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Homesteading with Young Children

 
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Are you interested in homesteading with young kids? Not sure if you can do it safely and without wearing yourself to the ground? Here are my tips and real life experiences homesteading with my young kids and husband. In my video, I talk a lot about how I cope with the lack of sleep and the all-consuming attention that it requires to parent young children. They are adorable and fun, but also exhausting at times. It's been a learning curve for me and I think there are those folks out there that have a similar experience. Hopefully my tips will help you accomplish as much as possible while still having little kids running around (or sleeping in a sling!). I've also written an article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS detailing some of the Health and Safety issues (hint: mice!) you can run into with homesteading + kids. I would love to post the whole article, but the magazine asks that we don't publish articles in two different places. Please comment and enjoy!

Anyone older and wiser who has some advice for what it was like growing up on a farm? What worked, what didn't work?





In this article, I want to cover some of the additional key things that a family needs to watch out for with young children. My husband is a total expert in keeping safety at the forefront of our minds at all times, so I try to take a page from his book as often as I can.

We like to take things slowly as a family. That means focusing on the super important critical projects and leaving everything else to sort itself out in time. So, the first projects we tackled when we moved to our farm included: fixing up the bathroom and setting up a really basic, functional kitchen (without running water). We left out projects that were more about prettiness, like putting laminate on the floors instead of the old carpet, or replacing a door that was damaged leading to the balcony (we simply screwed plywood over the opening).  

How does all this relate to having young kids on the farm? Simply that when you go fast, you are more likely get injured or injure someone around you and make mistakes that cost more time and money. With young kids in your family, you have to have patience and take it slow so that everyone is safe and only the essential things are handled.

Read the rest at: MOTHER EARTH NEWS

I know there are quite a few Moms on Permies that are homesteading and raising young children, some of them all by themselves (picture me bowing down to you right now!). What are your thoughts/advice?

 
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On the topic of mice, we had to get a cat. We'd had one before my son was born, and never had mice problems....and then the cat disappeared (predator got it), and suddenly there were rats scurrying around in broad daylight and mice too (not to mention bunnies that ate all our garden). Once we finally got two more barn cats, the rodent issues disappeared. And, the kids have a low-maintance pet--win!

Speaking of animals, I would wait on getting any new animals until things stablize for you. There's a huge learning curve to animals, and they take a lot of time (and sometimes training). Something like a few chickens or ducks might be doable when the child is a toddler...but I wouldn't get a new dog or large livestock until you've got the kids old enough that you have time to train the animal and learn to care for it correctly. At least, that's our plan on our homestead. We have a flock of ducks that we got when my son was almost a year...and we haven't gotten anything else since! I might try getting sheep next year, when my youngest is three. We'll see!

One gardening tool that I find really handy with kids is my clip on pruners. My kids don't use them, but I do! And if they want to go play somewhere, I can follow and watch them, and prune trees and chop and drop weeds and prune back bramble while still watching them. I find it's nigh-impossible to get more than 20 feet from my kids without them wanting me back, so it's really hard to go and get tools. But, as long as I have my pruning shears, I can get stuff done no matter where they are!

Another big help is a wheelbarrow. You can bring all your tools and your child in the wheelbarrow. That way you don't have to go back and forth to get more stuff while your child screams and wants you or cries because you walk too fast.

I found my baby carrier invaluable when my kids were babies. My son would ride in it while I'd work, and when my daughter was a baby, she'd ride and even take her naps in it while I watched my son and worked in the garden. Having long tools that I could use standing so she could sleep, was really important. If I stopped moving, she woke up!
 
Rosemary Hansen
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I love your response, Nicole! Thank you for sharing your tips :-) I was hoping you would weigh in.

You're right, a good farm cat would solve the mouse issue. But I've had cats that weren't good mousers, so we didn't want to risk getting overrun with mice. But farm cats are a definite asset and can be hard workers! Oh, and my son had eczema as a baby which was made worse by cat dander, so we're hesistant to add cats if it brings up his eczema issues again.

I totally agree about waiting to get animals. We're tenatively planning to get rabbits this year, but we will definitely wait for any bigger animals. I feel like it's irresponsible to take on animals if I'm not ready to go with shelters, water system, and lots of food and bedding stocked up for them.

It's funny, I actually have a pair of pruners in my purse, haha! I love my pruners. I always have them on hand in case I find some cool wild edibles on my walks. But I love your idea for bringing them out to the garden with the kids. I'm gonna start doing that, along with your wheelbarrow-stroller idea!

Love the tip about tools that you can use while standing and not bending. It's true that once a baby sleeps in the carrier or sling, they will wake up with one little bend-over or wrong move.

Thanks for the comment, Nicole!
 
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A big help for us back when we had a few big projects to do was to have portable play things to move along to different areas around the property for our toddler. A sandbox, slide, little play house, etc. was a bit of a pain to move but it really helped keep her entertained so we could get more done at a time.
Also when it was hot, setting up a "teepee" or tent in the shade where she could lay down with her water bottle and some books or toys was nice for her.

Having her own little tools helped to keep her busy while she "helped" us work and made it less likely she would snatch one of ours and loose it somewhere.

Packing a going-outside bag with easy to eat snacks, water bottle, some extra clothing, wetwipes, bug spray, sun hats, sunglasses, etc. was really helpful and saved a lot of time. If she was hungry, got her shirt dirty/wet and HAD to have another one, got her hands dirty, etc. I could take care of the problem right there instead of having to take her all the way back to the house and then all the way back out to the work site.

Took her little kid potty outwith us to. Saved a lot of bathroom trips!

 
Rosemary Hansen
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Adrienne, great tips! Thanks for contributing to this discussion. Oh man, a sandbox is really a lifesaver, eh? And my favorite is playdough in wintertime. Even my older kid loves playdough, haha!
 
Nicole Alderman
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Adrienne Halbrook wrote:
Took her little kid potty outwith us to. Saved a lot of bathroom trips!



↑↑ This! ↑↑

Every time you have to walk back to the house for something, you'll be spending 10-20 minutes doing so. Having the potty outside is one of the most important things for potty training little ones! That, and you don't want to have an accident on the way to the bathroom because they waited until the last moment!
 
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I second (third?) the advice about taking the potty out with you! That was a big time saver for us. She could have gone in the grass but the potty was familiar for her.

We also used a screened shade tent, with pillow and blanket, water and snack... And the "phone" which was a very old (cell and wifi disabled) phone we had loaded up with music, pictures of family members, and "primitive technology" videos. The pop-up tent was super great once I really understood how to fold it into that three part loopy circle. Groking that took a while!

I love it when she is hanging with us outdoors, and I feel like that would have been the best way, but i was not able to keep her interested for long enough in her own activity- I would spend the whole time helping her and get nothing done in the yarden. I have gotten better but I still need more practice creating fun outdoor experiences for her. I tried to have her outside with me as much as I could manage.

The next problem was gloves- she wanted to help pull weeds- but I use gloves and no glove was small enough for her. (We tend to have rashly skin and pokey weeds.) Finally now at 5 the very tiniest work gloves are usable. I never did find a source for gloves that would fit a 1, 2, 3 or small 4 year old! Please do let me know if you happen to know of one. :)

The other problem was at certain times and locations the mosquitos are thick- a cloud all over her head, leaving multiple bites on every inch, which I never wanted to happen to her again, for fear of negative association. At those times she would have to stay entirely in the tent.

Our yard in most places is jungley and at two feet high came up to her chest- the grass wound around her shoes and it was hard for her to walk. Creating a lawn area helped, but for me the tent was efficient and effective.

Two good activities we found are to snip up leaves into shapes with scissors and then stick them onto things (cardboard for instance), and to use water to "paint" the driveway / sidewalk / flagstones / rocks.

Hiding and finding rocks that we had previously painted was very fun but she really wanted a second person for that game. She could play it on her own happily for maybe ten minutes on average.

Building forts from sticks and leaves was really fun but needed a lot of help, too much help to be a go-to item for us. I think for some kids it might be enough to set up the main bones of the structure and let them cover it with branches and large leaves.

A slightly older neighbor child, one both interested in and suited to watching littles, would have been the very best. I would gladly have paid in endless cookies. :)

Oh yeah, one of the best things about the tent was that if I accidentally gardened for an extra 2 hours and let the sun go down (oops) she would usually fall asleep with the sunset. This at an age where bedtime was a 2-3 hour routine. (Not in pajamas, not teeth brushed, snacks for dinner, so not ideal, but still... It felt natural and sweet.) Someday, I hope to have enough windows that we could experience that evening time sleepy inside the bedroom.

What kind of games were the most diverting outdoors for your littles? :)
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Some kids are definitely better "independent" players than others but I've had a lot of luck with these activities, they typically require very little direct involvement from me and my daughter loved doing them day after day;

- Digging! Digging in gravel piles, sand box, dirt, etc. A few small digging tools, a bucket or toy dump truck and she had a ton of fun.

- Water play! Obviously needs close supervision but depending on the situation it can work well. The obvious one is a kiddy pool but I've found even just buckets of water or the hose left on to trickle, shallow pans with water, watering cans, etc. are hours of entertainment that she happily does without needing me to join in and play with her.

- Playing house. She has always loved playing house but when she turned 4 yrs. old she really started enjoying playing it independently and will play in her little play house for hours. She cooks, opens up a restaurant, tends to her pretend garden, takes care of her babies, etc.  She has one of those big plastic play houses, we bought it used. It can be moved around the property so we can set her up where we are working.

Now I have a baby too so it's going to be another learning curve to figure out what will work with her to buy me a little outdoor work time.

Edited; added picture of gravel play area. This was the site of a big gravel pile that we were taking gravel from, she played on it everyday until there was just a loose layer of it left and it was still fun .
Playing-in-gravel.jpg
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Rosemary Hansen
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Oh, I love all of your suggestions Kay and Adrienne!

My toddler-age kid loved having a kid sized wheellbarrow to fill with dirt, dump, drive, repeat.

And water was always a loved activity with a dripping hose or a shallow-filled kiddie pool. And when he got older, water guns! Give them pots, bowls, cups, spoons and clean paint brushes and they will go to town with the water play!

Babies are trickier to entertain in the garden, I never found the perfect way to do it. Some days were easier than others. If you have a shady tree and short grass, they love looking up at the tree on their backs and pulling out grass (and eating it..not so good!). But the time frame is a lots horter for when they're tired of being by themselves. I used a playpen out in the garden, but my babies used to get mad about being penned up after getting bored of toys...so it's not the best solution.

Have you looked at making your own mosquito spray with essential oils? Using a base of witch hazel + Geranium oil is proven to keep mosquitos away, almost as effectively as DEET. But use caution with babies and don't over-apply it. I think also lemon oil and lemongrass oil are good. The mosquitos are really fierce here too and very large!! I'm not sure how we're going to protect my toddlers this year. Let me know if you get any good ideas about that!
 
Kay Gelfling
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Rosemary Hansen wrote:

Have you looked at making your own mosquito spray with essential oils? Using a base of witch hazel + Geranium oil is proven to keep mosquitos away, almost as effectively as DEET. But use caution with babies and don't over-apply it. I think also lemon oil and lemongrass oil are good. The mosquitos are really fierce here too and very large!! I'm not sure how we're going to protect my toddlers this year. Let me know if you get any good ideas about that!



Thank you! I would dearly love to make my own mosquito spray! I will try the witch hazel + Geranium oil on myself and see how it goes. The lemon oil and the lemongrass oil i have had limited success, maybe i wasn't using enough?

For the witch hazel and geranium, is toxicity the reason for not over-applying? How much is too much? I googled geranium oil and it suggested not for use by pregnant or nursing moms due to it influencing hormone secretions. That makes me nervous for applying to my young one on a regular basis. My lack of knowledge / confidence in the essential oils / medical realm has kept me from using any kind of bug spray or sunscreen on her so far. (Except a handful of occasions for the sunscreen when we had to be out in full sun at the wrong time of day.) I'm glad to start learning more.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Ah! Squirt guns! Now that would be fun! Great ideas Rosemary!

I'm still trying to find things that work for the biting Deer flies and mosquitoes other than a screened tent. We do everything we can to prevent standing water where mosquitoes breed but we are surrounded by wet woodland so a lot of mosquitoes come from there.

I've often thought about giving an insect mesh hat and/or suit a try. Kids mesh shirt

Some people say they work to keep ticks off too.
61zfQow8BXL._UY445_.jpg
[Thumbnail for 61zfQow8BXL._UY445_.jpg]
 
Nicole Alderman
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My first thought is that would take forever to get on my kids! Maybe yours might be more inclined, though. It always seems to take 10 minutes to get shoes and coats on my kids to get them outside, though. Maybe tucking in long pants into socks and rubber-bands around long sleeve wrists, and the net on the head would be easier? You can also try crushing some garlic and putting it in their pockets and rubbing it on their clothes. Garlic seems to be the best natural mosquito repellent we've used...
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Nicole Alderman wrote:My first thought is that would take forever to get on my kids! Maybe yours might be more inclined, though. It always seems to take 10 minutes to get shoes and coats on my kids to get them outside, though. Maybe tucking in long pants into socks and rubber-bands around long sleeve wrists, and the net on the head would be easier? You can also try crushing some garlic and putting it in their pockets and rubbing it on their clothes. Garlic seems to be the best natural mosquito repellent we've used...



LOL! yes that sounds like us too. The suit would definitely add anther level of difficulty.

I never heard about using garlic that way, I'll definitely try it out!
 
Kay Gelfling
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Wow, yay, a lot of great activity ideas!

We end up wearing a lot of long-pants, long-sleeves, socks even in summer for bug and sun protection. That doesn't work for hands and heads of course. I love the idea of the mesh outfit (great pic! ha!) but i have found two problems: mosquitos' little noses are long enough that they can sit on the outside of the mesh and just bite right through it, if your skin is touching the mesh anywhere. Even a sock pulled too tight (or some kinds of weave on material) can be a problem. In the screen tent, we had to make sure she would not lean on the sides. It looks like, in the picture, the bagginess is there to address that problem, but for me movement pulls the material so that there are bite spots.

The second is that although we occasionally don the "hat-cone of shame" mesh, it tends to make us feel very separate from our environment, disconnected from reality, like foggy brain. Maybe i need a better mesh? Does anybody have one of these that they love wearing?

We also tried an electric zapper- it looked like a small tennis racquet, which a friend gave us as a present. Upon experimentation, it was determined that it did not kill the mosquitos that it zapped unless they got stuck inside the metal mesh and fried. They would get back up and fly away after a minute or so when just zapped by normal contact. It was pretty fun to use, and she could have spent a long time "saving me from mosquitos" if it would actually end them. We have seen some designs for giant fans with an attached mesh that we have wondered about, but haven't tried.

Has anybody had any success encouraging mosquito predators? Mosquitos are an introduced species here, and although we have a couple of bat houses bats are struggling. Would love to have them cleaned up naturally, if it made sense. =)

Ooo, i'd love to try the garlic. We love garlic!!
 
Rosemary Hansen
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Kay Gelfling wrote:

Rosemary Hansen wrote:

Have you looked at making your own mosquito spray with essential oils? Using a base of witch hazel + Geranium oil is proven to keep mosquitos away, almost as effectively as DEET. But use caution with babies and don't over-apply it. I think also lemon oil and lemongrass oil are good. The mosquitos are really fierce here too and very large!! I'm not sure how we're going to protect my toddlers this year. Let me know if you get any good ideas about that!



Thank you! I would dearly love to make my own mosquito spray! I will try the witch hazel + Geranium oil on myself and see how it goes. The lemon oil and the lemongrass oil i have had limited success, maybe i wasn't using enough?

For the witch hazel and geranium, is toxicity the reason for not over-applying? How much is too much? I googled geranium oil and it suggested not for use by pregnant or nursing moms due to it influencing hormone secretions. That makes me nervous for applying to my young one on a regular basis. My lack of knowledge / confidence in the essential oils / medical realm has kept me from using any kind of bug spray or sunscreen on her so far. (Except a handful of occasions for the sunscreen when we had to be out in full sun at the wrong time of day.) I'm glad to start learning more.



Here is Wellness Mama's mosquito spray recipe, hope it helps you make your own.

Homemade Bug Spray - Wellness Mama Recipe

   30 drops geranium essential oil
   30 drops citronella essential oil
   20 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
   20 drops lavender essential oil
   10 drops rosemary essential oil
   1 TBSP vodka or rubbing alcohol
   ½ cup natural witch hazel
   ½ cup water (or vinegar)
   1 tsp vegetable glycerin (optional)

Good question about over-applying. I would say every 30 minutes is fine but probably no more than 4 or 5 times? That's about the amount of times I do for my kids, but I'm not an expert on essential oils. But if you're spraying on clothes (like long-sleeved shirts and pants), then it's probably fine to spray all day as long as the child can hold their breath and not breathe it in each time. And always spot test on your kid first before spraying all over, just in case they're allergic. Hope that helps!
 
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