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Homeschool Heroes: Normal, not new

Emily Gerde with her two sons, Wyatt and Garrett.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For several families in Routt County, homeschooling children is not the new normal — they’ve done it all along. 

Emily Gerde made the decision to homeschool her children after she herself was a teacher at an elementary school in Minnesota.

“I was able to see first hand how the school system operates. Teachers and parents are doing their very best, but there are a lot of politics and hierarchy in the school system that don’t fit my vision for children,” Gerde said.

With her own children, she decided to start them at home to give them a solid base and ample room to move and explore.

“Our son is very active,” she said. “He is thriving in a more unschooling model of teaching. This basically means we follow his lead as far as his interests and make every moment a learning opportunity.”

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A typical day for Gerde and Wyatt, who is 6 1/2, involves waking up and having breakfast while watching an educational show. Then Wyatt heads outside to play while his mother packs up for the day and gets her second child, Garrett, who is 11 months old, ready as well.

Then they head out for an adventure — on a hike, to the skate park, Howelsen Ice Arena or the library. They are gone for most of the day, exploring and learning, and when they get home, Wyatt learns social skills by playing with their neighbors.

“While doing these activities we talk about colors, shapes, numbers, letters. Learning is all around us,” Gerde said. “We do our share of educational board games, puzzles, journal writing and a few worksheets, but for the most part we use the world as our classroom.”

And that’s where Gerde notes that things have changed drastically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For those who are new to homeschooling, the current lockdown is not what homeschooling looks like,” Gerde said. “Before all of this happened, we met with our Homeschoolers of Steamboat group every Thursday to go on a field trip. We also had play dates where we could focus on specific learning objectives like edible plants, skatepark math or nature fort building.”

And while they miss their community and Gerde’s husband, Justin, has been working between 60 and 80 hours a week at his job as an accountant, Gerde is taking it all in stride.

“There is so much learning to be had in every experience,” she said.

And while her days don’t look quite like they used to, she isn’t letting that get her down. Instead, she’s coming up with creative solutions for learning every day.

“Here’s an example,” she said. “Many of us are taking more walks with our kids. For little ones, ask them to count their steps to the next stop sign. What shape is that stop sign? What letters do you see on the stop sign? For older kids, you can have a conversation about the history of the area or discuss what plants you see and how to care for them.”

The former teacher in Gerde has innovative ideas and encouragement for other parents.

“Give yourself grace and find the learning opportunities throughout the day,” Gerde advised. “Use this time to focus on life skills such as cooking, gardening, cleaning or building. All the basics will come with time. You don’t need to worry about your child getting behind because every moment is a learning experience.”

Sophie Dingle is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.


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