The gal behind the counter was as polite as she was efficient, processing our credit card payment for a fancy bar of soap. My husband noticed how she passed the time between customers, making bracelets. So we asked her about that. She explained how she designed them, promoted them, managed the inventory, and kept on top of all the other demands of this profitable sideline.
She was obviously a pro, but there was something else striking about her. If you got very far from the cash register you could barely see her over the counter. That's because Indigo Jonas was seven years old.
How does that happen? How was it possible a seven-year-old was running a cash register and holding down a side business in addition to those retail responsibilities? Why wasn't she in school?
Indigo is in school. She and her seven brothers and sisters are homeschooled by their parents, PJ and Jim Jonas, on a goat farm -- Goat Milk Stuff -- in Scottsburg, Indiana, about thirty miles north of Louisville, Kentucky.
"I never had goats growing up," PJ says. "I never made soap. Those were things I figured out how to do. And that's what I'm trying to inspire in my children. I know as a homeschooling mom I can't teach them everything. But they can watch me learn. I can teach them how to learn, and I can provide an environment where learning is fun. That's my job."
PJ joined us on the talk show along with the children shortly after she and Jim returned from a trip to New York City with them to appear on the Huckabee show. They took turns describing a typical day.
Jade, who's seven, spends much of the morning on schoolwork and then bags the soap. "Sometimes it takes a long time," she says. "Sometimes it gets a little boring." To make it more fun she sometimes dances with Indigo. "I like working with Indi," she says.
Indigo's eight now. She helps bag the soap and prepares the orders for mailing. She likes to play dress-up and keeps crowns and shoes handy for that reason.
Hewitt's ten. He takes care of the chickens and the rabbits and helps milk the goats. "I love playing with the chickens," he says. "We use what comes out of the paper shredder for their bedding. They scratch it and spread it out and lie down on it." Hewitt loves being homeschooled, he says: "Because when I'm doing my schoolwork I can be with my family."
Greyden is twelve. He cleans the animal stalls, helps bag the soap, and feeds the baby goats -- which he gets up early to do. Cleaning takes a lot of time, he says, but he loves to be outside and he looks forward to getting out to play when he's finished.
Fletcher's thirteen. He gets up at seven to milk the goats. "We do it by hand," he says, "because you can do it faster than the machines, and you're building muscle." He says the family gets a lot of orders for soap, and that means work. "But work is good for you," he adds. His friends like doing chores when they visit. "We don't play videogames," he says, "and I don't plan on buying any when I grow up. I'd rather just be in the woods or be a cowboy."
Emery's fourteen. He does most of the work in the garden. "I really enjoy being outside in the sunshine -- even on the really, really hot days." He says the business has helped him learn to talk with people. "It's helped me not be shy," he says. "I like being homeschooled because it gives me a lot of time with my family and I don't have to be at school all day long." When he grows up he might stay with the business, but maybe not. "Maybe I'll want to go off and work in gardens all day," he says.
Colter is sixteen. He's done everything from unmolding the soap to filling orders to bagging -- and now he makes the soap. He administers medicine to the goats, helps them when they give birth, and takes care of things his brothers aren't strong enough to do yet. What's it like when a goat gives birth? "Messy!" he says. And then, "It's pretty amazing watching new life come into the world." Pause. "It's our job to make sure it stays here." Colter wants to stick with the business, he says: "I'm making good money right now and I want to continue with that."
Brett's eighteen. She's the oldest, so she helps a lot with the younger kids. "I try to keep the house clean, which includes telling my siblings what to do to keep it clean. The business is helping me prepare for my future because it's teaching me that there's work to be done. Once the work's done I can have my free time but I have to get my work done first." She says the family is almost always together, which is great. "Without the business we wouldn't have been able to bring my dad home -- so we get to see him, like, all the time now and that's really good." What she loves about being homeschooled, she says, is getting to learn what she wants to learn. What does she think would surprise people about the business? "How much our soap helps people's skin," she says. "Most people don't realize that the goat milk will help their eczema and psoriasis and cracking fingers. It really just helps a lot of people."
People often tell PJ they're not cut out for homeschooling, but she doubts that. "Anyone is capable of homeschooling," she says, "just as anyone is capable of learning to be a good parent. Everyone is capable of growth. You can learn to be more patient, you can learn to answer questions, you can learn how to find answers when you don't have them."
Oh, sure. You have to be willing to grow, to be challenged, to admit you're not perfect all the time. "The reason we homeschool is that each of our children is an individual," PJ says. "They're all meant to do something and I want to help them figure it out before they graduate from high school. I don't want them to get to college and spend money figuring it out then."