Often people ask me, what is it like living off the grid with young children? The truth is, I have never not lived off the grid with children, so I am not sure how it differs entirely. However, my children have grown up learning about sources of power and its limitations.
We are fortunate to have a wonderful creek that provides us with power via a turgo wheel (1100 watts), as well as two solar panels (170 watts) for backup. This is ample power for a family of four using CFLs, energy-saving appliances, etc. However, there are times when our power is down: large winter storms that fill the creek with leaves, and push the intake out of the water; creek levels drop in the summer and the dam needs rebuilding, etc. These are the times when my children experience down times from electricity, which is a good thing, depending upon how you spin it.
Several times a year, we are without power due to the aforementioned reasons. During these times, my children actually enjoy the close family time we spend. Sometimes we play a game by candlelight, read a book, snuggle close and tell stories, etc. It is amazing how power outages bring a family closer, and we always have a back-up generator and solar panels for recharging the batteries to keep the refrigerator running.
One thing that is nice about having your own power system is that when it is down, it is within your own power to go and fix. You don’t have to wait for the power company to rescue you. Young children often imitate the behavior of their adult models, and living off the grid provides opportunities for such modeling. When my daughter was two, she would get on her little wooden scooter and tell me she was going to fix the hydro! It was too cute! We have yet to involve our children in the maintenance of our system, as they are too little and the creek is usually big and dangerous when it needs fixing.
Living off the grid does limit some aspects of your power usage which children need to learn. You cannot turn on several big loads at the same time, especially when power supply has dropped, such as when a few leaves are covering the intake. For a two-year-old, it can be hard to understand why she can’t watch her favorite program on TV or listen to her favorite cd, but I also feel like these are good lessons in conservation. My children do not leave rooms without turning off lights, as they have always lived where this can be a necessity.
My six-year-old is just beginning to understand how our power system is better for the Earth, as she questions why there are so many power lines in towns. She has asked me where other people get their power, and she holds the same affinity for our creek that we do. By living off the grid, we are offering our children a unique opportunity to grow up leaving a smaller carbon footprint on our climate.