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    Homeschooling: Year One Special Project

    June 9, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve alluded to our desire to grow some of our own food, to hide chickens in our backyard, and perhaps a goat. We’ve been reading the Little House books, and become quite aware of our own incompetence when it comes to self-sufficiency. After all, in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa digs his own well.

    In time for lunch.


    So it is clear that I know nothing about anything when it comes to survival or even perhaps keeping a potted plant alive.

    Enter the Year One Special Project, known to my son and I as the Homestead Binder. My son is always asking questions about farming {he says he wants to be a farmer, and we will see what happens in time}. He wants to know what chickens eat, how to know when the corn is ready to harvest, and how to keep bugs off his zucchini plants. Most of what he wants to know is information that is readily available on the Internet.

    Now, I’m not about to let my six-year-old start surfing the Internet. However, the idea of learning what we can is the skill of a lifetime. He is already an avid reader, and he is the son of an avid researcher.

    Enter the Homestead Binder.

    Basically, I am going to begin printing off articles whenever I see them. I’m going to invite family to send us little snippets as they come across them. Short, simple articles are what I will choose {he’s not exactly ready to read Logsdon’s All Flesh Is Grass or Phillips’ The Apple Grower yet!}, and hopefully they will focus on one specific topic {like raising chickens or something}. I’m going to teach him how to highlight or underline important things he wants to remember. Like many other skills, we will do it together until he proves he is ready to go out on his own a bit.

    I’ve already come up with a variety of divider titles. After all, he has shown desire for both breadth and depth of knowledge, so I plan to feed him in both directions. Here are the subject areas I have so far:

    • Ducks
    • Chickens
    • Goats
    • Vegetables
    • Herbs
    • Fruiting Trees
    • Berries
    • Composting
    • Grasses
    • Flowers
    • Beneficials
    • Preserving the Harvest
    • Tools of the Trade

    We can always add more areas if we find we have an interest in something. I know this seems like a big list, but I figure we will build this binder the way we do everything else, step by step, one little bite at a time, over many months and months.

    As I was thinking about this project, it dawned on me I could do something like this with any of my children {once they can read} concerning any subject they are interested in. Does my daughter want to learn to sew? We could build a binder over time as we study stitches, fabrics, patterns, and the like. I have a feeling that this is a great way to teach the children that they can learn about anything they are interested in.

    Of course, the ultimate way to learn about farming would be to meet real-life farmers. A friend and I have already discussed a possible field trip to the urban homestead in Pasadena, whose owners grow over 75% of their own food using organic/biodynamic methods. As we find bits of inspiration around us, and meet the experts in our path, we’ll be sure to interrogate learn from them whenever we can.

    And, finally, the binder, like everything else, will be preparation for real life. We will try and implement whatever we can that we learn {again, in small steps and over time}. We’ll improve our tomato-raising abilities. Maybe we’ll get a pet Khaki Campbell duck. We’ll try to act on what we learn, which will lead not just to knowledge, but to wisdom {or, some would say, skill}.

    And I’m finding myself romanticizing homeschooling once again. Sure, it is hard work. Some days, I’d really like to ship the little ones off to an institution and have successive cups of coffee and reading time. But nothing can compare with the time we get to spend, living, learning, and growing together. It is the little things that tie our hearts together, the willingness to say that if something is interesting to you, there must be something there worth loving and knowing and why don’t we learn together? It’s not just filling heads, it is binding lives and growing souls.

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  • Reply Brandy June 9, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Larissa, Thank you for the suggestions! I will definitely look into that. I was thinking that next spring, once the baby we’re expecting is out of the newborn stage, we might be able to try our hands at our first 4H project. I know our oldest would especially appreciate it.

    KansasMom, Wow! Sounds like you will have a REAL homestead, and not just a binder. πŸ™‚ I looked up the zoning, and I think that chickens are out, though we’ve met some people who have simply asked their neighbors first and then gone ahead with the neighborhood blessing. That is one of the reasons I’ve been looking into Khaki Cambell ducks. Not only can they outlay almost every breed of chicken, but they are tiny (4 pounds full grown) and qualify as “pets”.

    Geese are awesome. I recently learned that you can train them to weed your orchard. How cool is that?

    Goats? I’ve heard the horror stories! I have one aquaintance who says that nannies are generally easier than billies, but this is a reason why goats are more of a long-term (if ever) project. I don’t fancy mothering a newborn while training an ornery goat! πŸ™‚ I figure that, as we study them, at least we know where our milk comes from!

  • Reply Kansas Mom June 9, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    I was also going to recommend the extension office. Ours has classes almost every weekend over the summer. I’m not sure how many of them are geared toward kids, but I get the feeling they’re thrilled with any and all comers.

    I bet my husband wishes he had something like this growing up. He’s very interested in farming now and we’re planning to buy 5-10 acres for our little farm in the next year or so. We’re planning on chickens, then maybe adding pigs, geese and a milk cow. He also has big plans for an orchard, huge garden, and growing all or most of the food for the animals.

    Just a warning, a friend who’s a large animal vet said goats really are as hard to contain (and as voracious) as their reputation suggests.

    Also, have you checked your ordinances on chickens? I think many cities allow up to three (or more) on properties within city limits. (Perhaps that’s a Kansas thing.)

  • Reply Larissa June 9, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    Agriculture and Natural Resources have free publications on-line on various topics.

    Also you might contact your local cooperative extension or 4-H office.

  • Reply Brandy June 9, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    Kimbrah, Grains are an excellent idea! I have often considered planting a small amount just so that the kids can learn how it works. You know, like a square yard of milo or something, and then learn how to separate the grain out, etc. It’d be a good learning experience!

    Sheep are something I hesitate to spend time studying just because no one around here has ever mentioned them other than to say that they really like sheep’s milk romano cheese. However, if it comes up I’ll definitely add that category, too.

  • Reply Kimbrah June 9, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I don’t know if you would put “grains” under grasses, but that would be an interesting topic as well. I also thought of “sheep” because you can milk them and they are good for meat.

    I think this is an amazing idea and I just might steal it. πŸ™‚

    And my word verification was only 5 letters long.

  • Reply Brandy June 9, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    Raised beds sound wonderful! I would love to see your plans. Si and I couldn’t sleep last night because we were daydreaming about the auction and what we would do to that half-acre if it were ours.

    If you would like to borrow the six-year-old for your fall project, I am sure he would relish working, especially with Uncle MPL. πŸ™‚

    Of course, it costs about a million dollars to feed him, but who’s counting, right?

    Word verification: I can’t see it on my own blog, but on someone else’s yesterday, it was so long I messed it up twice in a row! :/

  • Reply rebecca June 9, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I think our fall project is going to be getting our raised beds built and perhaps planted with winter vegetables. Any volunteers from the Vencel homestead?

    I just looked at the word verification and it is up to 8 letters long now!

  • Reply Brandy June 9, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks, Anonymous! I will definitely check that out. A long time ago, when we first realized our children could drink goat’s milk (even though they are allergic to cow’s milk), I found a very helpful article on raising goats published by a county somewhere in Kentucky. It never dawned on me I could find more of the same if I kept looking!

  • Reply Anonymous June 9, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    The USDA use to publish articles on a large variety of subjects. You might check out their website. The booklets use to be free but I think they charged for shipping. Of course that was prior to the advent of computers and they could be online articles.

    If not, the USDA the County Farm Comissioners office might have articles.

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