Real Life Ranch Wife

Lessons in Reading, ‘Riding and Roping

Cow camp classroom

Homeschooling ranch kids poses unique challenges and lessons.

When we first left the known routine of public school for the uncharted wilderness of homeschool, I worried that it would be nothing but chaos and whining. Two days in and it looked like I wasn’t wrong.

“Do we have to do this?”

“This is too hard.”

“Can we just go ride horses?”

“No, Mom, I want to do a math worksheet,” my second-grader firmly told me.

I pulled off my boots and sat back down just as my toddler son walked up past us chewing on a pencil. He ate the eraser and set the splintered piece of wood on the kitchen counter next to an upside down globe, a pair of dirty socks and a tube of Vaseline.

So far, this looked nothing like what my online research said it would.

When I Googled “how to homeschool,” I saw pictures of neatly dressed children smiling alongside their parents with captions like “Homeschooling has been the best thing ever for our family! No, seriously – we won the lottery last year, and homeschooling is even better than that! It’s better than a dozen lottery wins plus a trip to Disney World AND a free puppy!”

Homeschooling on a ranch
The classroom for homeschooling ranch kids often involves going to cow camp.
Photo by Jolyn Young

I doubted my ability to achieve this level of enthusiasm for teaching my older child to read while changing a toddler’s diaper and unloading the dishwasher. But then again, these families didn’t look like they ever touched dirty dishes. They looked clean, starched and freshly pressed. My kids don’t even wear pants most days. I only enforce a dress code (as in, “go get dressed”) for formal events, like a Catholic funeral or the Future Farmers of America fundraiser.

In addition to the regular wearing of pants, many blogs promoted using an old fashioned chalkboard—the bigger, the better. Never once have I walked through my house and thought, “You know what this room really needs is a giant chalkboard. Yes, one that takes over an entire wall, clashes with the couch and never looks clean would be nice.”

One blogger recommended turning an unused room into a homeschool room. We are a family of five living in a 1,400-square-foot home. We don’t have an unused inch, much less a whole room. If my husband reshapes his cowboy hat, we have to rearrange the furniture.

I ultimately decided to swear off reading homeschool blogs and to not set limits on our learning environment. The world would be our classroom—or at least, the parts of the western United States where my husband catches wild cows. Not only will our kids be free to wear or not wear pants as they so choose, but we’ll be able to join my husband on his wild cow contracts more often. Plenty of people have learned to read and write while living in a wall tent, sleeping in a bedroll and eating beef three times a day. Well, maybe not, but my kids will be among the lucky few.

I’ll just load our bedrolls, a math book and a couple of pencils for snacking purposes, then we’ll head to wherever Dad’s cow camp is this month for more horseback adventures as a family. And that is worth more to me than all the lottery wins in the world. 

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