The Organic Prepper: A Homeschooling Guide for Public Schoolers

Kara Stiff at The Organic Prepper is a homeschooling parent and shares her thoughts with those who are attempting to home school their public school children during the Covid-19 pandemic – A Homeschooling Guide for Public Schoolers

My heart goes out to all the parents who were never planning to home school, but nevertheless find themselves teaching their children at home today. I chose this beautiful, crazy life, and I completely understand why some people wouldn’t choose it. But here we are. We have to do what we have to do. You don’t want them to fall behind. You don’t want to lose your mind.

Believe it or not, it’s a golden opportunity.

Caveat: these are only my personal thoughts. I’m not a professional educator, just a parent successfully homeschooling.

This advice is only for people whose greatest hurdle right now is remaining sane with the little ones. This is a high bar to clear, to be sure, but some people are facing the little people plus big financial problems, they’re sick or working through mental health issues, or they’re managing other emergencies. In those cases, if you’re keeping everyone more or less fed and warm then you’re succeeding, and you don’t need me to tell you to forget the rest for as long as necessary.

For everyone else, I do have a little advice. I’m sure you’re getting support from your school district, which is excellent. Worrying about what to teach is often a new homeschooler’s first and biggest concern. But deciding what to teach is actually the easy part, and now it’s mom, dad, uncle or grandma doing the really hard part: actually sitting with the kid, helping/making him or her do the work.

First, I think you can safely let go of the worry that you may not be a good enough teacher because you’re a terrible speller, or you think you’re bad at math. It’s good to know these things about yourself so they can be addressed, but the truth is that how great you personally are at division isn’t necessarily a predictor of success. Neither is how well you explain things, or even how well you demonstrate looking things up, although that is a priceless skill to impart to inquiring minds. To my mind, the most important skill for successful homeschooling is:

Controlling your own frustration

We adults are fantastically knowledgeable and amazingly skilled. No, really, we are! So we forget how hard it is to do seemingly simple things for the first time. I remember sitting in my college biochemistry class, listening to the professor say:

“Come on you guys, this is easy!”

Folks, I’m here to tell you that biochemistry isn’t easy for most people who are new to it, especially people who just drug themselves out of bed five minutes ago, possibly with a touch of a hangover. And reading isn’t easy for a five-year-old, and multiplication isn’t easy for an eight-year-old.

The parent has to slow down, go through it again, redirect the child’s attention for the hundredth time and explain the material in a different way, preferably without pulling out their own hair. You can develop these skills. Even if you’re new to it, and you don’t find it easy.

When it just isn’t working, the parent has to know when to shift gears and let it rest. Preserving your relationship with the child is always very important, but it’s doubly so when you’re home with them all day every day.

I think I can safely say that all homeschool parents want to scream sometimes. Many of us have threatened to send our kids to public school at one point or another (or maybe once a week). It doesn’t make you a bad parent or even a bad teacher, it just makes you human. In the last week, I have seen a bunch of public school parents join my online homeschool groups, and the outpouring of sympathy, support and good ideas from homeschool parents makes me tear up. We’re here for you. Get in touch.

Run your day in a way that works for YOU

Just because they’re usually in school for six or eight hours a day doesn’t mean you have to school them for six or eight hours a day. That schedule is a crowd control measure instituted for the good of society, not for the good of children.

My children are homeschooled primarily because I think a kid should spend a lot of time outside moving around, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do that and public school. My own public school experience was pretty different from the norm today, with much less homework and much more self-direction, but still, I feel that I didn’t get enough practice directing my own attention. Research backs me up on this: kids who get many hours of freedom develop excellent executive function, which not only makes them a valuable employee but also helps them run their own life someday.

At my house, we do about an hour of formal school work per day, six or seven days a week. The rest of the time the kids help me with gardening and animal care, climb trees and play in the creek, draw and write and read things on their own or together, and make stuff out of Legos. They have an hour of screen time each afternoon just so they will sit down and be quiet, usually a documentary. David Attenborough is definitely this house’s biggest celebrity. We’re also accustomed to spending several days of the week with other homeschool families, although obviously that is curtailed now due to social distancing.

Learning doesn’t stop when we leave the table, because kids are unstoppable learning machines when they’re not too tired or stressed out. I’m always available to answer questions and help look stuff up, and the questions are pretty frequent. An adult reads to them (or they read to us) books of their choosing at bedtime, and sometimes just after dinner, too. It’s also a pretty common occurrence in my house for a child to see an adult reading a novel, a piece of nonfiction, or The Economist, and request to have it read aloud to them, which we do. They also sometimes watch me balance the household budget.

The schedule that works best for your family might look very different from ours, and that is good. Children are people. People have very different needs, and one of the charms of schooling at home is that you can arrange things in a pretty good compromise to meet everyone’s needs. An hour or two of focused one-on-two attention per day is plenty of time for my four- and seven-year-olds to get well ahead of grade level on reading, writing, and math…(continues)

Click here to read the entire article at The Organic Prepper.

Organic Prepper: Eating What We Grow

As Spring begins to sneak across the land, thoughts turn to gardens. Here are some thoughts from Kara Still at The Organic Prepper on growing and foraging food – Eating What We Grow: What We Learn and What We Love.

I grew up in Alaska. My family bought most of what we ate at the store, shipped in from the “Lower 48,” as the rest of the U.S. is known up north. The supply chains were long and fragile, and the produce was both expensive and terrible. Wilted lettuce, fuzzy strawberries, bruised apples. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would eat a peach or an ear of corn on the cob because after weeks in transit these delicacies taste like cardboard (or like rot). I ate ice cream, frozen hash browns and plenty of McDonald’s. Alaska is America, after all.

There was also another cuisine in my household, one born out of connection to the land. My family picked tart wild blueberries on the steep mountainside, with the tundra a spongy vermillion carpet around us and the first snows dusting the bare peaks above. We spent hours on icy glacial rivers or motoring past a pebbly shore, casting after salmon and halibut. We scoured the woods for wild mushrooms: nutty white King bolete (porcini), sweet-sour butter bolete, blue-bruising birch bolete, shaggy manes, and oyster mushrooms.

My eyes were opened when I was able to access other foods.

I got so sick of salmon that I refused to eat it, but the joke was on me because the salmon was already in my soul, residing there as a deep curiosity about unusual foods. As I attained adulthood and went traveling I sampled a long list of strange stuff: raw whitefish roe and muktuk (raw whale skin with the fat still on) in rural Alaska, alpaca and guinea pig in Peru, kangaroo and saltwater crocodile in Australia. I nibbled whatever was available: feijoa and loquat and dragon fruit, carpenter ant and raw jellyfish and bladderwrack seaweed, oysters smashed open on the beach.

This isn’t as strange as it sounds. Dr. Weston A. Price, the author of the classic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, was a dentist who traveled the world in the 1930s to document what people ate. His research includes 500 pages of pictures of people’s mouths and long lists of who did and who did not have cavities. At the edges of the Earth, Dr. Price found healthy people thriving on almost every imaginable diet: dried fish with a little oatmeal and cabbage in Scotland, cattle milk and blood plus wild vegetables in Africa, seal or caribou and berries in Alaska, cheese and rye bread with a little cabbage in alpine Scandinavia. Their teeth were flawless, their faces beautiful.

Not everyone was healthy, though. Some places Price visited, most people had had every tooth pulled from their heads by the age of 20. Some populations also had underdeveloped chests, high incidence of tuberculosis, crowded mouths and facial deformities, all from lack of nutrients. These folks were not eating a wide variety of different diets. They were all eating the same diet, which mostly consisted of white flour and jam.

There isn’t one perfect diet, because humans are omnivores that can thrive and be healthy on lots of different sets of foods. Just not on white flour and jam.

Now we’re eating wild and foraged things, plus what we grow.

These days, I live on a little homestead in rural North Carolina. My family has 17 acres of mixed woods and overgrown fields, with a pond and a stream. We have a little house we built with our hands, a garden, a young orchard, a few goats, chickens and geese.

We still eat wild things, mostly violets and sheep sorrel, chickweed, wild spring onion, a few puffballs and blackberries, bass out of the pond. One year we found a bumper crop of shaggy-bark boletes that taste like the butter boletes I grew up with. One year I killed and cooked an egg-stealing rat snake (it made fine tacos).

But my county is farm country, a thoroughly humanized landscape since before Columbus when the natives burned the undergrowth to create a fantastically productive landscape that white settlers thought was a park. If we want to eat from the land rather than the Walmart (and we do), most of that food has to be encouraged to grow, not just hunted and gathered.

Growing food is a fascinating and complex endeavor fraught with failure and surprise. My favorite potatoes and English peas are tougher to produce here in the baking south than in the frozen north. Instead, I’m gradually learning to grow exotic things even the luckiest Alaskan gardener can only dream of, like eggplant, grinding corn, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Some growing seasons are successes and others are lessons.

This year was an education in drought. In June we had a 100-year flood that took out the bridges on two of the four roads into our property. Nine months later, those bridges still aren’t fixed. After that deluge, it hardly rained for three months. Seminole pumpkin, for several years running a heavy producer, utterly failed because of squash bug combined with too little water. My tomatoes made only enough for the table and about 15 jars of salsa. I have a brand new solar dehydrator, and I was looking forward to dried tomatoes with everything. Instead, I have more frozen green beans than I know what to do with…

Click here to read the entire article at The Organic Prepper.

Organic Prepper: Off-Grid Cooking Without Electricity

Resilience homesteader Kara Stiff has written a nice article for The Organic Prepper – Off-Grid Cooking Lessons: How to Prepare Food Without Using Electricity – in which she writes of the effort made to reduce electricity use in order to make going off-grid affordable, and how she cooks during winter and summer.

Much of the remaining usage is cooking, so we got set up to cook mostly off-grid.

I say mostly because we still have a crockpot, a toaster oven, and an electric kettle to help us integrate our schedule with that of the outside world. The wage-earner can have his tea when he leaves before the morning fire. The family can have a hot dinner after a day away, or simmer broth overnight. These are convenience devices; we don’t rely on them for our main cooking needs.

Winter off-grid cooking

For winter cooking we use our wood stove, a Vermont Bun Baker. It has an oven and a cooktop. Ours is also set up to make hot water in an open-vented thermosiphon loop. That heat is transferred to the pressurized plumbing through a setup that works surprisingly well, though it was prohibitively expensive. I was nervous about planning a house with a wood cookstove because while I’d cooked on a few, I hadn’t lived with one long-term. But there wasn’t room in our 725-square-foot house for two stoves nor was there room in our tight budget. It was one or the other.

In reality, I adjusted to cooking on a wood stove fairly quickly and easily. The oven only gets good and hot when the stove runs for a while, so I only bake in the coldest months, which is fine because I’m not really into baking. Shorter fires are enough to roast peanuts for homemade peanut butter, or eggshells to crush for the chickens.

Surprisingly, I burn dinner less often on the woodstove than I did on electric or gas stoves, probably because it just takes as long as it takes. There’s no way to impatiently turn the heat way up like on an electric, only to regret it when the food blackens. It doesn’t really take longer to make dinner, though, because I use the heating-up time well. I also burn myself on it less often, probably because the woodstove is hot not just on the top but down the front as well, so it’s impossible to forget that it’s hot. The children have great respect for it and have not come close to even a minor burn.

If you care about environmental damage as we do, a wood stove is not the most environmentally-friendly choice. I did some math and discovered that the one and a half cords of home-grown and salvage wood we burn per year is definitely environmentally worse than using electricity to accomplish the same tasks, but not by that much (see a more in-depth discussion here). Though my family carefully considers environmental concerns in every decision we make, we also care a lot about resilience. In the end, resilience won out for the critical tasks of winter heat and cooking…