I don’t often discuss parenting on this podcast, but when I read Jill Winger’s blog post on how she gets her kids involved on her homestead, I knew I had to bring her on to talk about this topic. Jill began homesteading before she became a mother, so her three children have always known this way of life. Jill and I discuss how we accomplish homesteading tasks with babies and toddlers underfoot, how we begin getting our children involved around the homestead, and why it’s important to give our children the gift of hard work. If you want to instill the values of hard work and creativity into your children, may this episode give you inspiration along the way.
In this episode, we cover:
- An old-fashioned philosophy of parenting
- How kids of different ages can help around a homestead
- Instilling a strong work ethic in your children
- How homeschooling can build character
- Making space for kids to explore their passions
- The advantage of letting our kids experience failure
- How we approach chores
Jill is the founder of The Prairie Homestead, an online space with over one million monthly visits dedicated to helping people learn how to grow their own food and opt-out of the rat race, regardless of where they live. In 2019, she published her best-selling cookbook The Prairie Homestead Cookbook which was an Amazon Editor’s pick and won Best Cookbook in the 30th Annual Reading the West Book Awards given by the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association.
Her practical and authentic style of teaching and storytelling has won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of homesteaders across social media and through the Old Fashioned on Purpose podcast, which has amassed over 3.3 million downloads since its inception.
Jill has been featured in Urban Farm, Farm & Ranch Living, COWGIRL magazine, Woman’s Day, HuffPost, the Wall Street Journal, Wyoming PBS, People, and Buzzfeed. She resides on the Wyoming prairie with her husband, three children, and more farm animals than she can count.
Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto
Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto
The Call of the Wild and Free by Ainsley Arment
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Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today, I’m bringing on a guest that I have been trying to get on my podcast and me to get on hers for so long. We’ve had scheduling conflicts, and today we are finally doing it. We actually are recording back-to-back episodes, so you can head over to Jill’s podcast—so it’s Jill Winger from the Prairie Homestead—and listen to the first part of this conversation where we talked about meal planning and how we get healthy food on the table each night, maybe without meal planning in some cases. So you can go over to Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast and listen to that episode. But in the episode here on my podcast today, we are going to be talking about raising hardworking kids. So the kind of things that we get our kids involved in, how we get them to help around the house. Jill has three children on her homestead. They get involved in a lot of things, and so she’s going to share her advice and what she’s learned. We both are not coming from this as experts. We are both just in the thick of it sharing what has worked and things that we’ve noticed, so keep that in mind as you join us for this conversa
Lisa Bass I am on here with Jill Winger from The Prairie Homestead and the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast. If you’re not already following her—which I’m sure that you are—she shares from-scratch cooking, her homestead life. They live out on the Wyoming prairie with lots of cattle and horses, and it’s very dreamy and I’m sure quite snowy at this point of the year.
Jill Winger Very cold right now.
Lisa Bass Yes. So we were just actually talking over on her podcast. So if you want to hear the first part of this conversation—even though we’re going to be going into a little bit of a different topic over here on my podcast—we talked about meal planning and cooking over on hers, so you can head over to the Old Fashioned on Purpose podcast and check that out over there. So, Jill, tell us about your family and your homestead and what you guys have going on over there.
Jill Winger We live in southeast Wyoming. Like you said, it’s cold and snowy. Pretty low population here because not a lot of people want to deal with the weather. We have three children, and we bought our homestead in 2008. We were kind of doing it before it became a thing, and I’ve been really excited to see the homestead movement take off. We have milk cows, chickens, gardens. We also raise a herd of commercial beef cattle that we sell the beef across the U.S. That’s kind of been a new venture beyond the typical homestead grow food for yourself dynamic. We kind of have all the full-fledged stuff: homeschool and run home businesses. Really similar to what you and your family do.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And you share. I love listening to your podcast and getting the kind of content that you share in the audio form. That’s a really good place to figure out what Jill is all about and to follow along with her family. You also share a little bit on YouTube as well.
Jill Winger A little bit. I kind of just sort of ditched YouTube. We’re starting to upload the video version of the podcast, but I used to do the weekly videos kind of vlog style. I spent some time examining last year like, “What do I really love as far as creation goes?” And video just didn’t make the cut. I just really struggle. I don’t watch videos, and so it just was a slog to produce them. So I’ve been taking a break, which some people are a little, you know, sad. They’re like, “Where are you?” And I’m like, “I’m producing other places, just not there.”
Lisa Bass Yeah. We are going to talk a little bit about parenting and raising hard working kids. This topic is something that I approach with a little bit of hesitation because it can get to where when you say certain things, you’re stepping on some people’s toes. It’s just one of those tricky topics, and I try to mostly steer clear of anything parenting related, homeschool related, because I am not an expert. That’s the thing. I want to encourage moms and share what’s working for us in our family. But at the same time, I understand that everybody’s in different stages of life and they’re in different lifestyles. Take that disclaimer how you want. I was reading, actually, your blog post about this, Jill. You were talking about homestead kids and you were saying the same thing. This is a topic that I try to tread a little bit lightly on because, yeah, it can get controversial.
Jill Winger It does. Yeah. I’m working on a new book, and so we were talking to different editors and they’re like, “You could write a book on parenting.” I’m like, “Absolutely not. Never. Never will I do that.”
Lisa Bass Those people are brave, really brave.
Jill Winger Just because, like you said, there are so many different situations. My oldest is only 11, so I’m like, “To be determined how this all turns out.” I don’t want to be like, “I have it so nailed down,” and then who knows what happens. So, yeah, we’re all figuring it out as we go.
Lisa Bass Well, and I like that humility too, because that means that you’re able to learn and listen to conversations like this and decide if I should apply this or whatever. It’s not like, “I have this all figured out.” I feel like we only really have it all figured out when we’re pregnant with the first child.
Jill Winger Totally.
Lisa Bass I was.
Jill Winger The poor firstborns. I have thought so many times, “The firstborns just get the brunt of all the first time mom neurosis.” Which I was so guilty of.
Lisa Bass Yeah, exactly. I know. My daughter knows that too. She’s like, “I’m mom’s guinea pig,” because I’ve told her all the things I did wrong. And I’m still, I’m sure, lots of things that I have blind spots on right now that I don’t have figured out at all. But I know for sure some that I messed up with her. So in your blog post, you were sharing a little bit about your philosophy of—gasp—your life, not revolving around your kids and all of that. So can you expound a little bit upon that philosophy?
Jill Winger Yes. That whole idea is definitely controversial, especially in our modern culture. We have very child-centered homes. It’s not all a bad thing. There’s been times in history where kids were sent to the sweatshops. We don’t want to do that, either. We want to preserve childhood and we want to give them opportunities, so it’s a fine balance like most things in life. I think the truth lies in the gray areas. You can’t go black and white. I think the way we parent, it kind of came by accident. I modeled a little bit what my parents did for me, which wasn’t some grand aspiration. They were just kind of doing what their parents did with them. It was really more of that old fashioned childhood of mom and dad have their adult things, and you guys are kids and you do your kid things. My parents were nurturing and loving, but they were not hyper focused on us. I was homeschooled even, so it was like, “Do your school work, do your chores, and then you’re off. Go play. Go figure out your own life. Go figure out how to appease your boredom.” It just felt natural to do that with our children, and it’s worked out. It just works out good. It feels right for us. We still give them opportunities. They do 4-H and my oldest has started playing basketball. But for a lot of the time, Christian and I—my husband and I—we still have our own interests and hobbies, which I feel like that’s a whole other topic. In modern cultures, I know fewer and fewer adults who have their own things. They’re all really focused on what their kids are doing. So for us, it’s kind of been a natural progression that it’s worked out like this.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I like how they’re fitting into your family’s goals that you have set. You have certain goals and you’re giving them a certain level of responsibility but also belonging. So they have this feeling of belonging to something bigger that they get to be a part of. And I really like that idea. I think it also does lend itself to them wanting to work and be a part of it.
Jill Winger Yes, absolutely. I think kids really want to be a part of the bigger picture. I remember as a child, I relished those moments when I just felt like I had a role to play that wasn’t just some token role. It was like I was really doing something important, and it felt really good. I think a lot of kids are like that, and I think we rob them a little bit of that sometimes by always maybe over-catering to always make it like a child-centered environment. Sometimes they want to be thrust into the adventure of a bigger chunk of the world.
Lisa Bass Yeah. How do you actually get your kids involved on the homestead? We could actually even start back to whenever your kids were little and you had a newborn. How did you involve or how did you even homestead at all whenever you had such little kids?
Jill Winger Yeah, that’s a really common question, too. I’m sure you get that a lot. People are like, “How do I do this?”
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah.
Jill Winger So for me, I guess it was a little bit—I know if selfish is the right or wrong term. I was like, “I want to do this, and I’m not going to let the fact that I have a newborn or a toddler stop me.” So I’m like, “You get to come with me, and you’re just going to come.” So from literally when they were less than a month old, I would bundle them up, and we had a big jogging stroller with the big tires that can make it over the bumpy ground. And I’d bundle them up and put their blankets over them and we would go out and do chores, and they always were going out with me, and it made it feel pretty natural as they got bigger. We got to the toddler stage or preschool stage, this was part of the routine. And as you know, it slows you down for sure. It is more cumbersome to get out the door with all the boots and all the mittens. And toddlers are especially challenging because they don’t understand that animals are dangerous. Don’t eat the poop. Don’t get in the way of the cow coming in the gate. But we just did it. I didn’t have a lot of babysitter support in my life at that time. I didn’t have the option of saying, “Hey, can you come watch my kid while I go out and play in the garden?” That was not available to me, so I had to figure it out and I wasn’t going to make excuses of like, “I can’t garden or I can’t have chickens because I have a baby.” That didn’t feel right for me. So it was just kind of dragging them along, and it worked out because the kids were exposed. They got better. They started to learn that I can be patient and I will not die if mom is focused over here for five minutes. Like it’s okay. I can be content and I will be secure and safe, and I think that was a really valuable thing.
Lisa Bass Yeah, like you said, you just did it. It’s amazing what you can get done with kids around whenever you have no other option, but you really want to get that thing done. It might be more difficult, but you totally can. You can bring kids along on so many things that you just wouldn’t think you could until you try it. Like you said, going out to do the chores. I’ve milked the cow with the baby in the wrap before. It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it is possible. It is something that can be done.
Jill Winger The phrase that always went through my head was like, “How bad do you want it?” This is going to be harder than the people who have no children and they just are footloose and fancy free. But yeah, it works. You can make anything work if you want it bad enough.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah, that’s so true. I have to remind myself of that with a lot of different things because there are certain things that I really want, and so I will get them done no matter what, whether there’s kids with me or not. But then there are certain things I’m like, “I don’t have time for that; I have kids.” I’m like, “Wait a minute, you just don’t want to do it.” I recognize this. Remember the time you did this with kids? So you definitely can do it.
Jill Winger Just one thing to add there: I think it’s a little bit of a muscle, too. I’ve noticed that when— it’s kind of funny, even in short periods like, let’s say we go stay with my parents for 10 days. They live in Idaho, so we don’t see them very often. But when I have that extra help— I have two other adults helping with kids, I get used to that really fast. Then when we come home, it feels extra extra hard to be like, “Oh, I’m the only adult, and now they have to go with me everywhere, and I can’t just be like, ‘Hey, mom, can you just keep them in the house while I go outside?'” Like, I get accustomed to that so quickly. I’m not saying it’s wrong. If you have a lot of family help or friends who can take your children, that’s not wrong. But for those of you who don’t, the more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s like a muscle, and the muscle will atrophy if you don’t use it. I think it’s just part of that keep on truckin’ and it gets easier.
Lisa Bass Well yeah, I think that’s why whenever I had my firstborn child, getting anything done at all was so difficult. Like, “How am I supposed to take care of this child and take care of the house?” And then now, I would say, even with seven, it’s a lot easier just because that muscle has been built. But with that, I will say that my husband’s been home with me for almost four years now. If he ever goes out of town,—which happens very rarely, but it has happened—I’m like, “How’d I ever do this? This is insane. How did I just do this by myself?” You get used to it or you build the muscle one way or the other. So specifically, how do your kids—now that they’re a little bit older—actually help you around your homestead?
Jill Winger It’s been a progression as they’ve gotten older and have been able to handle more. My oldest is 11, so she runs the majority of the barn. I honestly don’t go down to the barn very often anymore, unless for just random stuff, which is crazy, crazy. We have horses, so she puts them on and off their hay bales. She feeds the cats. She takes care of all the goats. She’ll chop ice in the winter when the tanks are frozen. She’s really savvy, so if a cow gets out, I don’t worry. We don’t have bulls or anything dangerous here. But you know, cows can be pushy, but she takes her little flag. I have full confidence of her handling animals. She closes gates. She’s responsible to make sure things aren’t going to get out. My middle child, my son, he’s nine. He runs the whole chicken coop. That’s eggs. Well, actually, it’s food and water now. He’s been a little bit more of a challenge to get him consistent. I don’t know if that’s a boy—I only have one boy—so I don’t know if it’s a boy thing. I don’t know if it’s just a different child, different personality.
Lisa Bass I can say that I had two daughters and then I have— I actually have a girl and a boy the exact same ages as your girl and boy. And yeah, it’s a lot more of a challenge. I don’t know if it’s a boy thing or personality, but it also happens to be my girl and boy.
Jill Winger I think boys maybe aren’t— they’re stereotypes, so it’s not like it’s true for every single. Boys are less attentive to detail. There’s something about a firstborn daughter. I’ve heard people say, “If you want the best employee you’ve ever had, hire a firstborn daughter.” There’s just something about them. They just take high, high levels of responsibility. So I think there’s that dynamic. He’s gotten better, but we’ve had to do a lot more training and work and like, “Okay, buddy, you didn’t finish this. So let’s go back down and do it right.” That sort of dynamic. But he does pretty good. And then my youngest, she’s six. I feel like a little embarrassed over this because the others were doing chores a lot sooner. With that baby mentality, I kept thinking, “Well, she’s the baby. She’s not ready for chores.” And then I was like, “Wait, she’s five.” Mesa was doing half the stuff by the time she was five. So when we did give her responsibilities—we started last summer—she helps with the eggs and takes the chicken scraps out. She loved it. She felt so important, and she’s been doing really well. So yeah, they do that. They’ll feed the dogs. They will turn waters on and off for me. When we work our commercial herd of cattle, like preg check or do work— like we run them through the alleyway and tag them or give them medicines. Mesa will do all the bookwork. She’ll sit there with a spreadsheet and track who’s had what baby and who has what tag number. It’s crazy. Man, it pays off eventually. It takes a while at the beginning, but it pays off.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So what did it look like whenever your son maybe was a little bit more resistant? Did you just have to follow up after you told him to do a certain thing? Like go and make sure that that thing’s done? And then maybe there’d be some kind of consequence? Or how did it work out that you got him on board with it?
Jill Winger Yeah, it’s been a process, and I have gotten more frustrated than I wish I would have been. I think with my oldest, I just could always assume that it was done. So it has been a little bit of a wake-up. Christian, my husband, is always like, “You can’t just tell him once and expect it to be done.” And I’m like, “Oh, but I want that to be the case.” And I’m like, “But I know that’s not how it works.” So usually with him, I’ve noticed if we kind of leave him to his own devices for a longer period of time, like a month or two, and we’re not checking in, that’s when things start to kind of degrade. For us, it’s being a little more hands-on. He does really well if, once a week, Christian and I go in there and we help him fill feeders or just kind of do a wellness check. He feels like he’s part of the crew versus the Lone Ranger. He gets more motivated once we do those periodic check-ins. So that’s been helpful. Sometimes there are consequences. If it’s clear expectations and it’s clearly ignored or we’re maybe not truthful with what was done, there are consequences then. But for the most part, I think it’s us managing it a little better is usually where— when things need to be addressed, that’s where it needs to start.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And ultimately, as he gets better, all of this consistency will pay off. I struggle to want to— you know the children you have that are more reliable. I want to be like, “Hey, do this thing because I’m in a hurry right now, and I really don’t want to follow through on seeing if it was actually done. And so I know you’ll do it.” But then going to that one who I’m not so sure, that takes the extra effort. That’s where I have to actually follow through, and I could have just done it myself. But ultimately, I think it’ll pay off and just what that will mean for him. I think sometimes as moms, we feel guilty making kids do uncomfortable things. On your blog post, you were talking about that one of your goals as a parent is— not goals, but you have no qualms about doing things that make your kids uncomfortable. They’re out with you in the cold chipping the ice or stacking the wood, even though that’s not the most comfortable thing to do. What’s your philosophy on this and how will it pay off ultimately for them?
Jill Winger Yeah, this is a really big— I don’t know if pet peeve is the right word. It really bothers me. I think our culture as a whole—adults included—like we’re so scared of being uncomfortable, whether it’s uncomfortable in the weather or uncomfortable in pursuits or activities. That really can hamstring us as adults. That’s been really important for me. I think as humans, we’re always going to struggle with that because we’re always going to go to the path of least resistance. It’s our nature. But I want to give my kids that path and that template that they know. For me, it’s like, I want to instill how good it feels to push through the hard so they can understand. It’s like brain chemicals, it’s dopamine, and it’s that feeling of accomplishment. I want them to start feeling a taste of that, so it’s easy for them to duplicate it when they’re on their own. So yeah, we do. I expect them to be out with us in the cold, in the wind, if we’re chopping firewood, if we’re working cattle. Obviously, when they were little little, I was a little softer about that. Like they would be in the cab of a truck, you know, when they can’t regulate their own temperature and they can’t tell you when their toes are cold. But kids are tough, man. They can handle a lot. Get them some good clothes, like— I was going to say—
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.
Jill Winger Maybe I won’t go there. Get them some good clothes from the feed store and some good boots.
Lisa Bass Solid coveralls.
Jill Winger Solid coveralls. That’s what I was going to say. I think one of the things I do a lot—and I hear them echoing in this back, which is like the best feeling ever when something sticks—we’ll be out, we’ll be cold. I’ll be miserable because it’s windy and it’s blowing sawdust in my face and we’re stacking firewood. We’re like, “It’s going to feel so good when this job is done. Think about how good it’s going to feel. And think about we have that soup in the house on the stove, and we’re going to sit by the fire and eat it together when we’re done with this job, and it’s going to feel so good.” And they’re like “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” That’s what I tell myself when I don’t want to do something. I’m just trying to teach those like coping mechanisms that you can do hard things and it is good to do hard things.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and think of how much better that hot soup is going to taste whenever it’s after a long, hard day of work. Those kind of things come up in life whenever you’re writing a book like you are doing or you’ve done, and there’s just so much that goes into it— all of these photo shoots and recipe writing. But then remember what it felt like whenever you published your book and you got it in the hands of people?
Jill Winger I think it’s a trait that’s missing in our modern— I think our modern culture has just gotten so soft. I know that’s kind of a cliché almost to say that, but it’s true. There’s a lot of good that comes from technology and convenience, and I partake in some of it— I have washing machines and dishwashers, and I like hot water and showers every night. But there’s an element of struggle that we need as humans to grow. That’s how we build muscle. If we never do anything, our bones get weak, our muscles get weak. And I think that is true for adults. And building that into kids so they can start to recognize that and be very intentional, I think is really important.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think we do. Sometimes I even feel this tinge of guilt whenever I’m like, “Will you go do this thing?” I’m like, “Oh, you know, I could just do it for them,” but that’s not how it’s going to work for them. When they leave this house, I’m not going to be there to do that for them. So we’re just going to have to get used to working together as a team, and there’s going to be beautiful rewards on the end of it. But there’s also going to be hard and struggle. You’re always doing the same repetitive tasks over, and we’re going to do them together, but then after that, we’re going to have a really good meal.
Jill Winger One more one more thought on that— just to teach, I think, that work is a good thing. I’m around a lot of adults—we have employees, and now we have different businesses that we have the opportunity to hire people—and there’s just a marked difference in the people that we’ve worked with who see work as always being a negative versus like work as being something that can bring meaning and purpose and fulfillment. There’s obviously jobs that we all don’t like, that we all just have to do sometimes. But I think work is meant to be good and it can be beautiful and it can be hard. But I want them to know that it’s not always something that you’re trying to get out of or minimize. Sometimes leaning into that and choosing a harder project or choosing to take on higher levels of responsibility— that’s not a bad thing.
Lisa Bass Yep. I have a friend who always says, “Hard is not the same thing as bad,” because sometimes we equate the two, and they’re not. They’re just different. To go through a struggle and then be on the other side of it is definitely a valuable lesson. How does this apply with homeschool? I imagine the same philosophy that brought you to homesteading, and bringing your kids in, and teaching them how to be responsible for the barn and the horses probably is the same philosophy that led you into homeschool. Do you feel like that same independent spirit? And going through uncomfortable things is behind that as well?
Jill Winger For sure. For both me and the kids, because I think of—quite frequently—there’s easier ways school a child than to do it yourself at home. Sometimes I’m like, “Huh, I really chose the hard thing here.” But there’s lots of reasons why we we continue, as I’m sure is the case for you. But yeah, I think those lessons really have a chance to come to light even when we’re doing math and it’s like, “I don’t want to do math.” I’m like, “Well, here’s why we’re doing the hard thing, and we show up every day, and we put in effort even when it’s not our first choice. Here’s how it pays off.” So definitely there’s a ton of crossover there. One of my biggest reasons for homeschooling—there’s lots, especially these days—but the have the ability to have that free time where they can have those extra life lessons is probably one of the biggest driving factors for us homeschooling. It would break my heart if they were in school all day and they missed out on all the projects, and us building a restaurant, and us working cattle. That would make me so sad. For us, it’s opening up more time in the schedule so they are exposed to those stacking firewood projects or those bigger things that we do so they can be a part of that.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Do you find that your kids will take on projects that they come up with themselves and then have the space to do them because of homeschooling? So they’ll dream up some ideas and then pursue it?
Jill Winger Yes, which is one of my favorite things to see. It just makes me so happy. Bridger, my son— the other day, he came in and he’s like, “I’m building a house for the goose.” He had his little tape measure on his belt and a saw and a hammer and his box and nails. And I’m like, “Go, buddy, go!” Like, “Use all the wood.”.
Lisa Bass I don’t know what you’re going to come up with, but okay.
Jill Winger “Don’t cut your arm off, but you’ll be fine.” So I love that they have that ability— what makes them tick? Who are they? What’s their passion? I know for me, understanding my passion has been my guiding light through everything. That’s what has brought me so much joy and so much success and ultimately got me to where I am today, just following that little candlelight of passion and seeing where that went. So I want them to be able to start doing that because I think a lot of folks struggle finding that, like what they’re supposed to do or what they are interested in. I think that’s a really big hole for a lot of people.
Lisa Bass Yeah, and homeschooling really does help for that because I always tell my kids, “I will get you whatever tool you need. If you come up with an idea, I will go buy the fabric, we’ll buy the wood or whatever tool you need, and then I’m going to let you just go with it.” That’s kind of our philosophy on it. I have some that I have to follow through with them so that they actually will do the next steps so that they can see the reward at the end. But then I have some who will just be upstairs all day in their room and then come down with something really awesome.
Jill Winger It’s so fulfilling to see that, the creative process. I just love it.
Lisa Bass Were you given that kind of space when you were a kid? Did your parents have a lot of responsibilities and teach you hard work when you look back at growing up?
Jill Winger Yeah, because I was homeschooled, I did have the space, which is really why I’m so I was so passionate about homeschooling my kids. We would get done by lunch every day, even in high school I got done by lunch. We didn’t live in the country; we lived in like a housing development. But on those afternoons, man, we were running outside. We were playing in the snow. I created so much as a kid. Just created and had so many projects and so many interests that I don’t think I would have been able to have that— I know I wouldn’t have been able to have it without homeschooling. The other part of that is I was a really awkward— I’m still kind of awkward, but I was like super awkward as a high schooler and an elementary school kid, and I didn’t relate well to a lot of the other girls in our area. And so having those projects— eventually, it was like I got my horse and I was able to go shadow vets and shadow horse trainers and go watch different procedures. That was my saving grace, and I don’t know if I’d have been stuck in the public school situation, I think I would have really struggled because I would have been stuck with a bunch of people that didn’t really like me, and I wouldn’t have been able to have those passions. So it was everything. I even started a blog when I was 15 and learned how to code HTML.
Lisa Bass Did you really?
Jill Winger Yeah, and it’s long gone. Thank goodness. Yeah, yeah. Who would have thought? I ended up, you know, that’s my career now. It started because I had free afternoons as a homeschool kid.
Lisa Bass Right? That is my number one philosophy behind homeschool. I always am telling my kids that. I’m like, “I didn’t really discover that interest until I was in my 20s.” I learned how to sew and I was like, “This is amazing. I want to spend 12 hours a day sewing,” and I would stay up super late. Then I was like, “Wow. Baking bread is awesome. Making sourdough.” But I didn’t discover any of that until I actually already had kids. Because I had space. I was just home and a little bit bored because I didn’t really have a whole lot going on. And so I love that. Right now, one of my kids really wants to start an Etsy shop. She wants to sew things and sell them. And I’m like, “Here’s the thing: I don’t want you wasting all of your time sewing widgets and selling them. That’s okay if you needed to, but you don’t. And so right now, sew the thing once. Cool. And then move on to something else, but keep trying and exploring different things and finding your passions and what you’re good at.”.
Jill Winger Yeah, I think even if your kids are in public school, you can still make space for that. I think it can still be done. I think sometimes there’s so many extracurriculars. I know, even now, as my kids get older, we’re having to say, “Okay, pick one thing that we’re going to focus on like basketball. And then we’re going to have to say no to softball, and ice skating, and archery. We are going to have to be strategic.” Because I’m trying to protect that spare time. But I think public school, as long as you’re able to manage extracurriculars, make sure there’s still weekends and weeknights available for pursuing— I think it can be done.
Lisa Bass Oh, I completely agree. As long as there’s not too much homework. As long as there is unstructured time because— same thing with my kids. My two oldest have found a passion for gymnastics. And that’s fine, and we take them. But they wanted to start picking up the second slot. So they can go for eight hours a week. I’m like, “No, you don’t need to be doing anything for eight hours right now. You need to learn and explore other things that you might find—” I don’t see anything wrong with gymnastics, obviously, because they do gymnastics. But just the amount of time— I want them to have plenty of space to explore so many things, work on things. And another thing I had on my list here was learning how to fail at the things that they work hard on. So sometimes—have you noticed that with your kids?—they’ll try something, and then it’ll be a complete colossal failure?
Jill Winger Oh, for sure. Yeah. It’s hard. I am Type A-ish. I have experienced success at a number of venues in my life, and so I like to do things well. And so it’s hard. It’s always a balance for me to not intervene. There’s a time and place to intervene, for sure. But just to say strategically, “Nope, we’re going to let this just be and let this happen.”.
Lisa Bass I could see how this isn’t going to work, but we’re going to let you just try it.
Jill Winger And even with our 4H projects, Mesa has been doing a steer which is super competitive and there’s a lot to learn with the steer showing.
Lisa Bass I always did that as a kid too.
Jill Winger Did you? Oh yeah. I didn’t do steers; I did horses. And I’m like, “This is hard.” But we’re still learning. I don’t know if we could even be competitive if I tried, because it’s a lot to learn. But we’re using our home-raised steer versus buying a show steer.
Lisa Bass We didn’t do it either. We just had regular steers. We never got the grand champion.
Jill Winger Yeah. And so I’m watching— there’s a lot of parents who are spending— the parents become more interested in the steers than the kids, and they’re spending weekend after weekend hauling all over and getting professionals. I’m like, “I don’t feel called to do that, and I’m going to let Mesa— we’re going to help her and give her resources, but she’s going to have to figure this out.” And so she’s got her butt kicked at every single fair she’s been at. We’ve done our best, and we’ve tried, and we’ve gotten better every year, but she gets in and she gets bottom of the class. As a mom, you’re like, “Oh,” but it’s good. You learn from being at the bottom, and you learn how to get better, and it’s building that fire in her to like, “Okay, yep, I completely sucked at that class. How can I get better? Who can I ask for help?” It’s hard, but it teaches. I think failure teaches just as much, if not more than being on the top of the heap all the time.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s totally true, because not everything you’re going to try—if you’re going to be pursuing something—is going to work out, and might as well learn that as a kid. Are there any books you recommend? I had this on my list too. Like you asked me about cookbooks. I had the same thing.
Jill Winger I think a book that like changed my perspective so much is— well, he has a couple. The author is John Taylor Gatto. My favorite one is Weapons of Mass Instruction. He has another one called Dumbing Us Down, which is kind of like an overview of multiple works of his. It’s so good just how he speaks to letting kids have free time, letting them experience the world outside of the industrial system. I adore him. I also really like the Wild + Free book. I haven’t gone to their conferences or anything. That’s a homeschooling book, for those of you who haven’t heard of it. But her perspective of homeschooling is just very life-giving to me and very freeing. We tried that super duper classical model, which I know a lot of people love, and it felt very stifling for me. I was feeling frustrated, and I found Wild + Free right after that period, and it was just a breath of fresh air. I’m reading right now Free to Learn by Peter Gray. He’s kind of little bit more in the unschooling realm, which we’re not really unschoolers, but I like a lot of his thoughts. Those would be my my top recommendations.
Lisa Bass We actually read John Taylor Gatto too. Actually, I think I read one of his books. Luke definitely read one of his books and told me a lot about it. I’m not a huge reader, Jill. I know that you read like, I don’t know, five books a month or something like that.
Jill Winger I’m trying.
Lisa Bass Okay, I read like one book a year at the most. But Luke’s a big reader, and he sometimes gives me the CliffsNotes. I will listen to podcasts or videos in favor of that. So I will listen to the same philosophy along those lines, but in like podcast form. But yeah, Dumbing Us Down made a huge impact on our decision to homeschool, which we decided before we even had kids—or when I was pregnant—that that’s what we wanted to do. To learn that the—to not go too far into it—but that the education model wasn’t really designed for a day and age like we have today. And so we need—this is turning into more than just hard working—but creativity, and we need people who know how to solve interesting problems and experiment and fail and then learn how to overcome that. I think that philosophy is behind a lot of what we’re trying to convey here.
Jill Winger Yeah, absolutely. And I think understanding—for me, at least—understanding how a lot of these systems came to be gives me a lot more confidence to move forward because it’s hard to be the weirdo sometimes. I’m sure you’ve experienced this— you eat weird, you school your kids weird, you have a cow, that’s weird. You work at home, that’s weird. Sometimes it’s exhausting to always feel this silence judgment from people. For us, I’ve always known homeschooling was right for us. But to know, hey, this system which has been kind of marketed as the only way is a pretty modern construct. This has not been around all that long. So for me, that was very confidence boosting to know, “Hey, I can opt out of this. It’s not as much of a pillar of society as we’ve been led to believe.”
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. Society has always functioned this way. This is how it’s always been. Really not. Maybe just in the last—I forget—100 years or something like that. Well, tell us— do you have like a chore chart? Are there just certain flows that you have with all of this?
Jill Winger Yeah, I would say—kind of like our menu planning discussion—I’ve always wanted to have the really fancy chore chart. I’ve tried it, and I printed them off, and then we’ll do it and I’m like, “Ugh.” So our routine is— they have their little tasks in the house, and of course they’re always responsible for their rooms and things like that. So they do barn chores, they eat breakfast, and then we do house chores before we start school. We kind of have just a rotating list. Usually it’s the same things that need done, and they just will each do one task. This is bad, but this is my little trick for making sure that those get done and I don’t get sidetracked and they are self-motivated to remember. My kids love gum. You can get sugar-free gum, and that’s a big treat. The rule is you can’t have a piece of gum until you have all your morning chores done. Before we start school, you’re allowed to have a piece of gum for the day. So they remind me, “Oh, it’s my chore.” Like, “Okay, I’m going to do my chore now and then I can have my gum.” So that’s worked out really well, and that has created consistency that I probably would have struggled with.
Lisa Bass Well hey, if all it takes was gum to create that kind of consistency. I think that that could sum up the whole episode: just gum. Because sometimes you do need an incentive, and I feel like that might actually work for my kids too because they love gum and we never have it. So yeah, maybe you can chew on gum during your homeschool lesson.
Jill Winger There’s something about gum. That has been a slight— there’s times when they’re like, I’m like, “You sound like you’re chewing your cud. Oh my gosh, stop.” So there is that side effect to keep in mind. But it’s worth it.
Lisa Bass Well, I find too that—with the chore chart thing—and this is totally in line with our meal planning thing—just like with seasonal food, with with the chores, they are rotating. Today, one of the little kids dumped out a whole thing of blocks. That’s not on the list every day. But, “Hey, eight-year-old, can you please help the two-year-old pick up the blocks?” I don’t feel like life is as neat and pretty as that to be able to put it in a box because sometimes there’s this, and sometimes there’s this, and sometimes it’s summer, and we have this certain chore that we don’t have in the winter or vice versa. And so being able to have more of a flow and a routine than a rigid thing, I think really helps you be more flexible because it’s not so pretty as that. That there’s always this certain task.
Jill Winger Yeah. 100%. Yeah, cleaning up dog poop is one of our chores, but right now, all the dog poop’s frozen to the ground and covered in snow. So we’re substituting— I can’t put it on the pretty chore chart. So yeah, flexibility.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s what I meant when I said certain tasks in the winter and the summer, I just didn’t know it.
Jill Winger Yeah, that’s exactly what you meant.
Lisa Bass All of our dog poop is currently under about eight inches of snow—which we don’t get a ton of snow, but we have it right now. So super fun. All right. Well, for those who don’t know—which I’m sure they mostly do—but tell us where they can best follow along with you and all that you’re doing and what you have to offer.
Jill Winger Kind of my hub of everything—because we have a lot of different little avenues—is ThePrairieHomestead.com. There’s blog posts, and links to the YouTube channel, and the podcast over there, which is called Old Fashioned on Purpose. And if you want to follow me over on Instagram, which is kind of where I’m most active, it’s @Jill.Winger. So it’s pretty easy to remember.
Lisa Bass Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and all that you’ve learned over the last 11 years of being a mom, and plenty more learning to be done. But thank you so much for sharing with us here.
Jill Winger My pleasure. This was super fun.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Make sure you go check out the other part of that conversation over on Jill’s podcast, the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast. Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast.