Get your kids to be their best selves

My husband is experimenting with letting pigs be free range. It’s a difficult experiment because he doesn’t have a lot of other farms as a model. Most farmers think the pigs need to be confined so they are manageable to the farmer. There are so many pigs and only one farmer, so most of farming is about how to get the pigs grown, and to market, without letting them overrun the farm.

The pigs look mean and stupid in confinement. And depressed. When I first visited my husband’s farm, the pigs were the only part I hated. I didn’t know much about farming, but I knew it looked bad.

Now we have pigs roaming all over the farm and it’s fun to watch the little baby pigs. They run around like dogs, playing with each other and with things they find:  scraps, pieces of wood, other animals. Here they are sneaking into the alpaca barn.

Pigs are curious about everything. They have the IQ of a three-year-old child, and they are just so fun to see exploring and learning on their own. When they want milk, they go back to their moms, who generally stay by the nest they made for the piglets.

I am blown away by how similar this is to my experience with homeschooling. The pleasure I get from leaving my boys to explore on their own is that I get to see who they really are. Here’s my son, after he somehow climbed to the loft in our barn, getting ready to fly into a pile of hay.

I see what they choose to play with, what they are curious about, and what they ignore. I see them come back to me when they need something and then run back over to whatever interests them after they’ve touched base.

The same way the pigs look mean and stupid in confinement is the way the boys look unruly and unfocused in school. My favorite part of my life right now is seeing pigs and boys in ways I’ve never seen them before. We are all lively and engaged if we get to do what is right for us.

30 replies
  1. Jim
    Jim says:

    This post makes me sad for my youngest son, who is a poor fit for a structured school life. I’m divorced from his mom and have no say about how he’s schooled. I hope I can help him find the freedom to find who he is despite being confined for all those hours every school day.

  2. Heather McCurdy
    Heather McCurdy says:

    I love the free range pigs and kids comparison. I had no desire to ever homeschool my kids before, but you are seriously giving me reason to reconsider…

  3. Curt Rosengren
    Curt Rosengren says:

    That’s a great picture of your son.

    I love the analogy. One could even take it a step further and say that the confined pig is how most people live their lives – trapped in the confines of living the life they’re expected to, rather than one that reflects who they really are and makes them come alive.

    I think there is that young, inquisitive child in each of us who thrives in a way that is unique and individual. When we try to operate in confinement (i.e., trying to be who we’re not), part or all of that shuts down.

    I don’t know much about homeschooling, but I wonder if one of the big values of it offers might be paving the path to a free-range adulthood where that vibrant, inquisitive, inwardly alive child never goes away.

    • mbl
      mbl says:

      “I don’t know much about homeschooling, but I wonder if one of the big values of it offers might be paving the path to a free-range adulthood where that vibrant, inquisitive, inwardly alive child never goes away.”

      That is definitely my reason for unschooling. I wouldn’t be able to to that very well with the traditional (if there is one) notion of homeschooling.

      We live in a large city with lots of green space and water, but it is still a city—so my daughter is more “cage free” than “free range,” but definitely not confined.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Yes, I think it does apply to adulthood. And, ironically, when I met Curt (comment above) he was teaching people – in his own way – how to be free range adults.

        Anyway, I think adults know intuitively that we want to be free range but we have to spend half our adulthood unlearning everything school taught us.

        So I guess it’s true – we all want to cater to our own curiousities – the adults, the kids and the pigs.


        • Curt Rosengren
          Curt Rosengren says:

          “And, ironically, when I met Curt (comment above) he was teaching people – in his own way – how to be free range adults.”

          Still at it! IThe stock description I’ve been using is “helping people create careers and lives that energize and inspire them.” I love the term free-range adults. I think I’ll have to use that more.

          “I think adults know intuitively that we want to be free range but we have to spend half our adulthood unlearning everything school taught us.”

          Yes! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how conditioned we are to see “how it’s done” as unalterable reality, rather than just a widely accepted habitual pattern. Institutional schooling vs. homeschooling is a great example.

          I think the current set of widely accepted habitual patterns are failing us (economically, socially, happinessily). I’m starting to feel like mass decentralization (both creating our own paths and more emphasis on a local, community level) is part of what needs to happen.

  4. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    A healthy and happy synergy is always fun to be around, animal or human. My son loved the pictures. I hope to read more about the pig experiment. Today we are building a stand for our honey bees and building a new home for the extra rooster. The design is by my budding architect.

  5. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    I LOVE the photo of Zahavi in the barn. Love, love, love it. The face of freedom. Beautiful.

    I used to climb to great heights in my grandparents’ barn to dive into the hay. Of course, there was always a snake in the rafters. We grew used to it because it was just there for the rats. Kids truly do adapt because there is no way I’d want to play in a barn of snakes and rats now.

  6. karelys
    karelys says:

    I am 25 years old and my 2013 goal is to figure out how to do what I want. But I want it to be what I really want not what my whole life I’ve been told I should want.

    So I question everything I want to do.

    I have no model in my family and close surroundings to see if the life I want is even possible. And sometimes, going back to what was normal before is so appealing because it’s safe and predictable.

    I am wedged right in the in-between and I swear it gives me an identity crisis. But I keep pushing forward when I picture my baby living a more free range life, being perfectly comfortable knowing himself and what he likes and knowing having parents he admires not parents he pities for their unfortunate life tied to a miserable routine they dislike.

    • Heather Sanders
      Heather Sanders says:

      “And sometimes, going back to what was normal before is so appealing because it’s safe and predictable” – Karelys, that is such a beautiful, honest statement. With that kind of honesty with yourself, I really believe you will map out a life you want to live, with a family culture you want your kids raised in.

  7. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    Question a bit astray – I saw a penned pig eat a chicken through a fence when I was a child. It happened so fast and it was horrifying.

    Do your free pigs let your chickens alone (because they are not mean and bored being penned up)?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Becky. When I write posts like this I feel so grateful that I started homeschooling. I could not have seen this unless I were homeschooling. It’s a problem that homeschooling looks so hard and weird until you do it.


  8. Lizarino
    Lizarino says:

    All I’m thinking about with this post is how you can sell your pigs (I’m assuming they are for meat???) if you let them be free range. Isn’t the government like super-restrictive on what you can feed your pigs? If they are free range how can you monitor what they are eating?

    Love the analogy.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I just read it too! Phenomenal. I could write 50 blog posts about homeschooling just from those two pages of reaseach about childhood.


  9. mbl
    mbl says:

    Of course, homeschooling can look mighty weird after you do it too. We joke about how our kids sometimes have “homeschool hair” or need “I dressed myself” buttons. But I think that is part of the unhurried look that our children have. And part of their charm.

  10. Lisa Cooley
    Lisa Cooley says:

    I have been planning and working on developing a full-time homeschooling co-op that will be run on parent-power and be as low-cost as possible. The reason is…I’d like some of those kids who are unruly in school to be set free, even if their parents work or are otherwise unable to homeschool.

    I’ve been worried, though, about whether we will be able to handle the ones with big authority issues, acting out, being disruptive, etc. My theory is that since they will be there by choice, they will be in a better element. But you’ve reassured me that the act of setting someone free will, as you say, get them to be their best selves.

    Thanks for the short and very sweet post.

    • Heather Sanders
      Heather Sanders says:

      Lisa I worked with two other women in my town to start a local homeschool cooperative run on, as you say, parent power (I love that). We actually did talk through how to handle “discipline,” but it hasn’t been an issue. When something does crop up, the kids tend to work it out themselves, or the Moms step in to redirect or draw attention to unacceptable behavior. What you will find most disappointing is the major issues are between the grown adults. That said, it still is a true boon to my kids because they enjoy the once/week structure of classes and hanging out with their friends.

    • Shannon Greaves
      Shannon Greaves says:

      Lisa –

      I admire your idea, but as a homeschooling vet and former teacher (public school, martial arts school), I’d caution you just a little bit about the idea that the unruly ones will improve with different (or less) structure. I DO agree that authenticity goes a long way, but sometimes kids really do need a wall to bounce off of to know where the boundary is. Not all kids who are HS respond to the freedom that HS can bring. Imagine a trampoline – with a big net around it.

      That being said, you are great to think of such a thing – my best to you!

      • Lisa Cooley
        Lisa Cooley says:

        Thank you Shannon! Yes, yours is a good caution. What I was responding too was the basic unhappiness of the pigs…and their relative happiness when they were released! I also think it’s possible that there’s pig-on-pig bullying when penned in…that disappears when they are released. Something to think about.

  11. Nancy Hudak
    Nancy Hudak says:

    Although I understand your underlying point, the public school = confinement farming analogy is misguided on many levels and may lead people like me – who support public schools – brush aside your message. The analogy denigrates the educators that are trying very hard to make education a positive experience for all kids, not just a few.

  12. Tonja Pizzo
    Tonja Pizzo says:

    I love the pig and kid analogy. As it happens, I signed withdraw from school papers this morning–tomorrow we start homeschooling!! WE CAN’T WAIT!!!!

    I just found your blog–but will be keeping my eye on it. We just visited a farm–Yonder Way Farm–where they have free range pigs–well– not completely free range–they have extremely LARGE areas that get moved around. The babies were definitely free range….and the chickens were definitely ranging free as well. Everyone looked super happy and healthy! Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms is my hero–I saw him give the keynote address at the Ancestral Health Symposium last year. He is so inspiring and beyond amazing. I love what you and your husband are doing!!! Can’t wait to “get to know you”.

  13. Shannon Greaves
    Shannon Greaves says:

    Enjoy the blog. Glad to hear you are making it work (I know that’s a relative term) and actually making a living so you can do what is best for your kids.

    I homeschooled my 19 yr old ADHD son and am homeschooling my 15 yr old ASD son and I smiled at your comment about seeing your kids basically thriving. As I continue to walk this path with 15, I realize just how much “thriving” costs. It’s not free, that’s for damn sure…

    At this very moment (I may feel different in about 15 minutes, depends on how the rest of the schooling day goes…) I am grateful that 15 is able to actually HAVE a life of learning. He would have been such a different, sad shell of himself if he were in public school (same district where I worked for many years, incidentally), because he would have had to “survive” and barely so.

    Now, if I can just keep that wonderful sentiment in my head today, I’ll be doing great.

    May the force be with you…

  14. Lucinda Leo
    Lucinda Leo says:

    “The pleasure I get from leaving my boys to explore on their own is that I get to see who they really are.”

    So beautifully put – I completely agree. I removed my son from private school after 2 terms when he’d just turned 5. He was already beginning to be known as a “naughty boy”. We’ve homeschooled/unschooled for three years now (my daughter joined us too) and I love watching him become more of who he is every day (which includes having sensory processing issues).

    Thank you for all your posts, they make me smile and laugh and I deeply admire your stand for home education. You also make me feel SO MUCH better about the amount of time my son chooses to spend on computer games!

  15. Mindy
    Mindy says:

    It is refreshing to hear great reasons for homeschooling. Especially when I am beginning to doubt that I can successfully teach my boys.

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