A Day in Homeschool


I called in sick to work today, which means that I was granted the rare opportunity to experience a day of homeschool with my family. I wanted to report on what I saw there.

My wife Kyrie has been homeschooling the kids for a few years now. She has been switching things up as she goes, as new and better ideas come to her. Kyrie is trained as a Montessori teacher, and taught for several years in both Montessori and public preschool. She recently attended a weeklong Waldorf homeschooling conference in Portland. And now she is integrating elements of the Charlotte Mason curriculum. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. But what she’s doing now is what she has determined is best for the needs of each child (remember, we have four girls, aged 4, 6, 8 and ten).

We got up and made breakfast (pancakes) and the girls worked on their chores, got dressed and made their beds. School started promptly at 9:00. Kyrie had everything on a timer, so each subject or activity went on for the scheduled time and then we switched to the next. My times are approximate, as they are from memory. Be patient with me.

9:00 Circle time; greetings, prayer and Scripture reading.

9:20 Math for the 8 and ten-year old; worksheets at different levels with Kyrie available to help. The 6 year-old took this time to draw while I helped the 4 year-old occupy herself in the play kitchen in her bedroom.

9:35 Read Aloud. Kyrie read from Mary Pope Osborne’s retellings of American Tall Tales: today was Davy Crocket, and all the kids found this highly amusing.

10:00 Copywork. Girls took out their notebooks, whose pages have space for both drawing and handwriting. They copied out a short passage and illustrated it.

10:15 Morning Tea. Tea with milk and honey, and cookies!

10:30 Play time. We’re big on play time.

10:50 Nursery Rhymes. Kyrie read some assorted nursery rhymes and we ran outside to play “London Bridges.”

11:00 History. I was recruited to read from Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s illustrated biography of Benjamin Franklin. It was a hit.

11:50 Science. Kyrie read the excellent children’s book Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. Girls did an exercise in which they took a sheet of paper and cut it into increasingly smaller pieces to simulate the rapid division of microbes. We discussed the importance of air and sunlight in keeping microbes at bay.

12:45 Lunch.

This ended the school day proper. After lunch girls have “rest time,” which usually consists of dividing into older and younger pairs and playing or drawing while listening to an audiobook. On special days they watch a movie.

In the afternoon they took a trip to the library in Corvallis, and played at Central Park.

It was a breakneck day! I was surprised by a couple of things. One was how engaged all the kids were in each activity. Kyrie reports that keeping everything to the timer helps to prevent burnout. They packed up whatever they were doing when it was time to move on to the next thing (that was the other thing that surprised me).

So, that’s what I’ve been missing out on. I kind of wish I could be going to homeschool every day. But I’m glad to let Kyrie run it.


Reading, and What Comes Before


“Daddy, do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

This question came from my six year-old daughter. Her eldest sister, now ten, started reading when she was six, and moved straight from picture books to the Narnia series. The next oldest, now eight, endured similar frustration until everything clicked for her this year. Now she’s unstoppable and reading space on the couch is at a premium. I don’t think the six year-old has much to worry about.

My children are home schooled, and their mother is a skilled and experienced teacher, but there’s really no secret to how reading came to be a prized experience in our family. We have books. Lots of books. Books on the shelves, books on every flat surface, books on the floor and under the beds. Books we sought out and books that were gifted; books from frequent trips to the library and books that appeared mysteriously without explanation. Books that fall out when we open the car door.

The presence of books in the home is probably the most powerful way to encourage literacy in children. After all, kids learn what’s important from what is in their environment. A long-term study found that having books on hand is a more significant indicator of a child’s future academic success than the parent’s level of education (which was previously though to be the most important factor). According to the study, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

Reading to your children is important, of course. After all, they have to know what those leafy things are and how they work (and why nothing will happen when you swipe or click them). There are a variety of preliteracy activities that help to ensure that kids will read at the appropriate time.

  • Oral language skills. Children listen to adult conversations. They learn to ask questions. They tell stories, especially if we tell stories to them.
  • Play. Left on their own, children will naturally create their own narratives through the very important activity of playing with one another.
  • Language is everywhere. According to this article, “While it’s important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don’t have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child’s lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings.”

Having books around? Talking to kids? Is it really that easy? Not for everyone. My six year-old is still a little concerned that reading won’t happen during her childhood (I give her six months to a year). But reading, in this environment, will happen when it happens. Every child is different, and the skills will fall into place when they’re ready (as any parent who has struggled to potty train their child can attest).

We are fortunate to have much more than twenty books. Of course, this increases exponentially the possibility of library fines. Somehow, it’s always worth it.

Packing and Unpacking


There is an activity from the excellent Make Parenting a Pleasure curriculum that has been on my mind recently. It’s something we use in the parenting classes at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

The Suitcase Activity goes like this: draw a suitcase on a piece of paper. Be sure to leave plenty of room inside. Now think of your children as they are grown into young adults and ready to go out into the world. You are ready to send them off, but you have one task left as a parent: what do you want them to bring with them in their suitcase? What will they take with them throughout their lives that you have provided for them?

This activity, though simple enough, is interesting in a couple of ways. One is the way in which it inspires me to think long and hard about what, as a father, I have been teaching them, and the connection—if any—between my way I am raising them and the kind of people I want them to be. I’m sure you have found that what you think you are getting across to your kids may not translate as directly as you would like.

For example, if I want my daughters to be independent and self-sufficient, am I giving them the space that they need to investigate and discover things on their own, rather than dictating information? Do they feel a sense of wonder at the world and the way it works? Do they want to seek things out? More importantly, do I make them feel comfortable with experimenting even when they may come up with the wrong answer? Do they feel they can make mistakes? Are they ready to try something else instead? As you can see, this can get complicated. It can even, if you do it right, get a little unsettling.

So, if I want my children to be able to explore and come to informed conclusions, what do I put in their suitcase?

A drawing pad and pencils? My girls like to draw what they see. They like to tell stories with their pictures, and they like to portray things as they could be (climbing to the top of the mountain) or even as they couldn’t, just to see what it would look like (using their wings to land there).

Books? My eldest daughter is into reading herbalist tomes; they all like to pore over their huge natural history book and my wife’s hefty Art Through the Ages. Maybe they need a library card.

Tools? Definitely a screwdriver. Lots of tape. A compass, a flashlight and a magnifying glass. A mirror, so that what their actions and words can reflect what they mean to do and say (something their father is still working on).

What else? A key to my house. The phone numbers and addresses of their sisters. Knitted items. Snacks.

The other interesting thing about this activity is that, as you can see, it’s much more about us as parents—our hopes, fears and expectations, our strengths and limitations—than it is about them. And yet…there’s still time. If I want to put these things in their suitcase I’ve got some gathering to do.

The One About Breakfast


Breakfast is important for kids. Right? Are we on the same page? As the parent who gets up early with the kids, it is my job, post-coffee, to make breakfast.

If they are going to school, especially, protein is what they need to boost brain function. I am a cook of (to put it generously) limited ability. Thus, I try to get some protein in there and call it good. As much as I would like to just throw cheese or bacon on top of whatever we have lying around, I have come up with a bit of a repertoire:

  • Eggs (only two of my four children like them scrambled, so I usually boil them).
  • Granola, with yogurt or milk.
  • Oatmeal, with butter (real butter) and milk (whole milk, or cream if we have it); brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. With nuts and/or diced apple on the side.
  • Toast with butter (we like butter) and almond butter.
  • Rice pudding (leftover rice with milk, ¼ cup sugar and a teaspoon or two of vanilla). With sausage if we’re feeling lucky).

A favorite in our family is the alarmingly named dutch baby. It is a bit sweet, in the way of pancakes or crepes, but it also cleverly contains no less than six eggs. It’s, like, real food. I used to bake it in a large cast iron pan, though we were recently given six tiny ones, and the recipe divides neatly among them (I put the little pans on a cookie sheet when I stick them in the oven). Enjoy!


Dutch Baby

2 tbsp butter

6 eggs

1 and ½ cups milk

1 cup flour (we use a gluten-free baking mix, sometimes split with almond flour)

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla


Preheat oven to 425.

Melt butter in a cast iron pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine other ingredients and mix well. Spoon mixture into the pan and place in the oven; bake for 20 minutes. Serves six.

The Scientist on the Bike

This week’s post is from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.


Several years ago researchers Alison Gropnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl wrote The Scientist in the Crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. In it, they examine and explain how children develop their understanding of the world from birth through the preschool years.

Babies, they explain, act like scientists: they observe, investigate, form hypotheses, and test them. And, like good scientists, they try to replicate the results of their tests. Simply put: babies learn from everything that happens and from everything they make happen. Baby throws food on the floor and learns about gravity (and, in some cases, that dogs like to eat some kinds of people food). Baby also learns whether Dad finds this behavior amusing or annoying or doesn’t notice it. Baby repeats the experiment—are the results the same? What if I try it tomorrow? What if I try it with Mom? The experiments and the learning go on and on and on.

The experimentation doesn’t end in preschool; it continues—potentially throughout our lives. The drive to learn and figure out how the world works is powerful. And when we figure something out for ourselves—what a rush!

The other day I reflected on a child’s innate need to learn while watching a seven-year old riding his bike. He was with his younger brother, a friend and some neighbors. He was meeting lots of needs: exercise, fun, socialization. He was experimenting with what he could do with his body while riding a bike and learning about physics. He also conducted another experiment by riding off briefly with one of the neighbors without checking with his mother (or his friend) first: an experiment in social relationships and impulsive actions.

When he returned, his mother reminded him of the ground rules for bike riding, redirected him to some other activities for a while, and explained that he would not be able to ride his bike if he didn’t follow the rules. She also pointed out that riding off with the neighbor was rude to his friend.

She didn’t overreact to the incident (he is a sensitive, conscientious child, and lives in a safe neighborhood).

She didn’t embarrass him.

But she didn’t ignore it, either—she gave him information that would help him to learn.

That’s another great thing about babies (and all of us): we can learn from other people. We don’t need to experience everything ourselves.

Many parenting advisers talk about kids testing the limits of parental rules. Unfortunately, this is often phrased in terms of “parents vs. kids” or “you have to show them who’s boss.” But, most of the time, kids are not challenging parental power or out to annoy their parents—they are experimenting with how things work. They are trying to learn.

All of us learn best when we respect and trust the people who teach us. We learn best when our teachers have confidence in our ability to learn—when they don’t overreact to our mistakes or embarrass us. We learn best when our teachers have patience and treat us with respect.

Children need parents for guidance and protection and limits and supervision–and yes, they annoy us a lot and we often do overreact. We’re experimenting, too. And learning, and learning, and learning.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

The Parenting Garden

This week’s guest post was written by Jen Bettis. We hope that you find it useful, and look forward to future posts by Jen.

Baldhill kids

It’s the time of year in which we can harvest the fruits of our gardens. Gardeners have spend hours watering and cultivating growth to produce this fruit.

This practice also works with parenting, and goes along with the Nurturing Parenting teaching curriculum written by Dr. Stephen J. Bavolek. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives in life. Many of the parents I work with can easily share the negative behaviors in their children, often citing how they want these behaviors to change. Much of a parent’s time and attention is poured into changing these behaviors.

One way to problem solve is to do the opposite of what we might think. Rather than focusing attention on changing the negative behaviors, Dr. Bavolek encourages parents to focus on the positive behaviors they see in their children. In the midst of the negative behaviors it is easy to lose sight of the positive ones, the areas in children that are producing fruit.

As all parents know, there is limited time and energy in each day; in gardening, the watering can has a limited amount of water to be poured out. My encouragement to parents is to look at where the water is being poured. How much is spent correcting negative behaviors (watering weeds) versus praising positive behaviors (watering seeds which lead to fruit)?

Often something as simple as spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time each day engaging with your child will result in growth. Try it. Turn off technology, put aside any preconceived ideas of what the child should be, and get on their level. Let them take the lead and engage in an activity that brings them joy. The families that participate in our parenting class are asked to do this and report back each week. The stories from the parents who fully engage are full of hope and encouragement. They share change in their relationship with their children as well as an increase in positive behaviors.

Over my time working with children and families I have come to understand how important boundaries, structure and consistency are for children. Structure in particular has a positive impact on the family as a whole. When working with families, adding structure to the home is often the first place I start.

My recommendations are to start small, with tasks the family feels they can be consistent with. Consistency will help children know what to expect and what is expected of them, which often lowers anxiety in the child.

Often we start with tasks and activities that are already regularly happening, such as sleeping and eating. Once those patterns are regularly in place the family can continue to build, adding in other daily tasks such as chores, homework, family time and so on.

I also encourage families to include children in setting a daily schedule, particularly offering choices on when activities happen through the day. For example; would you like to complete your homework right after school or have a snack first and then do your homework? This helps the child feel that they are a part of the plan and usually increases their willingness to participate in the schedule.

Finally, I encourage parents not to aim for perfection. It will likely be a slow process with steps forward and back. Being a boundary holder can be a difficult job. I warn parents that children will likely push back at first, testing to see how strong the boundaries are. Hold tight to the areas that are most important for you and your family. With time the whole family will adjust.

Jen Bettis is the Intensive Safety and Reunification Services Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery. She teaches Nurturing Parenting classes at Family Tree.

“How Would You Know?”

This week’s guest post was written by Jeni Jorgens. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Jeni.


“How would you know?”


The experience of a childless parent-educator

In short, I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know what it feels like to have my child step on my face when I’m still slumbering in the morning, I wouldn’t know the constant anxiety about my child’s well-being, and I wouldn’t know the crushing anguish of hearing my child say “I hate you!”

I will tell you what I do know. I know that parenting is hard. Really, really, really hard. I know that parenting tests limits you didn’t even know existed. Mostly, I know that all parents do the best they can with what they know and have.

I do not have children; however, my job is supporting parents in becoming the best parents they can be. Often, this includes sharing tips and ideas to make child-rearing a little bit easier. When I am in someone’s life, problem-solving various family-related things, I am sometimes asked the question I dread most: “So, do you have kids?”

When a parent asks me this, a small wave of panic consumes me while I search for the best way to answer. Do I explain that although I don’t have kids, I have a lot of education? No, that sounds too smug. Do I talk about all of the experience I have? Perhaps too defensive. Can I simply say “no,” with no rationalization for why they should listen to me? So here the parent and I sit, most likely both fearing judgment from each other.

In these moments, I settle on “I do not have kids, but I love them, have taken care of a lot of them, and want to support your family.” I share that I do not, in fact, have all of the answers (or claim to), and that I appoint the parent as the true expert.

Being in this position has its benefits for both the family and me. Having an objective perspective, I may be able to think of solutions that are not clouded by emotion and exhaustion. As for me, I have the wonderful opportunity to learn about situations and challenges I may have never considered.

All in all, I really don’t know what it is like to be a parent, but my hope is that the family and I can work as a team. We can brainstorm and try new things together. We can teach each other. We can nurture the family so that they not just surviving, but thriving.

Jeni Jorgens is the Infant Specialist at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Mommy, Why?


This week’s guest post was written by Julie Whitus. We hope you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Julie.

Toddlers are like little scientists, toddling, as they do, around their environment gathering information and trying to figure it all out. At one point children will start asking, “Why?” As an adult who still loves to question why, this is one of my favorite stages of human development.

Recently my four year-old daughter has been asking her whys. “Mommy, why is there a sun?” “Mommy, why do we have necks?” “Mommy, why do I have a belly?” My reaction is always to turn this question back to her: “Well, why do you think?” I enjoy her answers greatly, especially the most recent response to why she thinks she has a nose. “So I can give you nose kisses,” she replied.

As these whys continued, I thought to myself that I needed to buy my daughter a book with information about the five senses. But upon further investigation I realized that no book could possible encompass the answers to all my daughter’s questions. Suddenly, the creative mommy part of my brain clicked on and I thought, “Why not make her a personal Why Book?”

Now, creating a book for a child can be as extravagant or as simple as you want it. As a working mother of six children, I prefer the simpler version. For this Why Book I printed out some coloring pages depicting the five senses, gathered some blank colored paper, printed a picture of my daughter, bought some stickers, crayons, and a 50 cent pocket folder with three prongs. I hole-punched all the pages and put them into the folder, then printed off a page with my daughter’s name and the title: Why Book.

When I presented this to my four year-old she helped me to decorate the front of the book with stickers. Then we discussed eyes, and I asked her what types of things she saw with her eyes. She responded, “a snowman.” Together my daughter and I drew a snowman and I labeled it.

This project created quiet time for my daughter to explore the world, color, and look at new words. She really enjoys the book, and there are plenty of blank pages to utilize for more why questions. I love the idea of being able to capture her questions and answers and save them for the future.

Julie Whitus is an In-Home Safety & Reunification Services Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

The Dress Rehearsal


So, school is starting soon. If you’re not one of those parents who have kept those routines going throughout the Summer (have you met one? I’m sure they exist), then you and your kids may have some adjusting to do in order to transition smoothly into the school year.

One difference that makes itself apparent is that suddenly, a lot more will be happening in the morning. Kids will need to be fed, bathed, dressed and ready to go—to the bus stop, to the car, on foot, preferably with shoes on—and all of these things need to happen on time.

Don’t freak out! Some of this will have to work itself out through experimentation, and there may be mornings in which someone’s shirt is inside out and the homework is in the lunchbox. And that’s okay. But there are ways to prepare the ground, as it were, to make the coming circus easier to mount.

One week is generally enough time to get back into school routines. This gives time to work out the kinks, to try the steps in a different order or at a longer or shorter duration, and most importantly it gives kids the opportunity to adjust to this new reality. They are going to be full of excitement and trepidation in more or less equal measure, and knowing how their sendoff will work goes a long way toward easing their minds and being able to focus on the good stuff.

What needs to happen? Here are the essentials.

  1. The night before: have a good idea of what breakfast will be, and what lunches will look like, if applicable. Lay the kids’ clothes out, or have outfits stored together for easy access.
  2. In the morning: You should be up first, because you’re the ringmaster. It is good for parents to establish their own morning rituals in order to be awake and ready to meet the kids’ needs. Making coffee is the key to my success (if not my very existence). My girls like to read books or draw first thing, so I might leave books, paper and pencils out for them to find.
  3. Kids can get used to getting up on time. Like I said, a week should be enough time for this to sink in. It might be good to allow a few days with little pressure before making it a “dress rehearsal.”
  4. Help kids practice dressing, toothbrushing, and gathering of backpacks, jackets and whatever else they might need. Give gentle reminders with little pressure, and make it fun, with incentives and rewards for mastering the task (my kids are fond of brushing to a timer; something like a sticker chart might work to encourage the practice).

These days of preparation are the place to learn what works and what needs tweaking. Remember to be gentle and patient now that the stakes are low and by the time “opening day” arrives, you will all feel more confident and comfortable with the new routine. And by removing barriers to the kids’ success, you are helping them to a place in which they are ready to learn.

Did I mention the coffee part?



Respect My Authority

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

mom & daughter hug

A friend commented on my post about being friends with your children (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?”). She was concerned that friendship might undermine the “ability to be authoritative and a disciplinarian within the parent-child relationship.“

Her comment got me thinking about authority. Like most words, authority can mean several things: having power, being in charge, being an expert, and/or being a reliable source of information. Our own experiences with authority have a big effect on how we use–or don’t use–authority in parenting our children. We may have experienced authority that was used in an appropriate, fair, beneficial way. Or we may have experienced authority that was used in an unjust, arbitrary, or abusive way.

What does beneficial authority look like? Beneficial authority is reasonable, respectful, and responsible.

Reasonable: Reasonable authority is based on rules and there are clear reasons for the rules.

Most of us have an internal set of rules based on safety, social customs, and family values. Often we aren’t consciously aware of what those rules are or why they exist. So it’s useful to examine our internal rules and decide if we want to keep them, add new ones, or discard some. Examining the rules on a regular basis, with your partner, and as a family, will help to keep the rules reasonable and make them easier to enforce.

It’s easier to enforce rules when you yourself believe them to be important and fair. When children have agreed to and even helped come up with the rules, it is even easier. Easier—but still not easy. Remember that no matter how fair and reasonable rules are, sometimes it is extremely difficult to follow them.

Respectful: Respectful authority enforces the rules in a way that preserves the child’s dignity and physical and emotional safety. Parent educator Jody McVittie describes this as being kind and firm at the same time. Kind and firm means that parents can empathize with the child’s distress while still enforcing the rule: “It’s hard to stop playing when you are having so much fun. Now it’s time to say goodbye to the slide and go home for lunch.”

It’s upsetting when a child cries or says, “I hate you!” Like many parents, I often gave in, tried to placate, or got angry with my children. It was (and sometimes still is) difficult to accept their emotional reactions without trying to suppress or dismiss them. But acknowledging an emotion is actually more respectful, both to the child and to the adult, and often makes it easier to enforce the rule.

Being respectful to our children, even when we are angry or disappointed with them, also shows them how to be respectful to us and to others.

Responsible: Parental authority is valuable because it helps parents to protect and guide their children. Children need protection and guidance, and parents are responsible for providing it. But children also need opportunities to do things for themselves and to learn from the consequences of their actions—both positive and negative. Sometimes the responsible parent stands back.

Determining exactly how much protection and guidance is needed in a given situation can be tricky. Different cultures and families (and individuals within those families) have different standards. Children have unique temperaments requiring more or less use of authority. Responsible use of authority requires frequent assessments of a child’s needs and abilities and of the environment surrounding the child and the family.

Staying reasonable and respectful helps parents to determine whether standing back or stepping in is more responsible when challenges occur.

Authority that is reasonable, respectful, and responsible is effective. It helps children grow and parents stay sane. It’s authority we can both respect.