Raising Off-Grid Kids

For some families, disconnecting from the power grid is a dream in progress. Here’s how you can get your kiddos in on the action.

by Tessa Zundel
PHOTO: Teri Page

Going off-grid is a phrase you hear often these days. Have you thought about what it would be like to disconnect from the public utilities grid and provide your own energy through solar or wind power? Some off-grid families live on raw land, where they homestead to provide for themselves. Others live in conventionally built houses and go through the slow process of transitioning their families off the grid. If you’re considering taking the plunge into off-grid living, whether you live in the middle of the woods or the middle of the city, you may have a few questions about how to make it work with kids. Here are a few words of advice from real-life off-grid families.

Begin At The Beginning

The first thing you need to determine is why you want to go off-grid. Are you wanting to take your family away from modern culture and conveniences to a place that quieter and more detached from the rapid pace of a city? If that’s you, perhaps moving to the country or the mountains is a good idea and something you should consider. If you’re simply concerned about the amount of energy and money that is spent each month so that your family can do what it does, maybe adding solar panels to your existing house will be enough for you. The point is to figure out, as a family, what your goals are and to make realistic plans around them.

Whatever your motivation, the odds are that your children will need to make an adjustment in their lifestyles. How big an adjustment will most likely be determined by their age and how you present the idea of what you’re about to do to them. Tammy Trayer, a off-grid homestead mom and author of How to Embrace an Off-Grid Lifestyle says:

“[My son] was just as excited to embrace our homesteading lifestyle as I was, and that was because I also taught him that I saw life through positive lenses and my excitement would fuel his excitements. It is all how you perceive things, and how you perceive things is often how [your children] will perceive things! ”

Teaching Kids “Off-Grid” Thinking

Going off-grid isn’t an all-or-nothing venture, especially if you’re switching over an existing, plugged-in home. Kendra Lynne and her family, who chronicle their off-grid journey on their blog “New Life on a Homestead,” are currently switching over their conventionally built house to be off-grid. When I asked for some advice for parents teaching their kids to think in an energy-conscious way, she said:

“When you make such a big lifestyle change, the whole family has to be on board. Of course, my younger kids don’t really get it yet, but the older ones were excited about being able to produce our own electricity. And all of them have been really good about paying attention to not wasting power or water, though we’ve always tried to be conscious of conservation—albeit not to this degree.

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Teaching your children to turn off lights when they leave a room, to turn the water off between uses, and to not leave stuff plugged in when not in use is really important.”

When children are young is the best time to start preparing them, especially if you take the time to make it fun. Teri Page, author of the ebook Creating Your Off-Grid Homestead, shared this with me about her two young children:

“We moved onto our piece of raw land when my daughter was 5 and my son was 2. They were so young and really just went along with whatever we presented. Also, they both had been camping and backpacking since infancy, so living without electricity and hauling water with buckets probably felt like a big, fun camping trip!

Our kids have never complained about living off-grid because they really are so young that they don’t remember much else. What they love is being outdoors and being close to nature. We have created a very low-media environment for them, allowing them to fill their days with creative play. Occasionally we will watch a YouTube video as a family, but our children are not connected to the characters and story lines of modern entertainment, as I was in my youth.”

Teenagers may take a bit of convincing, so take it slow and make sure they’re involved in the decisionmaking. Ask for your older children’s input and try to honor their needs as you make this change—you don’t want to leave them in the dark! It might help to make sure they have a specific job, so they can develop expertise and be an asset. Even with younger children, chores are a must for each child as you step off-grid. Jaimie Bauer of the off-grid homesteading

blog “An American Homestead” says:

“Our children are 9 and 3. The oldest definitely helps with chores! I feel like he is just now learning to be helpful around the homestead. He pumps water, helps bring in firewood, reads to his little brother, runs errands for me around the homestead (takes messages to his Dad and Grandpa), and a bunch of little household things to help me. He had just turned six when we moved off grid and he has grown a lot in that time. He can do so much more now!”

What About School?

If you’re off-grid out in the country or up in the mountains, you may be considering homeschooling. If you’ve never considered this possibility before, never fear. Teri says:

“We homeschool our children with a Waldorf-inspired approach. Currently, we collaborate with a close friend and neighbor to co-educate our children. We use a formal homeschooling curriculum part-time, and the rest of the time, we support child-led learning. Homesteading is definitely a part of their education, as is the fact that we live on such an unspoiled and beautiful piece of land with a pond, forest, creek, gardens, chickens, ducks, cows and sheep. Every moment is an opportunity to learn from our natural surroundings, and as biologists and former environmental educators, my husband and I do our best to support the kids’ learning.

One thing that is very refreshing to me is that kids are kids, and at the core, they all love to play, create and connect. When we do get together with on-grid friends, especially when play takes place outdoors, the kids all laugh and play and run around together in the most beautiful ways.”

If you’re off-grid on a homestead or farm, then you have a huge classroom at your fingertips in the land, gardens and animals. Each day, each moment, is “school.” As Tammy homeschools her son at their mountain homestead, she observes him and sees how much he learns.

“Our lifestyle also incorporates an extreme amount of extracurricular activities and classes necessary, in our opinion, as life skills. He has metal and wood shop, where he has learned blacksmithing, welding and the use of traditional tools, as well as modern tools in wood working. He helped build our house and two traditional log cabins, a barn, chicken coop, rabbit hutch and garden. He is in the kitchen all the time with me in addition to learning to fell trees and chop firewood, raise animals, butcher, harvest our meat from the wild and our bounty from the garden and foraged from the wild.”

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s homeschooling laws and adhere to them. You may also consider teaming up with an entity like Homeschool Legal Defense to be sure of your rights and make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your kids educated and safe.

What About Diapers?

Alright, I know you’re thinking it. All this off-grid with kids stuff sounds great, but diapers can be a stinky mess. Here’s the skinny on that from Jaimie:

“Washing diapers adds another level to washing clothes by hand. It’s not hard; it’s just time consuming, generating about twice as much laundry for me. At the height of it, I used to wash diapers two to three times a week and the other clothes twice a week. That meant that I was doing laundry almost every day just to keep up.

Here’s my method: I had two 5-gallon buckets of water. One for pee diapers and one for poop ones. I know it’s not recommended to keep buckets of water around when a little one is present, but be smart. Keep the lids on! Allowing the diapers to soak right away saves time and allows me to skip that step when I’m ready to wash. When washing, I wring them out, wash in fresh water, wring again to get the soap out, rinse in fresh water, wring, and hang to dry.”

See, it’s not impossible—it’s just work.

The bottom line is that if this off-grid lifestyle is for you, then you’ll find a way to make it happen with your family. Brainstorm together and start today with little things, like conserving water and turning lights off when you leave the room.

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