The 5 Most Important Back to the Land/Homesteading Skills Every Kid Should Know

What are Back to the Land skills?

Back to the Land skills are the skills required to become closer to the land, and by association, your source of food and self subsisting (growing and/or cultivating the products and nourishment to support yourself without a supply chain).

The 5 Skills Children Should Learn

As adults, sometimes we forget what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of a child. Everything is new, amazing and often times very confusing. It is our job as adults to teach the children in our lives the skills that we know and will help give them an easier, and therefor better life. This takes an immense amount of patients and is sometimes the hardest part of our days; but isn’t it better to take the time to help the next generation be more self-sufficient than we were at their age and help them learn to problem solve with real world situations? I sure think it is.

You don’t have to be a parent to teach these lessons to children. Josh and I don’t have kids of our own, but we have several nieces and nephews that we work with on a regular basis to help ensure that they have the skills to think for themselves and follow their own path, not just the ones they have been shown in public school (i.e. spend, consume, throw “away”, repeat).

Being raised by Back to the Land parents, or Back to the Earth Hippies as I fondly describe them to others, I knew these skills by the time I was 5-years-old, but I find myself teaching them to my niece who is 13, college students and even Josh has had to learned a few of these over the years we have been together.

So let’s take a look at the 5 essential skills every kid should know. They are:

  1. Respect for tools, land and themselves
  2. How to follow through with a task/job
  3. How to grow a plant
  4. How to feed and keep an animal
  5. Basics of cooking from scratch

Please be advised that the first two may come off a bit preachy, but if you read them, it helps to clear up things for the last 3. Thanks for sticking with me 🙂

1. Respect for tools, land and self

When compiling this list, it was easy to come up with the 5 skills, but as I looked at the list, I realized I would need to list them in order of importance for any of this to make sense. While evaluating the skills, the one that I see as the foundation for the others was respect. Not just respect as it is viewed in American society today, but real, old-school respect. A respect for the tools and land we are given to work with, as well as ourselves. Let me explain.

The problem

To be able to show respect for the things we own, whether that is the toys of a toddler or the mega equipment of a multi-national conglomerate, you first have to have respect for yourself. Self respect is a hard thing to learn. It requires that we teach children from the get go what the appropriate behavior is and not be afraid that they will get “mad at us”.

Think about it. If there is a child in the store (without any major issues; not talking about kids with autism and stuff here) who is hitting their parent and yelling things at them that would make a sailor blush, do you think, “now there’s a kid who respects what he has”? I know I don’t!

If a child gets a new toy every time they break one, will that teach them to respect their things and your money, or will it teach them that everything is disposable and that they don’t really have to take care of anything because it will just be replaced anyway?

I know that this might sound a little crazy and overstated, but trust me; as someone who works with the public and has worked in the school system, this is one of the main complaints from people today. They, and often times I, will say how kids aren’t being taught to respect things that aren’t their’s.

The solution

So who is to blame? This is an easy answer, especially if you have worked with children, and it will sting. It is you, the adults in the child’s life. I would say it’s solely on the parents, but not having kids has given me a slightly different outlook on this one.

The children in our lives know that there are certain expectations of behavior when Aunt Katie and Uncle Josh are around, whether or not Mommy and Daddy are. They know that there will be fun and play as long as there is respect of the things and people we are playing with. If this is broken, the kid gets one warning and if it happens again, the play is over, period. Most of the time this is caused by hitting with the intent to hurt or not listening to directions.

There have been several times that Josh or I have taken charge of a situation with kids because the parents didn’t want to “cause a scene” even thought their kid was doing that for them and making them look bad by letting the bad behavior continue.

If a toy is being smashed to pieces, take it off of them and let they cry until they can get it together enough to understand what they did and why the toy was taken away. This usually happens through a short conversation at the child’s age level.

If a sibling, friend or someone else is getting hit, grab the arm or foot that is being used and ask them if they want their friend to hit them back like that. The answer is always no. Tell them not to do it if they don’t want it done to them. If they do it again, discipline them according to your beliefs.

My point is, if there is no respect for anything and/or anyone, the child will not be able to empathize enough to be able to take care of themselves or anything else when they get older. They will have to learn respect the hard way that life tends to deal out when we are older, and I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a 2-4 year-old mad at me for 20 minutes and get the lesson than see a teenager or young adult go through the problems that can come from not respecting what they have and/or themselves.

2. Following through with tasks/jobs

Learning to follow through is one of the hardest lessons to learn I think. I still have trouble with following through sometimes, but at least I know how to when it really matters. I wish I could say the same for others I know, and that’s why follow through made it to number two on my list.

The problem

How many times have you started something and didn’t finish? I have done this a countless number of times with small tasks around the house on a daily basis on everything from dishes to folding laundry to mowing the grass. Sometimes I just get distracted and it will take me twice as long to get something done, if it gets done at all. This is follow through, or a lack there of in these examples.

Remember when you told your kid to pick up and put his toys away before dinner and he put a few things away and then started doing something else? What did you do? Did you redirect them to putting their toys away or did you just say “screw it” and let them be, only to clean it up yourself later to avoid a fight? Which is better to teach your child how to follow through?

Follow through is that push that we have inside of us when we no longer are interested in a task or job, but know it needs to get done. This is a skill that is getting harder and harder to find in the workforce and is one of the most desired skills anyone can have. If you posses the ability to get things done in a timely manor, oven if you don’t like the job, you will have the power to excel at anything you do. Don’t you want that for you child?

If you do, then why are you letting them get away with a million little things everyday proving the contrary to them? If you tell them to pick up their toys and put them away because it’s dinner time, then let them slip, they learn that all they have to do is wait you out and they will be absolved of the responsibility. Will this teach them how to follow through, or even respect you and your time as the adult in their life? You tell me.

The solution

The best and most effective way to teach follow through is by setting a good example of it for the children in your life. This is easiest to start when they are very young, say 2-years-old and up because it gets ingrained in them that this is just what you do and they won’t even realize it was something that you taught them when they get older. This is what Josh and I did with our oldest niece.

If you tell them that you are going to fold the towels and put them away, make sure to sit down and show them each step of the process and then give high fives or do a little dance when you have finished the task. This lets them know that you have finished the task and it’s a good thing. I personally find goofy dances work best for all age groups. It’s kind of amazing to see teenager’s faces when they finish something and you stand up and do a little dance, lol! And yes, I used to do this in the classroom with high school seniors also, lmao!

So what do you do with an older child that won’t listen? Take a deep breath and hope for the best. Well, help to manifest the best outcome at least. If your child is refusing to finish a task you gave them, it is your job as the adult/parent to discipline them according to your values and stick with it. The way you discipline also teaches about follow through. If you say that you are taking a toy, or for older kids their phone, away for the rest of the day and then just give it back when they whine enough, that is teaching them the opposite of follow through and shows them that they don’t have to respect you or their things (see, back to respect).

Follow through is the hardest one on this list for both adults and children. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I am saying it will be worth it in the end if you stick it out. I promise.

3. How to grow plants

Green Bean plants

Ok, so now that the little angel has learned, or at least understands respect and follow through, it’s time to teach them the most basic Back to the Land skills they will need to know. First up is growing plants.

The problem

Most kids, to no fault of their own, have no idea where the food they eat comes from or even that the grass in the local park is a plant that needs tending. This is, to me, is a huge tragedy.

For most kids, their first exposure to how plants grow is starting a bean or sunflower plant in a milk carton in grade school. It breaks my heart to know that most of them never got the chance to run the fresh tilled soil through their hands and bare toes while helping their parents plant seeds that would grow with them and teach them so many things.

The importance of learning how to grow a plant in general cannot be overstated. It teaches children not only how the natural world works, but it also allows them to feel a sense of accomplishment and self-respect that they get from helping you prepare a meal made from something they helped grow.

The act of growing a plant helps to cement the concepts of respecting tools and the land and following through. If you don’t respect the tools and land and follow through with the act of gardening, then the plant(s) will die.

The solution

The solution to the lack of firsthand knowledge of growing plants can only be corrected by doing it.

City/Apartment solution

If you live in an apartment, get a medium to large sized planting pot, soil, a trowel and rake set and a packet of seeds. I recommend lettuce, tomatoes or beans as they can all be harvested and eaten within a relatively short amount of time, and do very well in containers.

Have your child help you pick out the pot(s) and seeds, pick where the pot will be placed, explaining that the plant needs enough sunlight to grow and prep the container for planting.

Once the soil is in the pot, get your child excited about playing in the dirt to help put the seeds “to bed”. Then place the seeds in the soil per the instructions on the packet and cover the seeds to bed them. Then all that’s left is to water them. I find it easiest to have small children use either a small watering can or one of those sand buckets you can get almost anywhere in the summer. Only put enough water in the bucket or watering can to water the plants once since kids tend to just dump it in, not being able to control the flow yet.

This is where the follow through comes in. They will have to keep watering the seeds that they can’t seed until they finally sprout. This is where most kids will lose interest and give up, but don’t let them. Remind them why they are doing it and get them excited everyday about taking care of their little plants.

Once the plants sprout, it’s pretty easy to keep their attention because they can see the growth everyday and most kids will want to help the plants grow. When the plants are ready, harvest your produce and let them help make a meal from the plants they worked so hard to grow. More on cooking later.

Yard/Garden Solution

If you are lucky enough to live in a place that has a yard or enough land to till, this is even easier. You follow the same steps listed above, only you do it outside instead of inside in containers. If you have a small yard or just don’t want to give up any for a garden, then you can place the same large containers outside and follow the steps above exactly.

Some of my favorite memories from growing up involved gardening with my dad. It’s something that we still do together and something that we are now helping to pass on to my nieces and nephews. I feel everyone should grow a small garden at least once in their lives, even if it’s just a few plants in containers.

4. Feeding and Keeping Animals

Many people don’t want to put in the time it takes to keep an animal after their children lose interest. Again, going back to point number 2, it is all about teaching your children responsibility and follow through. An animal is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly, which is why I put it after learning to grow plants. If you don’t take care of a plant it dies, just like an animal, so it helps you built up to animal keeping or you realize you and your child just aren’t ready for that kind of commitment. Either way, you learn on plants instead of unintentionally making an animal suffer in the process.

The problem

I have never met a kid that didn’t want a pet of some type or another. The problem isn’t the child wanting a pet, that’s totally normal; the problem is when pets are gotten and children lose interest. This is why animal shelters are constantly overflowing with pets up for adoption. People get kids pet thinking they are cute, then realize how much work it really is to take care of another living thing.

Parents often take tasks from their children to avoid a fight, but this one is all about the follow through. You wanted the pet; you wanted the responsibility so you got it, no whining now kiddo! Feed it. Water it. Walk it and/or clean its pen/cage. Don’t let the litter box get nasty. These are all the things that kids just don’t want to deal with when keeping animals.

If you live on a farm or homestead and keep livestock, there is no such thing as a “day off”. If you keep milking stock, then you get up at 4 am to milk before you have breakfast to keep the animal from getting milk fever. If you have chickens, you get out there and collect the eggs before there is a chance for a predictor to get to them.

There are just so many things to take into account when choosing to keep an animal, and there are so many lessons to learn from it.

The solution

You must be very precise and clear in what you expect of your children when it comes to animal care. Let me tell you a true story:

When I was 4 it was my job to feed our cat, Candy the Fat Cat. He was very fat. He got fed twice a day. One day my mom saw that his bowel was empty again. She, thinking that I hadn’t been feeding the cat, said that if she saw the cat’s bowel empty again I was going to get a spanking. I, wanting to avoid a spanking, kept filling the cats bowel every time I walked past because he ate it so fast.

This went on for a few months until my mom looked at the cat with his head in his dish and his behind in the litter box, unable to really move from that position because of how big he had gotten, and started to yell at me for how much I was feeding the cat. I can remember being so confused as to why I was in trouble for doing what she had told me to do.

My dad finally intervened and asked me what was going on. I told him that Mom told me that I was going to be in trouble if she saw the cat’s bowel empty, so I kept it full. He sighed and looked at my mom. He told her that cats will eat until the food is gone no matter how much they have because of their nature, and that’s why the cat was so unhealthy now.

The point of telling you this story is that my mom assumed that I would know to only feed the cat a little food at a time, but I was only 4 and was just trying to avoid getting in trouble. Be very exact with what you want kids to do when it comes to animals, because what you think is totally obvious and clear may not be to them.

Once you are clear with your expectations, hold your child to those standards and make them follow through. Don’t let them jump from animal to animal trying to find one they “want”, unless you have the land to keep them all and don’t mind feeding them all either.

5. Basics of cooking from scratch

So the point of the Back to the Land and modern Homesteading movements is to bring you closer to the source of the goods you consume, most notably food. So what is the point of instilling your children with these basic skills needed for self-reliance and success if you don’t teach them how to make something with the skills?

The problem

We all know that there is a crisis in Western Society (the U.S., Canada, and most of the EU countries) with the quality of our food. We live in unprecedented times when it comes to access to food, but the quality is now what is coming under rightful scrutiny.

Most kids today, and admittedly I did to an extent as well, grow up on boxed mac ‘n cheese, chicken nuggets and pizza rolls. When our niece stayed over when she was younger, I made her spaghetti-o’s with meatballs as a treat because we don’t hardly ever eat stuff like that. She smiled and closed her eyes and said it was just like what Mommy made her almost every night. Josh and I got really sad and swore to always make “real food” from then on when she comes over, and I’m happy to say that she learns one new dish every time she stays 🙂

This boxed, convenience mentality when it comes to food is sadly all too common today. The rise in boxed mix and ready made meal sales directly correlates to the rise in average BMI (even though I have my own issues with the BMI scale, I’ll let that go for now).

Most people being raised in families that cook from scratch, on average have a much healthier diet, making their immune systems stronger and their body weight is usually within a healthy range. So what does this tell us?

It tells us that taking the time to make something from scratch, or at least semi-homemade teaches your kids not only how to provide for themselves, but also how to do it in a healthy manor.

The solution

The solution to this one will look a little different for every family since each family keeps very different schedules. I suggest at the very minimum keeping real meats, butters and veggies in the fridge, and teaching your children how to prep and cook them in healthier ways.

If you have a little more time, then keep baking supplies around the house, like baking powder and soda, flour and sugar and teach your kids how to make pancakes from scratch instead of shaking a bottle with water. These are also the basic ingredients for muffins, waffles, cakes, cookies, dumplings, noodles and so many more things it would take me forever to list them here.

By teaching our younger generations what ingredients to use and how to make them stretch, we give them the power to decide for themselves what they want to put into their bodies when they get older, and if times get hard, they will be the ones who are able to fend for themselves and stretch their money to survive without help from the government or others.

I know it seems silly to put so much into just cooking something from scratch, but the importance of teaching a child how to put basic ingredients together to be able to feed themselves is priceless and can never be overstated.

So Now What?

Now, I by no means am saying that the solutions to any of these are easy, but I am saying that they are necessary to building a foundation for your child to build on so they will be able to become a productive, self-sufficient members of society one day. Isn’t that what we all want for the future generations anyway? For them to be able to feed and care for themselves and the ones they love?

We can do this if we work together to influence the children in our lives to be better than we are and learn the lessons early so that life won’t have to slap them quite as hard in the face as it did for us. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that was the point my parents were trying to make back in the day. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the knowledge and skills to fend for myself and always having my best interest at heart, even if I didn’t acknowledge it at the time ❤

So that’s it. The 5 most important Back to the Land/Homesteading skills children need to know. I hope that you will take this basic overview and look into each one farther and learn how to best help the children in your life flourish and thrive throughout their lives.

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