Home Visits: Setting a Relational Foundation

“Before classes start at HFP, new students and their families have a home visit with Teacher Susan. This wonderful opportunity gives the children a chance to share who they are, who they love, what they like, and where they come from with their teacher. Together, they play music. They make creations out of clay. They share favorite stories – all the while building important relationships, which ease the transition as well as form the social fabric of our school.” – Laura Chu, Blog Editor



“The home visit was the key piece for A. He was so excited the night before, he could barely sleep. He showed Teacher Susan his favorite books in his room – including a book on gorillas. He now giggles and tells me a particular gorilla in his book has hair just like teacher Susan. No doubt, an inside joke among them. He showed her the tomatoes he’s been growing this summer and showed off for her on the trampoline. After she left, he was beaming. How special he felt that his teacher came to spend time with just him. The first day of school, he was excited and nervous but he was also eager to see Teacher Susan and the other kids. As a parent, leaving my child in someone else’s care for the first time was scary. For us, the home visit created a gentle and thoughtful transition into preschool. ” – Natalie, Parent





“Relationships are at the foundation of HFP’s curriculum. We understand that each child needs to be known, valued and reflected in order to fully thrive and learn. I’m grateful that we delay the start of classes to allow me time to meet individually with newly enrolling families. The tone, activity and flavor of home visits vary – depending on what’s going on for each child and family. I get to meet beloved pets, learn about favorite toys and activities, note similarities between home and school, and connect with each family. It is a blessing to get a tiny glimpse of the love, joy and activity in each home before we convene at school in a larger group. ” – Susan, Classroom Teacher





Increasing Interest in Insects

By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)

Forget the superhuman antics of the summer blockbusters. Insects possess enough supernatural capabilities—when extrapolated to the human scale—to supersede all of the comic book franchise characters’ abilities, and then some. To wit:

  • Meadow froghoppers can jump 100 times its height.
  • To survive winter’s cold, many insects replace their body water with glycerol, which acts as an “antifreeze.”
  • The horned dung beetle can pull 1,141 times its body weight. That’s like a 150 lbs. human pulling more than 170,000 lbs.

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, insects need our help. And we need them. An estimated 99.5% of pollinating species are invertebrates. In addition to facilitating our agricultural ecosystems, they serve as a foundational layer of the food chain. They are prey for other animals. Looking at the next step in the food cycle, decomposers clean up Nature’s mess.

What can you do to help? Impart some sense of awe for insects in the small children in your life; not with the jaw-dropping facts above, but with the backyard opportunities described below.


These accessible beauties are a perfect way to begin a trip into a state of awe. Consider how the butterfly becomes. As a caterpillar, she encloses herself in a chrysalis, turns to goop, and then somehow rearranges herself into a flying flower. Next, we’ll consider the butterfly’s better-organized cousin, the honey bee.

Honey Bees

On a warm summer’s day in most of Portland’s neighborhoods, you can probably count the number of steps on two hands between your front door and your first opportunity to encounter a honey bee. Follow an individual from flower to flower on a patch of clover, and ponder how she manages to keep afloat with such small wings for her body size. And then there’s the whole honey-from-flower-pollen miracle.

If you’re really lucky, you may encounter a swarm—half of a hive newly divided—seeking a new home. Report the swarm to Portland Urban Beekeepers, you might meet a local apiarist who’s come out in response; a learning opportunity you’ll revisit for many summers to come. Last, and lower, but just as diligent; the humble ant.


Ants can carry more than fifty times their own weight, and yet they don’t seem to show the least bit of strain. They just trod on, following a trail of pheromones laid down by their comrades. They clean up dead bugs, fallen food and other detritus. If only they could be trained to tidy up discarded toys…

Get to the thorax of the matter

Each of these insect ambassadors can help you around your garden, and offer an interesting complement to any gardening (LINK TO GARDENING BLOG POST) activities you might undertake with the littles in your home. For more ideas on how to help, and increase interest in, insects follow these links:

  1. A natural gardening expert builds his case for insects and worms on a local news segment.
  2. Metro’s suggestions for aiding pollinators
  3. Cultivating backyard habitat for local species (very much including insects)
  4. Butterfly Gardening – Using Butterfly Garden Plants
  5. How to Grow a Bug-Friendly Garden Absolutely Anywhere


Water Play: Benefits and Where to Go

By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)

We’re all made of water, so it’s only natural that we would enjoy playing in it as soon as we can wave an arm or stomp a leg. Turns out that water play is extremely ‘fluid’ in its benefits to childhood development. If you, dear caregiver, know what you’d like to nurture in your little one, then the two (or more) of you will have a great time learning, growing, and playing with water.

Benefits of water play for the little body


Will this rock/leaf/toy sink or swim? What happens when this sand/dirt/clothing gets wet? There’s only one splashy way to find out! Through repetition, children explore cause and effect, practice their observation skills, and expand their creative thinking. These skills lay the foundation for a positive attitude toward problem-solving.


However children choose to play in water, you can find a way to relate it back to a lesson in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. If you’re heading to a swimming hole, bring a clear container and a magnifying glass, and marvel at the miniature forms life you’ll find in a small sample scooped up with care. Return that sample with just as much care, and you reinforce the importance for respect for the natural world. Whether at a creek or an urban splash pad, you’ll find ample opportunities to explore the effects of force (block the flow and feel what happens) and gravity. Bring along containers of varying sizes, and you can introduce the concepts of volume, displacement, proportions, and density.

Physical Development

Where to begin?!

Simple splashing encourages coordination (eye/hand and full body), balance, and motor skills (gross and fine). Since bodies of water guarantee a soft(er) landing, littles of all ages are emboldened to let go in their play. The extra resistance in deep-ish water builds up strength and coordination that will make ‘dry play’ seem easier by comparison. Even a bucket of water and a variety of different materials in the yard opens up possibilities for fine-motor play (pouring from one cup to another, squeezing out a sponge, and squirting out the contents of a repurposed eye-dropper) and tactile sensations (gritty sand, squishy cloth, and slimy nuggets of fruit).

I could go on: water play promotes social and emotional development, language development, and creative play. There are as many benefits as there are places to enjoy them. Speaking of which…

Water play around Portland, Oregon

If you’re looking for a new spot out of town, or just across town, one of these collections of sites will have what you need.

  1. Pools, waterparks and swimming holes is just that, a thorough list of natural and built swimming options all over the area. Each list item includes a basic description, an address, a phone number and a linked webpage address. If you’d prefer to stay in town, this is the resource for you.
  2. Map of 19 Great Swimming Holes within 3 Hours of Portland starts with an interactive map. Click on a point for a descriptions ranging from basic to pretty thorough, and a link to Google maps. Follow the latter for turn-by-turn driving directions.
  3. 8 Amazing Northwest Swimming Holes Near Portland aggregates thorough listings of outdoor options in local parks, national forests, and wilderness areas. Click on a listing for a solid summary and review.
  4. 25 Great Swimming Holes within 3 Hours of Portland lists options ranging from day trips to overnighters. Each entry includes a basic description of the natural swimming spot and an estimated driving time.
Keep it local, really local

On those sweltering weekday evenings when inside feels warmer than outside, but it’s too late to go anywhere, don’t overlook the humble play pool, water table, or bucket. You can have plenty of fun, and promote many of the benefits listed above, in your yard or neighborhood park. Personally, I’m a big fan of wriggling into a soaked t-shirt (with many dramatic gasps) and then whiling away the time with my son in all three or four inches of water. It sure beats air conditioning.

Safety Tips
  • Don’t leave young children unattended near water — including in the home.
  • Take a CPR class for youngsters.
  • If you’re at a private pool, completely remove the cover, and don’t let children play on the cover.
  • Enforce rules around the pool. No running or dunking.
  • Flotation devices are not a substitute for adult supervision.
  • Life jackets should always be worn when riding on a boat.
  • Swimming lessons are meant to increase a child’s comfort level in the water. They don’t replace supervision.

Learn more about the benefits of water play in early childhood development.




Cultivating Green Thumbs

By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)

We come full circle, returning to Sauvie Island to pick strawberries where the pumpkins we harvested last Fall once grew. It’s a joyous time for everyone. Most of the parents join in. Everyone goes home with days’ (hours’?) worth of strawberries.This is a great opportunity to nourish children’s interest in the connection between their bodies and Nature. They literally get to touch and taste the fruits of the earth. Experiencing that connection in such sharp, sweet clarity can extend an ongoing classroom conversation about where our food comes from. That conversation can lead to an ongoing experiment throughout the summer: gardening. It’s a short hop from strawberry-picking to digging in a patch of dirt back home. Long after the taste of summer’s first fruit has faded away, gardening activities can keep little ones engaged in the Nature-body interface. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Designate a child-specific plot

This is a space where they get to call the shots. While you’re rooting around in the garden beds, or treading lightly so as to leave the roots to work in peace, your little ones could tend to their own garden bed. It might be as simple as that—a place to play in the dirt—or it could incorporate seed-planting, watering, weeding and, eventually, the harvest.


Newly planted seeds grow best in loose, well-turned soil. While turning up the dirt in any garden bed, you will likely encounter clods that have compacted over the winter. Breaking up those dirt clods could be an amusing and helpful activity for you to share in. (Our son delighted in exploding dirt clods with a 2-lb. Rubber mallet.) The activity promotes eye-hand coordination, invites a conversation about plant roots’ preference for loose soil, and will likely uncover some worms in their native habitat; another great opportunity for teaching more about soil’s origins, and practicing care for vulnerable creatures.


This essential activity invites eager engagement—especially when the daytime temperatures heat up—and many conversation prompts, including: Why do plants need to be watered? How much water is good, too much, or too little? Why is that? Where does the water go after it seeps down below the roots? If, when it comes to gardening, you’re all thumbs, and none of them are green, just start small. You and your littles can have plenty of fun on a small scale with radishes or beans. Radishes germinate faster than most vegetables. Place a packet of their seeds in a pot of potting soil, water lightly every other day, and their wee leaves will sprout up in just a few days.

For a faster payoff, and a bigger finale, grab a packet of pole beans. Soak them in a cup overnight, then keep them sandwiched in a moist paper towel. In a day or two, the two halves of the beans will reveal a baby root and stem emerge. (You may have some memory of this activity from a middle-school biology class.) Once the novelty of this phase has worn off (or another two days have passed), plant those delicate baby beans in a pot of soil. Give them something to climb and regular care, and they will grow before your eyes every day before yielding that tasty payoff.

Does this post remind you of a childhood experience gardening? What’s another gardening activity you share with the littles in your life? Please let us know in the comments section, below.

Check out HFP’s list of recommended garden-themed picture books.