “farmwork.”


She followed that up with a quote from Montessori expert Michael Olaf that immediately had me thinking that I was a fan of Montessori for middle schoolers and got me off on a new rabbit trail.

“The Montessori program for the young adult from age twelve to fifteen is very different from that of traditional school. Dr. Montessori felt that because of the rapid growth, the increased need for sleep, and hormonal changes, it is useless to try to force the adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work. She recommended an Erdkinder, or Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth. Intellectual work is still done, following the child’s interests, but without pressure.”

Okay, let me get this straight…

Kids are supposed to spend time in nature.

Kids are supposed to follow their own interests academically.

Kids are supposed to be taught important life skills like gardening, baking and building.

Kids are supposed to be allowed to follow their own natural needs and rhythms.

Kids are supposed to eat healthy, whole, locally grown foods.

What part of this is a bad thing? 🙂

This is pretty much exactly my line of thinking for how I’ve been homeschooling my kids but especially my older girls (11 and 13, ending 5th and 7th grade).

For example…

  • The kids all help me in the garden and have their own plants they get to buy and tend.
  • Cooking and baking are very important skills that each child gets to learn.  Jack was thrilled to learn how to cook rice in the rice cooker recently and keeps asking when his next cooking class will be.  Anna cooks dishes like fried eggs and tomato soup.  Victoria is now in charge of daily bread making in the bread machine.  Daryl and I try to involve the kids with cooking and baking as much as possible.
  • Anna mended a pillow from my bed that she noticed was ripped today.  She jumps on any opportunity to sew or mend things around the house.
  • Victoria helped Daryl build me two raised garden beds.  She got to saw, drill and help figure out the amount of lumber needed and how to figure out its final area for filling with dirt and compost.
  • Nature is a huge part of our homeschooling.  The kids do a lot of hiking, exploring, bird watching, tracking, tree climbing, rock hunting and so forth.
  • We talk a lot about life skills, budgeting, homemaking, nutrition and other parts of life that we think are important.
  • Daryl involves the kids in using power tools, doing repairs and such.
  • The kids are given more and more responsibilities as they age.  Victoria is in charge of a lot of our laundry, for instance, and Jack is in charge of taking care of many of the cats’ needs.
  • Our home environment is still filled with enriching things that help foster learning.  The living areas are strewn with the Brock magiscope and various slides, math gadgets, educational games, books, tools, science gadgets, notebooks and so on.
  • Interest-led learning still plays a huge part in the kids’ education.  They take part in science conferences, script frenzy, nature programs, community theater, volunteer activities, homeschool events, and so forth.  They read National Geographic, follow literature blogs, play math games… and on and on.
  • I’ve repeatedly stressed to the kids that I want them to be prepared for life by knowing how to live well on very little money.  We talk about how to find dirt cheap good housing, how to grow and preserve food, how to make meals from scratch, how to avoid big spending traps and so forth.  This knowledge will serve them no matter how much money they make, and help give them real freedom in life.

Here’s the article I ended up writing about how to use Montessori principles for middle school years.  I’m planning on following up with several more on the topic, too.

Far from seeing all of this as “farmwork,” I see all this as a really natural way to teach during the middle school years — and a really practical way.

Far too often, even middle school years are spent almost exclusively getting children ready for college.  A Montessori education prepares children for life.

College-bound teens can still devote time to subjects they’ll need for college.  But for middle-schoolers, is a life spent engaged in nature, life skills and interest-led learning really such a bad thing?

You know my vote.  😉



Why I'm an Eclectic Homeschooler

I just finished a series of articles for the Examiner that really solidified for me why our homeschool style here is so eclectic.  I wrote about five great lessons to take from all different types of homeschooling, including Montessori, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason and Unschooling.  They are all parts of what we do here, and why I love the freedom we have as homeschool parents.  We truly can take the best of all worlds and adapt it all to perfectly suit each of our children.

If you want to check out the series, here it is so far…

Montessori Methods:

Five lessons to take from Montessori for your homeschool

Making your own Montessori materials

Waldorf Methods:

Five lessons to take from Waldorf for your homeschool

Making your own Waldorf Materials

Charlotte Mason Methods:

Five lessons to take from Charlotte Mason for your homeschool

Make your own nature journals

Make pocket-and-handle nature journals from paper bags!

Unschooling Methods:

Five lessons to take from unschooling for your homeschool

Five great blogs by unschoolers for inspiration, projects, games and more

And next in the series… Five lessons not to take from public school in your homeschool.  🙂

What I've Been Yapping About Lately

We’ll return to the photo spread of reasons I’m glad we HS tomorrow but in the meantime here’s a few things I wanted to pass on if you missed them and if you care!  🙂

Friday only: FREE iLiveMath Animals of Africa app for kids

Yes, today.  We don’t have any of those newfangled devices like iPhones or iPods so I have no use for this freebie, but it sure looks good!  Daryl always says our blog should be titled “One step up from the Amish.”  😉

Five lessons to take from Montessori for your homeschool

These are my favorite Montessori principles and ones I’ve always tried to incorporate here.  (Trivia tidbit:  I attended a Montessori school in California until first grade.  My mother enrolled me in preschool there at 3 so I could skip kindergarten and enter first grade at age 5.  I hated traditional schools but I loved Montessori.)

Making your own Montessori materials

Because while they’re cool, most Montessori materials require a second mortgage.

Freely Educate shares free teaching materials daily

Are you a subscriber yet?  I love this site!  You’ll lose a ton of time checking out their recommendations.  😉

Kids can use Russian Peasant Multiplication to easily multiply large numbers

We had so much fun with this!  Why is it that if I try to teach my kids anything traditional with math they act as if I’m performing dental work without anesthesia, but every time I find something like short division or Russian Peasant Multiplication they act like I’m handing out chocolates?  Anna actually asked me for more pages of it the next day — twice.  It’s odd fun.

Homeschool 101: What about socialization?

All my thoughts and favorite answers to a really ridiculous question.  🙂