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Keeping Kids Safe on the Homestead

>27 September 2012
 
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Our friend Laurie B recently asked the question…

We are FINALLY moving to our homestead after 3 long years of searching! But I’m a little nervous about moving from our fenced in suburbia back yard to our 7 acres of wooded bliss with a busy little 6 year old boy. What tips can I give him on staying safe while still letting him roam and have fun? Our girls seem to always have that safety factor in the back of their heads, but our little guy just seems to get caught up in the moment at times! Any tips would be appreciated! Thanks Kendra!

Congratulations on the new home, Laurie!! I’m excited for your family to finally be realizing your dream of homesteading.

You’ve asked a great question! I’ll be happy to share what I’ve done with our kids, and maybe other readers will have some good tips to add as well.

There are definitely additional hazards to consider on the homestead. Wood piles with snakes hiding inside, black widows under rocks, boards with nails, poisonous berries and mushrooms, ponds to fall into, trees to fall out of, getting into poison ivy, woods to get lost in… oh yes, there are definitely many things that children need to be aware of!

But with a little tender teaching and firm guidance, it is possible to be able to send your children out to play without too much fear ( I don’t think as moms we can ever let our children out of our sight without any fear whatsoever, no matter where we live, but our anxiety should never hold our little ones back from tasting the goodness life has to offer)!

I’ll share a little story with you. Last year, when our son Titus was 4 years old, he wandered off into the woods and we couldn’t find him. Actually, he had spent the night with his grandpa (who lives through the woods a ways), and my dad had walked him back home instead of driving him. I had deliberately not told Titus how to get to Pappy’s house through the woods, for fear of him trying to go see him on his own. However, it never occurred to me that my dad might bring him that way. (Totally not my dad’s fault.)

What I feared the most about Ty going that way across the property is that he would have to walk across the dam to a very large pond to get to Pappy’s land. It’s a pretty wide, grassy dam. But still. That boy sinks like a rock.

Anyways, so my dad had walked him back home (which I was still unaware of at this point) and we were all standing around outside talking when my dad realized that Titus was nowhere to be seen. I called into the house thinking maybe he had gone inside. But there was no answer. We all spread out and yelled his name around the yard, but still nobody could find him.

Panic began to set in. I ran part way down our long gravel driveway, yelling my son’s name as loudly as I could, scanning the woods for any sign of movement. Where is he? Is he hurt?

A moment later, my dad came up beside me and asked, “Do you think he would have gone back to my house?” “No,” I answered, shaking my head. “He doesn’t know the way.” But my dad replied, “Yes he does. I walked him here.”

We both rushed toward the little path in the woods that leads down to the pond and up to my dad’s place. But before we could even get a few feet into the woods, we were met by my husband who had by the hand a little boy with his head hung low. Thank goodness Jerry had had the same thought, and sure enough had found Titus on his way to Pappy’s house.

Overcome with relief, mixed with raw emotion, I completely lost it.

“Titus Isaiah!!” I shouted. “What in the world were you thinking?? You NEVER go into the woods by yourself!”

He looked up at me with that face that tells you he knows he did something very wrong, and he replied, “I wanted to go back to Pappy’s house.” And then with those big brown eyes, he added, “I picked some pretty flowers for you,” and he held out a miniature bouquet of wild daisies.

I dropped to my knees and hugged him, and kissed him, tears welling up in my eyes. Then I looked him straight in the face and gravely instructed, “You will never, ever try to walk to Pappy’s house by yourself again. Do you understand me? You scared me to death! I thought you might have drowned!”

Tears now welling up in his own eyes, he answered, “Yes, ma’am. I shouldn’t have done that.”

I continued to remind him throughout the day how scared I had been when we couldn’t find him. And he wasn’t allowed to go outside to play in the yard without me for a week. I made it very clear that he had broken our trust, and that he had to earn that back.

That was a scary moment. I praise the LORD he was okay. I hoped he would forever have the image of his petrified mama etched in his memory. And so far, he has never wandered off like that again.

Kids tend to think they are invincible, don’t they. They don’t always understand how real these dangers we warn them about truly are. That’s why it’s so important to take every opportunity that presents itself to show them the hidden dangers on a homestead (and in life in general), and make a teachable moment out of it.

keeping kids safe on a homestead

Remember when I found this snake in the bag of potting soil?!

Whenever I find a snake in a woodpile, or hiding somewhere, I always go get the kids and bring them over to see it. I want them to see first-hand that snakes really are out there. I teach that not all snakes are poisonous, but even a non-venomous snake can bite you. As a rule, the kids are not to play on woodpiles.

We’ve also told the kids to use their foot to flip a rock over before picking one up without gloves on, just in case a Black Widow is underneath it. Whenever I myself uncover one of these dangerous spiders, I call the kids to see. I explain to them how it was a good thing I didn’t pick the rock up with my hands, and we talk about what might have happened if I had been careless.

When we walk in the woods I take time to point out poisonous plants, and I warn the kids of the effects each can cause, ranging from a terribly itchy rash to death. We practice identifying these plants. If I see one of the little ones pick up a mushroom that we aren’t sure about, I always make a big deal about washing their hands right away, as a lesson to all of them on how seriously precaution should be taken.

keeping kids safe on the homestead

When the kids climb trees, we remind them to step close to the trunk where the branch is strongest.

When they play near something we’re building, we remind them not to walk on the boards just in case there might be a nail sticking up.

And anytime we’re near a pond or large body of water, I make sure the little ones know just how seriously dangerous it is to get close enough to slip in. We’re still working on learning how to swim, a skill that’s a definite must.

I also use tragedy in the news to teach my children how real these dangers are. Whenever I hear of something horrible, like a child drowning in a lake or getting lost in the woods, I read the article to the children, and lament over how very sad it was that it happened. Then we talk about what we might do in a similar situation to hopefully have a better outcome. We also practice survival skills, such as building a shelter in the woods and reiterating the importance of staying where you are, just in case the children were ever to get lost by accident.

All this to say, the best way to keep your kids safe on the homestead is to lead by example, talk a lot together about things the kids need to be aware of, and teach the children what they need to know to be safe and make wise decisions.

More often than not, if the kids are outside either myself or my husband is out there also. But when they do go out alone, they know to stay in the yard, within sight of the house, and to stay together. I keep an eye on them from the window, and when I can’t see them I’ll call out the door to make sure they’re within answering distance. Which annoys them to no end, but hey.

There are always fears in the back of your mind. What if a stranger walks through the woods and snags a kid? What if a wild dog (like the ones that killed our goat!) comes into the yard and attacks one of the kids? What if a truck comes around the back of our house and hits one of them? Yes, I think about these things EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. the kids go out to play. But I just have to do my best to teach them to always be aware of their surroundings, and then trust that their lives are in YHWH’s hands.

I hope this has been a little helpful. If anyone has any other advice on keeping kids safe on the homestead or stories they’d like to add, we’d love to hear from you!

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9 Comments »

  • Nicole said:

    When I was younger I grew up in the middle of no where (30 minutes to a gas station) in Virginia. The woods around our house had a creek, a small swamp, and plenty of poison ivy, snakes, etc. Somehow I never had any issues and I would wander in the woods all day from about 6 years old. I think it is absolutely vital to teach children the basics of what to watch out for (snakes, plants, etc) in detail so they understand where/when to be especially careful for those things and then let them go play and trust God to watch over them.

    I think God is the only reason I was never bitten. I had a cottonmouth strike at me when I was 11. Didn’t even see the snake until it was mid-air and I’d always been told growing up that snakes strike faster than humans move so there is no way you can get away. SOMEHOW I moved so quick that the snake didn’t even touch me… and you can be sure I paid way more attention to my surroundings after that.

    Another thing for children and adults is to pay attention INDOORS too. Growing up we had so many snakes (including poisonous) make their way into our basement by squeezing themselves under the back door. It usually happened after a bad rain storm. I don’t know if you’ve had that experience yet in your time living in the South but its definitely something to watch for!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Nicole,

    Praise the Lord you didn’t get bit! How scary! And good advice on watching out indoors as well. We’ve seen snakes slithering underneath the siding on our house, and we found one under the bathtub one time. Fortunately, they were just black snakes :)

  • Rebecca said:

    What a wonderful article! Besides learning to swim, consider blazing the trees/large rocks that mark the boundaries of where your child can play. They can even pick a favorite color and do it with you.

  • Laurie B said:

    Kendra, Thank you SO much for this post. It’s such a relief to have some guidelines and advice from you and others who’ve “been there, done that”. And I’m excited to incorporate some outdoor survival and knowledge skills into our homeschooling!

    Thanks again, so much!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Laurie,

    I’m grateful to be able to pass on what we’ve learned on this journey so far! :)

  • SJ Smith said:

    Black widows are common here too. Did you know their web makes a cellophane crinkly sound when you break it? When I’m gardening, if I hear that crackle, I toss whatever is in my hand (such as a nursery can – spiders can be under the lip on the top edge, not just the beneath the can) – I just toss it. The best way to find it then is with a long stick, twirling and gathering up the web. I laugh now every time I do this, thinking of Shrek and the spider web cotton candy. Finally, crushing the spider with my shoes. Gloves. Gloves are so important when doing this sort of thing too. It can be the difference in being bit and not.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Great advice, SJ! Yep. I know that crinkly sound! Remember when I stuck my hand into the bucket of goat feed three days in a row, and had to whack away a thick web every time I tried to get a scoop out? It took until the third day before I noticed the black widow there inside the lip of the can. Yikes!! Was I lucky!

  • Jaci said:

    Ive had problems with fire ants….my oldest (6) has Down syndrome and the dirt in the ant mounds is just too irresistible not to play with it…he’ll sit down almost on the pile and dig in…the last time was this past October …he doesn’t tract to things quickly so by the time I realized what was going on and ran back to him (our yard is an acre he was at one end me at at the other) he had about 200 bites on him!!! We thank God he’s not allergic but still dealt with blisters..painful spots…infection in a few he is a scratchy little 6yr old boy after all…and now 3 mos later still has dark scars from several of them. We constantly talk to him and his little brother about ants and how they bite and cause owies…..hopefully this will be the last incident.

  • Lisa said:

    I tell my kids to watch out for snakes because we don’t want to hurt them. The woods and pasture are their home so we must be careful. My son is an animal lover. He wants to be an “animal scientist” and has since he was three he is five now and it hasn’t changed so he doesn’t want to hurt them. I also have a area my husband cut trees out of and I walk it before I unleash them for fun. I know one can slither in but it makes me feel better. :)

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