Simple Living With Children

There’s just something about simple living and homesteading that chimes in especially well with home education. When a lot of your time is spent doing down-to-earth things which people have been doing for millennia, it’s so much easier for a child to jump in and participate, than if one’s life is segregated and chopped into many little high-techy cubicles. People of all ages enjoy doing fun and productive things such as planting seeds, gathering food, digging in the earth or taking care of animals.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

Some home economics is still taught in kindergartens and schools, though it went out of fashion – but even if there were a lot of home economics classes, the best place to learn things like that would still be at home, where cooking, sweeping the floors, sewing, mending, knitting and working in the garden occur as part of our day-to-day lives. A little child learns a lot simply by observing an apron-clad mother, and later by participating in simple tasks.

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Vacations and holidays on the cheap

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I am just catching my breath after a string of Jewish holidays that lasted nearly a month, and afforded quite a lot of in-between days that are commonly used for family outings. As a family living on a budget, we almost always choose to avoid any sort of entertainment one must pay for (be it amusement parks, zoos, petting zoos, or even the swimming pool).

There are more than enough places, we have found out, that we can visit, and pleasantly spend our time in, without paying a thing, or paying very little: beaches, parks, historical sites, farms that encourage visitors without charging a fee, and so forth. Furthermore, we take advantage of having many friends who farm or homestead, and visit them (and, of course, invite them to visit us in return).

The price of gas, naturally, is a consideration as well. There are some lovely places that open their gates to the public for free, but as they are so far from us, just the ride there and back is pricey. We focus, therefore, on our area, and always find something new to explore. You should try it as well.

If you have family or friends who have gone out on vacation themselves, and left an empty house, they might allow you to stay in their place for free (and will sometimes be quite happy with the arrangement, if you throw some pet-sitting or watering the plants into the bargain). This gives you a whole new area to explore, with a convenient, free base.

Another expense that people often don’t think of is eating out. When you go somewhere, after a couple of hours naturally you will begin to feel peckish. This is even truer for children, who seem to become insatiably hungry the moment they are strapped to the car seat. So make sure to pack up healthy snacks for the ride, a nutritious lunch for the whole family, and a big bottle of water. Ideas for non-mess food: egg and/or tuna sandwiches, cold pasta, sliced fruits and vegetables, cold sliced quiches, hard-boiled eggs, a trail mix of nuts and raisins, and salads with stuff like lentils, quinoa or beans will keep you going for a long time.

Vacationing and family outings in general don’t need to be budget-breakers. Just try it and see for yourself!

September 1st

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September the 1st, the date so many parents are longingly looking forward to, is upon us. And though homeschooling obviously isn’t the way for every family (though I believe it can be the way for many more families than those practicing it today), I do find it a little sad that not more parents can enjoy the summer vacation with their kids.

Undoubtedly, there is a very practical reason for the collective sigh of relief that is going to sound once the school buses come to take the children away. In most households in Israel, not only do both parents work, but both parents work an increasingly high number of hours (how family friendly this practice is, and whether there are alternatives, is probably a topic for a whole different post). There is a real, big discrepancy between the days children are out of school and the days parents can take off work. Thus begins a merry-go-round of summer camps, summer schools, babysitters, driving the children off to grandparents, and in many cases, leaving them home alone way too long and too early. Every year, parents campaign for the shortening of summer vacation, stating that the education system is out of tune with real life. I’m mainly saddened by the tone of these discussions, which make children appear to have become a liability.

I’m convinced it’s more than that, however. Many parents, even if they can take time off work, just aren’t comfortable with the idea of spending time with their children at home for any length of time. Thus the typical summer crowding of malls, amusement parks and waterparks, zoos, and any place that usually serves to amuse children. Without a home-based routine, summer becomes a time of chaos, and parents understandably feel they want order restored.

We used to have a simple year-round routine when the girls were little(r), but last year we found a small family-based study group in the area, and when it broke up for the summer, while we didn’t experience the school withdrawal symptoms common in most families, I did have to deal with some attitude problems. For example, whenever I tried to teach something, I would hear whining and remarks such as, “this isn’t what summer is for!” To which I would respond, “Oh, right, I forgot – your brains have gone on vacation and stopped working.” A few days were mostly enough to fix this.

I often hear, “don’t your kids drive you up the wall?” and the answer is, of course they do. Kids whine, fight, test their boundaries, and sometimes I do feel like I need out, or I will explode. It’s important to remember, however, that taking a break, while it can be refreshing, does not solve problems. I have had instances when children fought over something silly (“over dead air space”, as a friend of mine aptly puts it), were taken by their dad to the library or the park for distraction, and resumed the same argument the moment they got home!! Now, clearly the solution isn’t to always keep children away from home, or siblings away from each other (preferably on leashes and in cages). Problems need to be addressed and attitudes worked on. And believe me, I have had my moments of utter despondency. I have clutched my hair and yelled myself hoarse, and I know this can be so very hard. I’m just saying that you’ll have to deal with the same problems whether you home educate or not, although admittedly every little issue is magnified when it has been raining for days on end and you’re all cooped up at home day and night.

In Israel, summer vacation is shortly followed by the string of Jewish holidays that leave many parents at a loss again. What I suggest for every family, homeschooling or not, is the cultivation of quiet contentment among children (and parents) that will enable you to stay home together as a family, and entertain yourselves inexpensively by things like reading, crafts, walks, and picnics in parks. I know some families that flat out refuse to put themselves in the heavy traffic flow on the middle days of Sukkot, for example, and they save a whole lot of time, money and frustration. If you do take trips, you needn’t go far – exploring your own area can be more interesting than you think.

Does Self-Reliance Pay Off?

Not long ago, as I was working in the tomato patch, my 8-year-old strolled over and asked, “why bother growing tomatoes? Buying at the store is easier.”

This is a legitimate question, and one many people much older than her have asked. Why should anyone bother growing their own tomatoes, raising their own chickens, mending their own clothes and repairing their own plumbing? Well, one can easily come up with half a dozen ready answers, such as, “it’s fun”, or “I can grow healthier food in my backyard”, or “I like tinkering with my own stuff”, or “I save money that way”, but at the core, this is a conflict between two basic attitudes; one that is for making more money, which can be turned into goods and services, and another, that is for making do with less money, and meeting more of your needs on your own.

Read more on the topic in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Products and services that are readily available today might not be so in the near future. It is the belief of many wise people that our current economy is not sustainable. I do not have the ability to predict whether we are facing something like the Great Depression in the near future, or simply economical fluctuations, or even nothing at all – but it’s good to be prepared. In case prices go up and store shelves empty, the people who know how to grow their own food, fix their own roof and make a little go a long way will be a lot more comfortable than those who have become used to a lifestyle of frivolous spending.”

The slippery slope of screen time

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A few days ago, a member of a Facebook group I participate in asked if anyone else allows their children to watch/play on phones or tablets during meals. I confess I was a little appalled at the idea, for though I know we live in a screen-addicted society, I was blissfully unaware of the existence of children who can’t get through a whole meal without some kind of stimulation by an electronic device.

I want you to know that I’m not feeling smug or superior, and I get it. I really do. When you are tired and frazzled, and it has been raining for three days straight, with your children bickering nonstop all that time, and you are ready to throttle someone, and every time you talk to your kids it somehow turns into yelling at the top of your voice… well, I’ve been there. And flicking on a movie or a computer game to get some blissful peace can be so, so easy. And I’m not saying you should never do this – just be aware that it comes with a price. Screens of any kind – phones, computers, tablets – are extremely alluring and addictive, and once kids (and adults, too) get used to this being their primary source of amusement, it’s hard to switch them off to other things.

Admittedly, we are aided by our lifestyle as Orthodox Jews. Since our Shabbats are tech-free, we know we can get through a day without screens, and make other days tech-free or low-tech too. And we live in an area with frequent power outages, which means that on many winter nights, the power just shuts down whether we want to or not, and though naturally our kids will whine and grumble if it happens in the middle of a movie, they eventually settle down to do other things, like drawing by candlelight (or better yet, early bedtime!). Also, we are blessed with lots of outdoor space for the kids to play, and plenty of animals to keep us all entertained.

Now, I’m not saying screen time is all bad. We take advantage of some wonderful educational videos and games I wouldn’t want to give up on. But I really, really try to make it only a tiny portion of our day, because I don’t want my kids to get used to passive entertainment.

Getting weaned off excessive screen time can be hard, and if you’re trying to do this, you should be prepared for quite a bit of mutiny and lots of complaints of being bored. But then, as everyone settles in to a new routine, good things start to happen – more reading, more arts and crafts, more outdoor play, more family time… better, healthier, more wholesome entertainment.

The idea of pulling the plug can be daunting, but I would encourage anyone to give it a try. I can almost guarantee that, after a little while, you and your kids will be happier and healthier, and will not want to look back.

Making Things Last

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Part of living economically is not only the avoidance of unnecessary purchases, but also making things last; by “things” I mean anything you would use long-term – clothes, shoes, appliances – as well as your non-perishable grocery store items, such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, etc.

With clothes it’s really straightforward. We have work/play clothes, which we tend to treat a little more carelessly (and more often than not, we either got them for free or for a bargain), and we have good clothes, such as for Shabbat. Clothes go into the wash because they need a wash, not because they had been worn once. Of course, with children’s clothes, being worn once usually means a wash is in order!..

Doing less loads of laundry means reducing your expenses of electricity, water, detergent, and wear and tear on the clothes and on your washing machine. Line-drying minimizes wear and tear, too, not to mention it also saves electricity.

Good shoes receive regular treatment of shining, oiling and polishing, which makes them last longer. I have a black pair for summer and a black pair for winter, and they are in such condition that I hope they might last years. Of course, for walking, yard jobs and home, I also have sneakers, mud boots, and slippers.

When it comes to non-perishables, I guess disposables should be mentioned. I wish I could say I don’t use disposables, but I will be honest. I do. Sometimes we have friends over and I use paper cups because it’s late at night and I can’t face waking up to a sink full of dirty glasses. Sometimes, when you go out for a picnic, for example, using disposables makes sense. But generally I try to minimize that.

As for other non-perishables, I don’t mean to imply gross things such as that you shouldn’t wash your hair, skip washing your hands, etc. Use what you need – but not more than you need, like the manufacturers of every product would have you do (so that you run out soon and go and have to buy more). Have you noticed the enormous holes they make in toothpaste tubes? If I’m not careful and squeeze just a little bit too hard, half the toothpaste comes out at once.

I used to wash my hair three times a week, and thought I needed it. But then, one winter it was cold and I only washed two times a week, and I noticed that very soon, my scalp adjusted its oil production so that I had the same result as when I washed three times a week. Now I wash once a week, and find it more than enough to keep my hair in good condition. This, obviously, means I use three times less shampoo and conditioner.

It’s important to keep your hands clean, especially when working in the kitchen, but you don’t have to use soap every time. Using too much soap makes your skin dry. When I use detergents – such as for laundry, for floors, for windows, etc – I always use less than is recommended, and the results are very satisfactory. Remember, the instructions on the package are made by people who want you to use it all up and go buy more!

Thrifty finds

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Yesterday our local second hand store threw a huge fair, and I found several nice little dresses for the girls, and one for myself. This morning, up they went on the cheerful sunny clothesline (two leftmost and third on the right). I’m very happy with them. They cost next to nothing, and are of much higher quality than anything I could have afforded to buy new.

Enjoying another nice summer day of homemade lemonade, working in the garden, playing with the baby chicks and hand-feeding Little Pea, our peafowl chick, who now runs to us to get a treat whenever we approach.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the amazing people who were among the first buyers and readers of The Landlord. I know some of the downloads came from the blog readers, and I am truly overwhelmed by your generosity. I hope you will take a few minutes to leave a review once you finish reading – it would mean the world to me.