By Kimberly Miller
No one can deny that the days in which we live have caused us to pause and look at our lifestyles in a new way. Goods and services that we may have taken for granted in the past could possibly be difficult to come by in the future. It is important to reexamine some of the ways we have done things in the past and perhaps find different ways of doing them in the future.
Homeschooling families have, by nature, always been a do-it-yourself kind of people. We take full responsibility for our children’s education, not wanting to pass it off to someone else. Why not let that mindset translate into other areas of our lives as well?
Past generations understood this idea of taking responsibility for themselves. Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived through two world wars and a major economic depression. They knew a thing or two about getting by and doing what needed to be done to make it through. The generations that lived through the Great Depression had to learn out of necessity to do things for themselves. The ones who lived through those times with the least impact on their way of life were those that were largely self-sufficient. My father, for instance, grew up on a farm and as a young boy, he hardly even noticed that the family was struggling financially. They had food on the table and clothes on their backs and were, for the most part, content. Why? Because my grandparents—his parents—knew how to do things for themselves. They had access to food because they grew it themselves. They repaired and reused what they had because they had no other choice. They had the skills to do what needed to be done to care for themselves and their family.
We have the opportunity to be in the same position as my grandparents were. Right now is the time to learn the skills that will serve us well in times such as these. As homeschooling families, this can be an opportunity for learning and growing together. We can also better prepare our children for whatever the future may hold for them.
Imagine learning time honored skills like gardening, raising livestock, knitting or sewing, and cooking from scratch alongside your children. Think of how it would feel to develop skills that enable you to provide yourself with life’s most basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Self-sufficiency gives a tremendous sense of satisfaction to those who achieve it.
You don’t have to develop every one of the skills we will discuss. Choose the ones you believe are most important or useful for your family. Make it work for you. Not all of our ancestors had every skill necessary for survival, either. Rather, they had specialties, as well as a general understanding of other skills, and the all-important ability to barter for things they could not produce or provide for themselves.
Listed below are a few of the skills homeschooling families could benefit from learning together.
Growing or Finding Food—Gardening
Food is basic to human survival. In our first article in this series, we discussed the importance of having a well-stocked pantry and the types of food items that are especially helpful to have on hand in case of an emergency. But what happens when a length of time occurs is which we must provide food for ourselves without the help of stores? Are we ready to grow or find food for ourselves and our families?
Many people in rural areas have grown a vegetable garden at some point. You might have even grown a garden yourself. If you have, you know just how rewarding the experience can be. For those who have never done any gardening, but would like to learn how, the good news is that gardening is not complicated and most people can grow their own vegetables and fruit. With a small investment of time and labor, most who desire to garden can do so successfully. The benefits of fresh, healthy food and time spent in the fresh air can’t be measured simply in the amount of food grown and harvested. Teach your children how to grow green things. If you do not know how, learn it along with them.
But what if you live in a suburban neighborhood or even in a city? How can you garden with no land on which to do it? Container gardening or community sustainable agriculture are great ways to garden without needing a yard to do it in. If you have a small patch of land, consider educating yourself on raised bed gardening, square foot gardening, or edible landscaping, all of which are great options for those with a tiny plot of land to work with. It is amazing the amount of vegetables that can be grown in a window box or a patio planter. Try it and you might find that you love it. It will be a rewarding project for the whole family.
Planting fruit and nut trees and berry bushes can be another great way to grow your own food if you have the space for it. Plant a small orchard of dwarf trees and look forward to a harvest of fresh fruit in just a few years. The best part of growing fruit trees and bushes is that with very little maintenance, you will be able to harvest food from them year after year for many years.
Wildcrafting or foraging can be a fun and satisfying method of finding food. Wild berries, roots, and greens are free and require no effort to grow. It is absolutely essential, however, that you are positive in your ability to identify edible plants and fruit. Don’t eat it if you are not one hundred percent sure that it is safe to eat.
Gardening is an ideal place to start when you are developing your family’s self-sufficiency skills.
Growing or Finding Food—Livestock
Keeping small livestock can be a wonderful project and a great learning opportunity for homeschooling families. Consider keeping a small flock of chickens in your backyard. They require little space, take very little time to care for each day, and provide a delightful source of fresh food full of protein and other nutrients in the form of eggs. The birds themselves are also a delicious meal, though less sustainable than keeping laying hens who continue giving eggs every day for years.
Other livestock options for those who have room are goats (for both dairy and meat, as well as providing fiber for spinning yarn in the case of some breeds), sheep (also a good source of meat and fiber), rabbits (one of the easier types of livestock to raise for meat), pigs (who could pass up home raised bacon?), and of course cows for dairy and beef. If the idea of keeping a dairy cow intimidates you (they can be a lot of work and take up quite a bit of room), consider one of the small kinds of livestock. Our family has kept goats off and on for years and they require a minimal amount of work while being a delight to raise.
If raising livestock is not an option for you because of your lifestyle or living conditions, perhaps you could use bartering to obtain some good quality sources of meat, dairy, and eggs. Connect with others in your local community who would be interested in trading for any goods or services you might offer in exchange.
Raising livestock can be a lot of fun for the whole family and a great opportunity for children to learn more about living things within the context of real life. Do some research to determine if livestock might be an option for your family.
Of course, two sources of meat we should not overlook are hunting and fishing. Both of these can be enjoyable pastimes as well as an excellent means of providing food for the family. Hunting and fishing are time-honored traditions for people in our state and are wonderful opportunities for generations to bond over shared interests. Older generations can teach their young people to harvest meat from the wild in responsible and safe ways, passing on these traditions to subsequent generations, as it should be.
Keeping a Self-Sufficient Home
There are things we take for granted as being available that we would benefit from reexamining in light of how sustainable they really are. Step back and take a good look at your home. If you had no access to electricity or oil, would you be able to heat and light your home?
None of us wants to think about the worst-case scenario. However, wisdom dictates that we have some sort of plan in place in case we ever run into a situation that requires it. We live in one of the most heavily forested states in the country. We won’t be running out of sources for wood any time soon. That means that an ideal source for heating a home in the state of Maine is wood. A wood stove or fireplace is a good backup (or primary) source of heat if it ever becomes necessary.
You will need to plan for access to fresh water. Good clean water is an essential for survival, and without easy access to it, life can be difficult or even dangerous. Water is something most of us take for granted. We walk into the kitchen and turn on the tap and the water simply flows out from it. But what if you had no way of getting water into your house by usual means? Do you have a source of water that does not require the use of electricity or access to a store to buy it in bottled form? Spend some time considering this issue, as it is an especially important one. If you have a well, you can purchase a hand powered pump for it, or consider purchasing a good quality water filtration system that is not dependent on electricity.
If you live in a multifamily building, these considerations may be a challenge for you, but with some thought, a bit of creativity, and a little research, you should be able to come up with a solution for your unique living situation.
Food Preservation and Preparation
If you are going to grow your own fruits and vegetables and raise your own livestock, it is beneficial to know how to preserve the harvest. Learning methods of food preservation that do not require refrigeration, such as canning, drying, and root cellar storage, are helpful in moving down the road toward self sufficiency.
The goal here is to make sure that you have the food you have spent time and effort producing in the winter months when it is no longer accessible in its freshest forms. There are many ways of food preservation that do not rely on the freezer or refrigerator. Canning is a great place to start with this. A good book on how to can will be a tremendous asset in building knowledge of this traditional form of storing food for the winter. Generations of our ancestors used canning to keep vegetables for use when out of season. Dehydrating food can also be an easy and affordable way of preserving produce, especially fruits and grains. Certain types of fruits are particularly suited to preserving through dehydration. Herbs are another harvest that can be dried for future use.
Traditional forms of food preparation are another skill that we could all benefit from knowing. Cooking simple but nutritious meals from scratch can be a rewarding and essential skill for our entire family. Teach your children to cook the old-fashioned way. If you don’t know how, learn alongside them.
Self-Sufficient Clothing Care
Caring for and creating clothing is a set of skills that some homeschooling families might find interesting to learn more about. Looking back at previous generations, we can see that our ancestors had skills centered around clothing that have largely been neglected in recent generations. Now may be the time to reclaim some of those skills. Simple handicrafts such as knitting and sewing are a great place to start if you or your children are interested in learning more about these old-fashioned skills. Spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and embroidery are all wonderful hobbies that can provide practical necessities for daily living with a creative and beautifying element to them as well.
Having a sustainable means of washing laundry is a largely underrated aspect of self sufficiency. It is on the less glamorous side of the skills listed here, but an inability to wash your clothing without electricity or gas could become unpleasant rather quickly. Give some thought to this and you will be happy you arranged for a means of doing laundry. A simple backyard clothesline is a great place to start. Research alternative clothes washing systems and be prepared. Of course, a good old-fashioned bucket of soapy water and some arm-powered scrubbing will do the trick if necessary.
The skill of bartering may become more and more important in our society as the price of everything from food to oil continues to go up. As cash loses its value, the trading of goods and services may become an essential part of our economy, as it has been in previous generations.
What goods and services can you offer in exchange for something you may need or want? Do you have a skill someone else needs use of? Can you create or stock items that others will want and will be able to trade for?
Our ancestors relied on their local communities for some of their daily needs as well as the important aspect of social connection. A sense of community is vital for mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Get connected with a community of like-minded people near you that you can look to for encouragement, help, and support with practical daily living. (The HOME website is a great place to look for ways to get connected with other homeschooling families in your local area.)
These are just a few of the skills that may become increasingly important in the future. Help your children and yourself be prepared by learning some of these skills together. Not only will it help with day-to-day life, but it can be a fun bonding experience as you learn beside one another. Tie some of these learning opportunities into your history and science studies and make it a regular part of your homeschooling endeavors.
In our third and final article in this series, we will review a few of the best resources to utilize in order to gain these skills. These resources include books, articles, websites, magazines, and online resources that can be helpful in guiding those seeking to gain skills in the areas of preparedness and self sufficiency.
Kimberly Miller is the mother of nine children and has been homeschooling them for over twenty years. She has served HOME for almost fifteen years as the Publications Coordinator and a Regional Representative. In addition to those roles, Kimberly is also a freelance editor and a published author of several books, both fiction and nonfiction. In her spare time, she loves reading good books, sipping tea, working in her garden, and enjoying the animals on her family’s hobby farm in Western Maine.