From homesteading to homeschooling: How one northeast Missouri family is blazing its own trail

Shannon Slee may not have known she would end up being a homeschooling, homesteading mom of five children – but she did know that her family someday would look different from the cultural norm.

“When it came time to start formally educating my children, I wanted the best of all worlds: the ability to speak into their lives spiritually, emotionally and intellectually according to each of their unique gifts and challenges,” she told The Lion, “as well as to be able to oversee the influences that they are exposed to every day.

“Ultimately, I decided that no one cares about the wellbeing of my children more than I do, and that makes me the most qualified to pour into their lives through their education.”

Shannon and her husband, Jordan, live on 39 acres in rural Ewing, Missouri in a home they designed and built themselves. Jordan owns and operates his own construction company. Besides the house project, the couple has designed and built a workshop, chicken coop, children’s playhouse and an enclosed deer stand.

The Slee family

The Slees have five children ages 3-10. The family has embraced homeschooling even though both parents grew up in the traditional public school system. For Shannon, homeschooling started as an exploratory area of interest and has blossomed into a lifelong passion. 

Homeschooling may not be easy, but she says the family has no regrets: “Here we are, still homeschooling six years later, and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

“Everyone’s educational experience is going to look different. Everyone’s family situation is unique. No two kids are alike, even within the same family. What we’re doing is awesome and rewarding, and I’m absolutely loving the results I’m already seeing, but it’s also messy and exhausting and frustrating at times, too.”

And homesteading appears to be the perfect complement to homeschooling. What could provide better elementary-age science lessons than learning about and caring for animals, and exploring the woods to identify its flora, fauna and fungi? 

Jordan and the kids explore the woods.

The Slees tend to a diverse group of animals, from chickens, rabbits and goats to cats and dogs. And not just a few: 40 laying hens of diverse breeds, one rooster, two German Shepherd dogs, three mouser cats, 25 meat rabbits, two dairy goats and 40 meat chicks.

As homesteaders, the Slees try to be as self-sufficient as possible, growing or raising most of their own food. Jordan obtains their main meat source, venison, through deer hunting. Rabbits are raised for meat; chickens are raised both for meat and eggs. The Slees grow an extensive garden for vegetables, and fruit comes from their 25 fruit trees – apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry and apricot. Their acreage of other native trees provides a bounty of edible mushrooms, such as morels, Chicken of the Woods, and Lion’s Mane.

Shannon, with a choice selection of mushrooms.

Through homesteading, the Slees instill a spirit of entrepreneurship and a strong work ethic in their children by giving them opportunities to help with chores around the house, care for the animals and make items to sell through their family small business, “Slee Family Handcrafts.” 

The girls crochet hats, headbands and scarves. The boys complete woodworking projects and sell eggs from the chickens. All the children have a personal financial goal of what they want to contribute toward the family team project. 

Some of the many eggs gathered each day.

The proceeds from the family’s handcrafts are currently going toward the purchase of a solar kiln. This kiln will harness the energy of the sun to dry the lumber produced by the family’s onsite sawmill. The sawmill and kiln together will enable the Slees to produce local lumber, start to finish, from their property.

The girls knit hats and other items to sell.

“Everything we do is an opportunity to learn something new and exciting. We find great delight in exploring God’s amazing creation. Spending time hiking and observing the woods, researching mushrooms, gardening, taking care of our many animals – these all open up worlds of discovery,” Shannon explained. 

“So now we’re into mycology, horticulture, culinary arts, animal husbandry, and the list goes on. I love that my children are getting a head start at learning the exciting and useful life skills and interests that we experience on the homestead, things that I’ve only started learning in my mid-30s.”

But this hardworking family is far from all work and no play. The children love romping in the snow, playing in their personal petting zoo, and playing with their siblings around the homestead. Shannon also enjoys decorative hand-lettering, photography and custom screen printing on shirts. 

Work and play, homeschooling and homesteading – the Slee family shows that it’s possible to choose the path that best fits your family’s needs and wellbeing.

“We are definitely setting the foundation for a hunger for lifelong learning. And the things they’re loving to learn about on the homestead are practical and satisfying,” Slee concluded.