Comments 18

Little Homeschools in the Suburbs

How to instill old-fashioned values if you don't live in the country , raise chickens, and bake your own bread

We don’t all live on a farm and we might not bake bread. We don’t all raise chickens and we may not even own a tractor.  Many of us home educators live in the suburbs, and we simply can’t replicate that homestead lifestyle. How can we instill those down-home values while living near the big city?

Homeschool Values for the Neighborhood

1. Teach our children how to learn.

I taught my children to read, to follow directions, to clean up after themselves.  After that, they were ready to cook anything with a recipe. My daughter is determined to learn how to bake bread. I can’t bake a cake.  Since she is equipped to learn, that hasn’t stopped her. Princess has devoured books on bread baking, watched DVDs on bread baking, and compared recipes for bread baking.  She has baked dozens of fairly good loaves, becoming increasingly better with each one. She found someone experienced in bread baking, and shared a loaf with her to ask for further advice. When we teach our children to learn, we give them the means to grow for the rest of their lives.

2. Give them tools.

Toys are fun, books are better, but tools instill a love of work.  My middle son loves to work with his hands; he figures out how to fix furniture, appliances, even parts of the house for us.  He owns his own tool box, and his favorite Christmas gift was a fold-out workbench for his projects.

Tools take many forms. My oldest son received binoculars for Christmas. My daughter got a sewing kit for her birthday. Whatever the child’s passion, give him the means to do it with all his might.

3. Feed the Pets.

Caring for animals teaches many valuable lessons, including responsibility, dominion, and compassion.  I am not a natural animal lover, but over time my children and husband have taught me the benefits of having animals around the house.  Each creature, including the dog, fish, frogs, and ants, is the responsibility of the child owner, so no one may have a pet until he is ready to take over the care. Feeding, exercising, grooming, and clean up should be the responsibility of the child, with adult supervision.

4. Exercise dominion over the bedroom.

In our home, each child is responsible for his own bedroom.  Cleaning, organizing, and decorating is primarily their duty.  This small sphere of influence allows the child to see, daily, the effects of the curse as their world turns toward chaos immediately upon clean-up.  Yet, I expect each of them to make their beds, pick up the floor, hang up the clothes, and even occasionally change the sheets.  Once in a while, closet inspection takes place.  Household management is training in fulfilling the dominion mandate.

5. Work those chores.

Besides ordering the bedroom, each child should meaningfully contribute to the daily household duties.  The more children you are blessed with, the more hands there are to make light the load.  Serving one another daily should be seen as a necessary – and loving – part of family life.

6. Encourage entrepreneurship

And I have found that the best way to do so is to pay rediculously low wages at home, forcing the young worker to look outside the home for money. For instance, we do give allowance at the Garfias home.  It is such a low allowance; it would be considered an extremely low allowance by 1980s standards.  And on rare occasion, I do pay for extra household work. I pay so little for it as to be hardly worth the effort. But my children are usually desperate for cash.

To counter my miserly rates, my sons have resorted to hiring themselves out to the neighbors for work.  They will pick up doggie doo, cut grass, water plants, sort acorns, anything you can think of, if you will pay them a dollar.  My son negotiated what he thought was a bonanza rate, cutting wrapping paper ends for our neighbor before the holiday at 6 cents a roll.  It is embarrassing how much he made for hours upon hours of mindless, paper-cut-inducing work. If young people are not given ready spending money, they will creatively work to earn it. That is an important lesson of entrepreneurship.

City and suburb homeschools can teach the rich lessons of country life.  Creativity, hard work, and family values are just as important in our neighborhoods.  Counter-culture living is possible, right in the middle of town.


  1. These lessons should be taught regardless of where you live and used to be as a matter of course in the “olden days” when I was a kid (when homeschooling wasn’t widely known). Teaching kids how to learn and allowing them to explore their interests on their own is something public schools don’t encourage, but many homeschoolers do. We give our children the tools they need even if their interest in something is fleeting. It builds character, self-esteem, and allows them to see where their interests lie and what they are good at. I just found out that my 11 y/o son can draw! I’ll be off to get him a sketch pad and some books on the subject this weekend. My kids have always had to clean their rooms and do chores. We feel, if you live in this house, you are to contribute. We don’t give an allowance at all. We do buy them what they need and give them what they want if it is something that will benefit them, help them grow and honor God. My son took over the bed making when he was old enough and strong enough to do it. He has a loft bed and mom was getting a bit old to climb up there and make the bed while on top of it. Great article!


    • The arts are a wonderful area for children to thrive on their own, aren’t they? The children and I have been reading about Da Vinci’s childhood lately; we are amazed by his Thirst for knowledge and Determination to learn, in spite of the obstacles in his life. What a joy to grow and learn in any area. Enjoy the sketches!


  2. thejewelryprincess says

    Thank you for your thoughts. I never thought of it as “country” values, but you are right. Unfortunately, it seems that now many of these values that have always been taught, are now counter-cultural.
    Add in the produce garden and we probably seem like the Ingalls family! HA HA!


    • I originally tried to write about “grow your own garden,” but … it sounded hypocritical coming from this black thumb. I killed a house plant last week. My children are determined to make Something grow around here, though. Maybe this will be the year.


      • I kill anything inside my house too! We have been growing grass since Christmas time (Thanks to Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree) and it’s still alive. The grass is pretty hardy even when I forget to water it for a week. Ian is the one in charge of giving the “haircuts.” Looks kind of goofy, having four pots of grass on the window sill, but I love the bit of green!


  3. Jamie Wise says

    Hubby and I are also raising 3 in the suburbs. It just seems to be where we are supposed to be right now–God keeps shutting the door on opportunties to move, so we are content here. I look at it as the chance to take advantage of things we couldn’t as easily do if we lived 30 mins (or more!) out on an access road 🙂 like gymnastics lessons, taking cookies to our neighbors, and being much closer to the airport when far-flung family comes to visit! We do have a city garden which we all love–watermelons, strawberries and carrots are the essentials, with a BIT more room to experiment with other things like dill, basil, pumpkins, various flowers…but I digress…I do bake bread, with a bread machine! That and the crock pot make it so that I don’t have to be mucking around in the kitchen while the short people work on math and grammar, and we all enjoy it better.
    Home education is worth it no matter what kind of home you have. My sister was shocked a few years ago upon hearing my daughter say, “Yes ma’am,” to my mom. She commented, “Wow, that’s the Midwest!” and I resisted the urge to say, “No, that’s manners.” Apparently, that’s counter-culture too, but not in our suburbia school of 3.


    • I love living close to a big city and taking advantage of cultural events and museum memberships, too. Subdivision life has a lot of advantages for “neighborly-ness” and service.

      And I could not live without a crock pot, either!

      Manners should NEVER go out of style, right?


  4. Thanks so much for the bit about paying meagerly for chores/entrepreneurship. While I was growing up, we got allowance too. We weren’t supposed to get it if we didn’t do our chores, but that hardly ever happened. (The following through with lack of payment part, not the neglecting chore part). I heard someone say they don’t pay their kids “allowance” but they do give them “commission.” I liked that change in term-better fit the definition. I pay Ian $0.25/day if his chore card is completed (he doesn’t get paid for the usual make bed/clean room/put dishes away-that is just expected. Sometimes when I ask him to do something extra he replies with an “I’ve already done my chore card” or he expects to get paid for doing extra. I really like your balance of still paying them, but expecting them to just help out because that’s what families do. I never ever would have thought that my kids would be creative and go outside the home to look for more work. (Probably b/c they’re not of that age yet) But I will definitely be keeping that in mind as I hold to my stance of not paying them for every little thing they do. And although I was thinking about raising the amount per chore as they got older, I think I’ll be holding off on that as well!

    I learn much from reading your posts, thank you for your guidance. =)


    • I have a confession to make – I didn’t really do too much to guide their working outside. It really was mostly stingy-ness. And a little lazy-ness. When the children ask for a toy, candy, or trinket at the store, I always respond with “Did you bring your money?” They usually answer, “But I don’t HAVE any money!” And to that, the answer is, “You need a job!” After that conversation has been repeated a few thousand times in the grocery store, dollar store, and Target, guys get desperate, I guess. : )


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