If you raised your kids in the country would you eat more cupcakes and fewer rice cakes? Would you dust less and listen more? Worry less about carpet stains and sagging sofas? Stop trying to keep up with the Joneses? Would you drive around with your car windows down and not care what it did to your hair, just because your kids wanted to? Would you stop simply looking and really see? Stop merely existing and really live, really feel?
You want to live the country life to enjoy the little things… because you know they’re really the big things. You want to pass that sacred knowledge on to your kids. It’s been said that you’ll need a backbone, a wishbone, and a funny bone to raise country kids. But don’t take raising country kids too seriously; you’ll never get out alive. To those of us who have raised kids in the country, what did we expect life would be like? Did we have visions of giggling children running through lush meadows of wildflowers, swinging in tire swings from giant old oak trees, splashing in ponds, gleefully feeding the chickens, the goats, the cows?
Where did we see ourselves in all of this? What did we think raising kids in the country would make of us? What would it make of our children? When we moved to the country and started homesteading, I was smitten; in love with the idea of a wholesome home on the range, out where the buffaloes roam, where never is heard a discouraging word. I wanted a life away from city riff-raff. Maybe I believed I would never again have to deal with cranky washing machines or rebellious vacuum cleaners that blew the dust back out as I vacuumed. My kids would never stain their clothes, fall out of trees, rip their pants or stuff their stinky gym clothes under the bed until they reached the final stages of rigor mortis. Even with all the ups and downs of raising country kids, I still say if raising kids in the country is your dream, don’t stow that dream away in a box, take it out and live it.
There are loads of things for kids to learn just by being on the homestead. From butterfly parties to cow appreciation to tree-climbing tutorials, here are some fun ways to get them involved and learning when raising kids in the country.
Make Mud Puddle Magic
Turn your mud puddles into butterfly puddle clubs. It’s called puddling, it’s the way you attract butterflies to wet spots. Here’s how: in the shallowest part of the puddle, place some rocks so they’re just peeking up out of the muddy water. Wait for the butterflies to arrive for a drink. They love puddles of all kinds; especially mud puddles. They will perch on the rocks while they sip on the water; it’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Fun Facts About Butterflies
- A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.
- Butterflies can see red, green, and yellow.
- A butterfly can fly up to 12 miles an hour.
- Some butterflies taste with their feet.
Cows: Superheroes and Social Butterflies
July 11 is cow appreciation day. On that day, Chick-fil-A will give a free entrée to anyone who shows up dressed as a cow. If this isn’t all the proof you need that cows are superheroes, I don’t know what is. And what would farm life be without cows anyway?
Fun Facts About Cows
- Cows get excited when they solve problems.
- They give more milk when they are treated well.
- They have panoramic vision and an excellent sense of smell, so don’t try to sneak up on one.
- Cows are social butterflies; they mix and mingle in the herd, befriending some and ignoring others.
- Little known fact: It’s possible to lead a cow upstairs but not down.
- Cows are excellent recyclers. That’s because more than 34 million tons of leftover food are fed to farm animals each year, including cows. Way to go cows!
- In India, if you injure or kill a cow, you’ll go to jail.
- The average cow drinks a bathtub of water a day; that’s about 30 gallons. But there’s no need to bring your cows inside to your bathroom; they’ll drink when they’re ready. It’s true that you can lead a cow to water, but you can’t make it drink.
- Cows chew their cud all day long, amounting to about 40,000 jaw movements each day.
- Dairy cows create jobs! One dairy cow creates four full-time jobs in the local community.
- The black and white spots on a Holstein cow are like fingerprints. No two cows have exactly the same pattern of spots; just like no two people have exactly the same fingerprints.
- Teach your country kids to milk a cow; then they’ll know that milk doesn’t come only from Wal-Mart.
- Make a cow mask using a paper plate. Cut out holes for eyes and paint a few black spots on the plate. (If it’s July 11 and there’s a Chick-fil-A nearby, take them for a free meal!)
Learn to Speak Tree
Teach your kids how important trees are, maybe even teach them to hug a tree or two. Set a good example by hugging one yourself, but not if you live in China; tree hugging there is forbidden.
Science has proven that just being in the presence of trees improves your health. There are many studies that show kids’ health and well-being improve when they spend time around trees and other plants. Maybe the hippies were on the right path with their much-maligned tree hugging; so maybe you should teach your country kids to hug a tree. After all, tree-loving has deep roots. Since ancient times the tree has been a universal, archetypal symbol around the world. They symbolize everything good in life; no wonder tree-hugging has really come into its own.
Teaching Kids to Climb Trees
Tree climbing is a clever way to get kids in touch with nature and with the wild, unstructured play you brought them to the country for in the first place. Teach your country kids how to climb trees safely. A good climbing-tree has these qualities:
- A big, strong trunk with thick branches throughout.
- The branches should also be close together for easier climbing since kid’s have shorter legs and reach.
- Trees that have dead or decaying branches and/or animal nests are not good climbing trees.
Teach your kids to climb slowly, checking out each branch and foot hold as they go. They should test each branch by pressing down on it with their foot. If it feels sturdy, they can then use it to climb to the next highest branch.
Teach them to keep looking up as they climb; this will help them make sure they don’t hit their heads on an upcoming branch.
Kids should only climb as high as they feel comfortable with; it’s not advisable that they climb all the way to the top.
On the way down, they should stay as close to the trunk as possible; the branches are stronger where they meet up with the trunk.
They should also use the same route coming down as they used to go up.
You’ll probably raise chickens, and that’s a great learning experience on so many levels. There are more chickens than people on planet earth, so you’ll have no shortage of feathered friends. Following is a list of the most sociable chickens:
Buff Orpingtons: Topping the list of kid-friendly chickens is the Buff Orpington. They are so gentle and kind that they’ve earned the title of the “Golden Retrievers” of the chicken world. These chickens are great for their egg laying and meat quality too. It would be good to have a few of these running around your hen house. They could be the mediators of any hen fights that might arise.
Cochins: These are the chickens with feathered feet; the divas of the chicken yard. They’re large, calm and very laid-back; they are a great kid-friendly chicken. Cochins are very hardy, and they lay those large brown eggs that everyone loves almost as much as the mystical golden eggs in fairy tales. Brown eggs have become sought after and adored; they’re the ultimate symbol of life on the farm.
Olive Eggers: These chickens are the offspring of the Ameracauna breed; they came into existence from crossing a brown egg layer with an Americauna. The Olive Eggers lay delightful blueish-green eggs. Your country kids will love finding these eggs in the henyard and adding them to their baskets. Come Easter time, they won’t even have to bother coloring them. Many who own Olive Eggers say they are sociable and talkative.
Fun Facts About Chickens
- In Japan, people celebrate New Year by eating fried chicken and strawberry shortcake.
- Chickens are related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur. That’s what certain studies say since finding DNA in the leg bone of a 68-million-year-old dinosaur.
- Chickens swallow gravel to help them mash up food in their stomachs.
- A chicken’s brain is about the size of the nail on your little finger.
- Dress the kids like chickens and do the chicken dance.
- Sponsor chicken races. Hold the chicken at one end of the yard while the children entice it to run to the other side of the yard by offering it treats.
Kids Teaching Kids
Human kids will love goat kids because both human kids and goat kids are playful, love to romp, and love to cuddle. So, having your country kids around goat kids is a great idea. Goats are browsers, not grazers like cows. They prefer to browse on all sorts of plants and leaves; thus, they’re good at clearing land that has become overgrown.
Fun Facts About Goats
- Goats have incredible balance; they’ll even climb trees to get at juicy berries. Their excellent balance is also how they can live in craggy mountain tops and leap from rocky ridge to rocky ridge without falling.
- Goats bleat in different accents. Who knew?
- Goats can burp loudly. Your country kids will have fun with this one. Did somebody say, “burping contest”?
- Some goats are called fainting goats, but they don’t really faint. When they get scared or panicked their legs stiffen up and they simply fall over.
- Goats have the reputation of eating anything, but they are actually very picky eaters. In fact, goats are herbivores; they only eat plants.
- Goats have around 15,000 taste buds… (they must be plant-gourmets).
- The pupils in a goat’s eyes are rectangular. This gives them panoramic vision; their pupils are designed so that they can scope out the area around them and avoid predators.
Goat craft: Make goat milk soap. The milk that comes from your goats is a valuable commodity. Goats’ milk gives the soap a creamy goodness that’s just lovely and in much demand.
Where have all the fireflies gone?
I found myself wondering about fireflies. I thought about how I used to go outside on summer nights and catch them in a jar just to watch them light up my world for a few brief moments. We called them lightning bugs and there seemed to be a lot of them around back then.
So, I asked myself “Where have all the lightning bugs gone?”
In researching this, I found out that fireflies aren’t flies at all; they’re beetles.
They’re found in warm, humid climates.
The light they emit is a very efficient light; stronger than a regular light bulb. What is their light used for? It’s basically a way to communicate with other fireflies.
When a firefly is disturbed, its light increases in intensity.
These days, the lightning bug population is dwindling because as urban sprawl continues, the habitat of the firefly is being swallowed up.
How to Help the Firefly Population:
- Limit use of chemicals on your lawn and garden.
- Grow ground cover for them to flit around in.
- When you see one, forget about capturing it in a jar; just let it fly while you enjoy the show.
- Use motion-activated lights outside. Less lighting helps fireflies find each other; Mother Nature will do the rest.
Keeping Kids Safe Around Guns
And now, lastly, I must approach a more sensitive and timely subject. Kids and guns. Many country kids have guns and they play a big part in their lives. Many are brought up with guns and know how to properly shoot them from an early age. They could probably survive in the wilderness for quite some time with their shooting abilities. But the good thing about country kids and guns is that they, for the most part, are taught gun safety.
Some basics of gun safety:
- Keep all guns stored unloaded and locked up in a gun safe. The bullets should be locked up in a place away from the gun.
- Teach children to never, ever unlock the storage boxes unless a parent or responsible adult is with them.
- Teach your children that only characters in movies and television get up and walk around after being shot. In real life, when a person gets shot, they will be hurt and may possibly even die.
- Teach kids what to do should they see a gun at home or anywhere else. They should not touch the gun and they should tell their parents or an adult immediately.
Teaching basic gun safety to your country kids will help them learn to appreciate guns for the right reasons and will teach them respect for firearms.
Any and all of these subjects are raw materials for you, the country parent, to use and teach your country kids. And of course, there’s so much more. There’s a great big, beautiful world out there for their education; embrace it with all your heart as you teach them to love Mother Earth.