Swinging into Summer

“Swinging” into Summer is hardly accurate. It feels more like we’re on a speeding train and Summer is a brick wall directly ahead of us! The days are passing way faster than I care for (but isn’t that always how it goes?). Life is bursting forth everywhere I turn, the baby is growing way too quickly, and my older children are more incredible with each passing day.

Summer on the farm is such a busy, hectic time. There are so many demands! At the end of the day, though, it’s all worth it, and there are an abundance of little rewards.

The chicks, who one month ago looked like this –

- now reside outside and look like this -
How quickly they change!

The rabbits are thriving on grass. They’ve escaped a couple of times, and so we’ve been playing around with various modifications to the rabbit tractor to prevent escape but still allow for grass-eating. (Stay tuned for an update on our rabbits!)

The farmers’ market opened on June 9th, and I was so happy to be back! We had a fabulous opening day, with way more sales than we anticipated and lots of folks from last year stopping by to say hello. The feelings of community and camaraderie that come out at the farmers’ market are so uplifting.

Here’s my market partner – her name is Juno. She’s a 12-week-old Border Collie, and absolutely fabulous!

We’ve also had a few births around this little farm over the past month -


Dinosaur finally birthed her kid, a beautiful little buckling whose name is Boots.


Platypus the duck went broody and sat on a rather large nest of eggs. Eight of them hatched last week, much to the delight of my children.

Yes, Summer is a busy time on this farm: chicks, bunnies, goat kids, ducklings, puppies, gardens, children…….. I feel as though I’m busy and working my butt off nearly every moment of the day. It’s good work, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

A Day Outdoors

After two rainy days, the sun came out today and shone brilliantly all the day long. A perfect day for working outside! With everything that’s been going on around here the last few months, we’re horribly behind on our farm work. So, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping us cool, the children and I spent the day getting things caught up.

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Lynden helped me prepare the onion bed for planting. Who would have thought rolling spikes along the ground could be so fun and exciting? Little clumps of grass became “monsters” that needed to be eliminated, with Lynden the Brave coming to the rescue.

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Robin carefully dropped each little onion-in-waiting into its hole in the ground. He took this task very seriously indeed, hollering at anyone who came near the bed.  Our little green thumb was totally delighted when I raked the soil over and tucked the onions in to grow.

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Later, when it was time to put the trowel and rake away, we discovered a broody hen in the garage! Well, well, well – a torn old bag for a nest! And in the corner of a damp, dark garage, to boot. What a silly lady! It looked like she was sitting on eight eggs or so. Now we wait. How many will she hatch?

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For a while I tried to get some pasture seed sown in the goat/sheep yard, but quickly realised it was an exercise in futility. The chickens gobbled up every seed they could find. Pasture seed is not inexpensive! The seeding of the goat/sheep yard is going to have to wait until the rest of the chickens are confined in the almost-finished chicken tractor (the finishing of which will have to take priority this weekend!).  I did get lots of peas in the ground, as well as a large bed of beans (this year we planted Cherokee Trail of Tears, Aunt Emma’s, and Cranberry). The chickens don’t dig up the legumes like they do with smaller seeds, thank goodness.

ImageThe goats and sheep got a new salt lick today. This wouldn’t be an event worth mentioning, if not for Day Lily’s reaction. Apparently this was something to be excited over – Day Lily pranced around like it was Christmas morning, and kept returning to the salt lick to have a little nibble. You’d think the silly gal had never had a salt lick before.

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While I worked in the garden, Robin followed me around with the leftover onion starters. He refused to believe that I didn’t need to plant another onion bed, and was pretty mad at me when I said “No, thank you,” as he attempted to put onions in the bean bed. He brought this bag of leftover onion starters into the house with him, and sat down to dinner with the bag still clutched in one hand. When he realised that it would be difficult to eat with only one hand free, Robin sat on the onion bag. Oddler got quite a surprise when he sniffed at the bag and received a whack on the nose!

ImageRaina quite adamantly did not want to help in the garden today, which is quite unusual for her. Instead, she took her shirt off and ran through the fields, then spent much of her afternoon swinging and climbing. She scaled a tree, then cried for me to help her get down. She spun herself silly on the tire swing. She found a muddy place and squished her feet in, getting nice and dirty. I think it’s safe to say that Raina enjoyed her day.

So, while we’re still behind in the garden department, I did get onions, peas and beans into the ground. I got several beds weeded and ready for planting. And while it’s not as much as I would have liked, I have to remind myself that I did all of this with a month-old baby slung on the front of me and had to accommodate for several nursing breaks throughout the day. I’ll count this day as a success, however small my accomplishments.

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The Swing of Things

My recent pregnancy and birth took a lot more out of me than I anticipated it would, and Jae has shouldered the vast majority of the farm work for many months now.  Today I woke feeling much more like my normal old self than I have in a long time. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and I really wanted to get back into the swing of taking care of this little farm.  After getting appointments (for mama and baby), speech therapy (for Raina) and grocery shopping out of the way, the kidlets and I spent our evening out in the yard, getting things back in order.

ImageLynden and Raina had picked out some bird houses from the dollar store a little while back, and today we finally found some places for them. (This one is sitting on a slab of concrete that protrudes from the tree – the tree actually grew around the concrete over the years and engulfed almost half of it!) It puts a smile on my face to see these cute little bird houses nestled in our trees. Whether the birds make use of them or not, they sure look sweet, and the kids were so excited to put them out there.

ImageGaia spent some time swinging in the shade of an old maple tree, which was just fine by her. She gazed around the yard, watched shadows dance on the blanket next to her face, and stared for a good long while at her brothers & sister playing nearby. Indoors, Gaia doesn’t usually want to spend time in her swing, but out in the yard it was another story altogether. I enjoyed having my body to myself for a little while!

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Dinosaur and the sheep were tethered in the front yard for a while to graze down the grass that is already becoming pretty darned long! They seemed to enjoy the fresh greenery and the shade of the maple. Dinosaur’s winter coat is shedding out, and she’s pretty patchy looking these days. I really ought to shave her, but the memory of Daisy’s recent shaving and all of the tiny bits of goat hair that stuck to me for days is a bit of a deterrent.

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Because the gardens were put to sleep for the winter and it wasn’t necessary to keep chickens out, our chicken tractor was out of use. Now that we’re almost ready to start putting some things in the ground, it’s time to confine the chickens. They can tear up a garden pretty fast! Jae and I filled the top of the tractor with fresh straw and moved it to a shady, thickly grassed area. The tractor doesn’t have wheels yet, so moving it is quite the labour-intensive task. That thing is heavy! We put six birds in for the time being. A second tractor is in the works, almost finished and soon to be filled.

I got a lot of debris raked up around the yard – twigs, branches, stray bits of straw, chicken poop – and we had a roaring fire going. The kids sat around on their little chairs, making plans for camping this Summer and having sleepovers. I managed to nearly fill the compster with chicken waste, which I’m sure the gardens will love in a few months’ time.

It was an unremarkable evening, much like other Spring evenings past, but it felt superb to be outside & working again. I haven’t moved my body this much in many months, and my limbs & back were rejoicing to be bending and lifting and working again. Physical activity sure does feel good.

Digging In

What greater joy is there in early Spring than seed starting? Normally, our family starts seeds in the early days of March, but this year we were busy looking for a new  home – and not finding one. I felt antsy as the days grew longer & warmer, wishing I had a garden to prepare for. Finally, we gave up on looking for a new place to live, and decided we’d stay put right here.

Staying here on this farm means it’s time to get the gardens ready for planting, and time to get some seeds started!

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The kids were so excited when I got out our seed packets and growing supplies! They had been disappointed at the prospect of not having a garden this year, and were quite happy when I told them we’d be staying in our current home and planting in the gardens we’ve worked so hard on the past two summers.

ImageLynden declared that he was old enough to plant his own seeds without any help this year, and quite proudly planted a tray of zucchini before losing interest and running outside.

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Robin wanted to touch everything. He thought the seed packets were great fun to shake, and pulled them off the grow table repeatedly. This was distressing to Raina, who wanted everything just so, and she hollered at her brother very loudly.

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Gaia watched intently from the comfort of the sling (thanks, Laura!), calm and quiet the entire time. She may only be four weeks old, but I swear she was enjoying seed day as much as her older siblings were!

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Robin started getting cranky, even though he had napped only a short while before. I held him close on the rocking chair, and noticed that his forehead was pretty warm. Within another ten minutes or so, he had a full-on fever going, and fell fast asleep.  The poor little guy slept the rest of the afternoon away on the couch.

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After Robin fell asleep and the rest of the seeds got planted, we headed outside to start preparing a new onion bed in the front of the house. I had dug up this space last Spring with the intention of growing carrots, but never ended up using it. The grass and weeds moved in on the freshly-turned and conveniently neglected soil, so now we’re starting all over again. Lynden and Raina thought it was great fun to pull the weeds and grass out of the soil (with their new garden gloves, hooray!) as I turned it over with a shovel. Turning soil is not so easy with a newborn baby in the sling!  Garden work will be much easier when Gaia gains some head control and can hold herself steady.

All in all, a tiring but extremely satisfying day. It felt so good to get my hands in some dirt! There is such promise in a packet of seeds and a patch of soil. We may have gotten a late start, but it’s going to be a fantastic growing season!

Life Without School

Before our first child was born, Jae and I knew that no offspring of ours would be attending school.  As new parents, we assumed we’d use a curriculum, but as our children grew and taught us more than we anticipated (and after trying out Waldorf and Enki curricula), we realised that a curriculum was not necessary – and actually stood in the way!

So, we became a family of “unschoolers”. We don’t set out each day to teach our kids; instead, we involve them completely in our daily lives and trust that they will learn everything they need to survive in this crazy world.  Just as they learned to sit, crawl, talk, feed themselves and use the toilet without any direction from us, they are learning to read, count, add, subtract and more all on their own. Kids are hardwired to absorb everything from the world around them, to acquire the necessary skills for surviving – and thriving – in the community in which they live. I’ve come to realise that sitting down to teach a child who hasn’t asked to be taught actually thwarts their learning process.

I won’t go into too much depth about unschooling. I could write a whole series of essays addressing our reasons for keeping our kids far away from the school system, our choice to abandon curricula and our trust in our children, but that would take a long time and I’d rather spend that time with my kids. Instead, I’ll share with you what a day of unschooling might look like in our home. At the end of this post you’ll find a plethora of links for further reading and information about unschooling (or, “life learning” as I prefer!) – please do take the time to peruse! You might find your mind blown ;)

What does a typical day look like in this house where school does not exist? That’s impossible to answer, because there is no “typical” day. Each day is different, with endless options nestled snugly inside of the rhythm of our home. There are several constants – family breakfast, daily chores, feeding the animals, collecting the eggs, etc – and within that framework anything else goes.

Most days include a craft of some sort. My kids are wildly creative beings – all it takes is for one of them to ask for paints or crayons or glue, and all three of them are bursting with excitement at the thought of making new art. A perennial favourite that lingers from our Enki days is watercolour painting. The kids will spend up to two hours at a time on a good day – and sometimes only half an hour – quietly concentrating on their paper & brushes, taking their colour choices very seriously.

Some days, the kids enjoy felting. They like needle felting well enough, but really love wet-felting, getting their hands warm and soapy wet, squishing that wet wool between their fingers. Their creations always look more or less the same – oddly-shaped clumps of felt with no real definition – and usually end up in the compost pile. It’s not the result that matters, it’s the process. It’s the joy of creating something with one’s own hands.

Then, of course, there’s fort-making with blankets. What child doesn’t love that? There’s usually a fort monster to go along with the blanket forts – inevitably a big brother trying to scare his younger siblings.

Puzzles! My children are drawn to puzzles. We do several puzzles each week in this house. The kids are getting really good at figuring out how pieces fit together. One year ago, I helped out quite a lot. Now, I might make a suggestion here or there if the kids get stuck, but mostly I sit back and watch in amazement as they figure it all out on their own. It’s so incredible to watch learning in action!

We do a lot of train play, too. This is Robin’s interest du jour, and Lynden is only too happy to help him figure out how best to put his tracks together. The kids have come up with some pretty elaborate railroad arrangements across the living room and bedroom floors. Of course, causing a train wreck is absolutely delightful, complete with epic sound effects and mourning family members.

Reading is a favourite pastime. There is not a day that goes by without reading happening. We’ll all pile on the couch together, snuggled in close, and work our way through the chapters of the Little House on the Prairie series, Roald Dahl books, Narnia, and more. On a day when something lighter is in order, we’ll go through a stack of our favourite picture books. The kids love the nature stories and fairy tales from the Enki curriculum, and often ask for those as well – we read seasonally-appropriate stories and the kids will sometimes draw pictures to go along with what we’ve read.

Lynden has a dinosaur obsession (and I do mean obsession), and has accumulated several dinosaur reference books and dino encyclopedias. He’s learning to read simply because he wants to be able to look things up in those reference books on his own, without asking for help. He has an extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, the various eras, and the creatures that came before & after dinosaurs. He wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up.

Raina loves music. She spends her days singing and takes Suzuki Method violin lessons. Here’s where I’ll make a confession – as a Suzuki violin teacher myself, I expect daily practice of my students. But my own daughter? I follow her lead. Some days she practices three to four times, some days not at all. There are times when she cries because I just can’t bring myself to do a fifth practice in one day, and times she shrugs because she doesn’t want to play. Our approach to practice wouldn’t work if Raina were in school like my own students are – school changes the way kids approach learning, and structured teaching requires structured practicing (homework/review/etc) to be effective.

Robin’s starting to want to use the toilet like his older siblings. At 20 months of age, he gets really upset if he pees on himself, and will want to get out of the tub rather than pee in the water. All of our kids have “potty-trained” themselves, on their own terms – I foolishly tried to get Raina out of diapers before our third baby was born, and quickly realised the error of my ways when she rebelled against me, hard. I dropped the issue, and months later she started using the toilet all on her own.

There is no television in this house. No video games. Sometimes our kids will use the computer to watch nature documentaries and dinosaur specials. Sometimes they’ll use my camera to take photos, which they use for a “game” they created – zooming in really close and trying to guess what the object in the photo is when it’s blown up 800x’s. Without the distraction that too much technology brings, they are free to be their amazingly creative selves all day.

Of course, we regularly make trips into the wilderness, exploring local woodlands and creeks and trails. Outdoor play & exploration is what we live and breathe for. My children can identify coyote poop, raccoon poop, deer poop, the tracks of a half-dozen different animals, several birds of prey by sight, trees by their bark & leaves, and so much more. They don’t see themselves as separate from nature – they are part of nature, they belong to the woodlands just as much as the coyotes and raccoons do.

Oh, and socialisation? Yeah, we get plenty of that. We’re blessed to have a large network of homeschooling & unschooling friends, a great family, and the Ontario Early Years centre nearby. The kids are regularly interacting with folks of all ages, races and social classes, with people like them and people completely different from them. They’re not restricted to a classroom with 30 kids the same age – the world is wide open before them, and all people are worth saying “Hello” to.

You’d like to learn more about life learning, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t? Here are some great resources to get you started -

Creating Our Own Structure – unschooling.ca
What is Unschooling? – Natural Child Project
Radical Unschooling – Sandra Dodd
What is Unschooling? – John Holt
Are We Teaching Ourselves? – “Yes, I Can Write” blog
Unschooling for Social Change – FreeChild Project

We sure do love our lives. Our days are mostly happy, my kids are mostly happy, we have almost limitless time together to love & support each other. I can’t imagine sending my kids off to an institution every day, leaving their minds in the hands of impersonal strangers who change from year to year. No, thanks. We’ll keep living as though school doesn’t exist, and keep on loving the lives we have.

Oh, and what child would rather sit at a desk all day instead of doing this?