The Tiger in the Boat


    By Monica Cappelli

The book The Life of Pi was amazing, fearful, thrilling and allegorical.

As I recently considered re-reading it, the idea for the following post occurred to me.

Energetic, graceful, nurturing, and fun on good days. Heartbreaking, rife with error, and full of regret on other days. My “Life as a Parent” is full of mountains, valleys, triumphs, and mistakes. These are the tiger’s contrasting stripes – faith and doubt, courage and fear, triumph and failure. The tiger is my life in this flesh.

How does one know if the sum total of all your years of parenting – your life poured out on behalf of beautiful, happy, strong-willed, challenging, flawed, adorable little persons (gifts!) – will amount to good in either your lifetime or in future generations?

Sometimes I am able to: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4, NIV.)

And for those other times: “Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. . .” (Psalm 19:12-13.)

What contrast!

Oh yes, we are temporal parents. Yet our God, the eternal Father, has a plan and a way that transcends our earthly triumphs and depressions. In that knowledge lies faith, encouragement, and strength – the life boat that carries us (despite our doubts and foibles), through the sometimes cruel waters of life.

Parenting with this perspective leads me to think: As a parent do I want to be remembered as a slave to my own stubbornness and sinful habits? Or on “those days” will I be able to submit to God’s calling on me and humble my heart in apology, then offer life-giving love and warmth to my family, coupled with sincere prayer to God for forgiveness, healing, and restoration?

The latter choice, trusting my Father, (e.g., climbing out of the storm-tossed sea into the lifeboat) is my only option for assurance and peace, given my faith. “Peace. Be still.”

The question is not whether I’m a perfect parent – oh my, I most certainly am not (I’m a tiger: striped with conflicting hues of flesh and spirit)- but rather, do I model faith, hope, love and forgiveness even after I make one of my numerous and inevitable mistakes?

I am glad (very glad!) that our sovereign God is perfectly perfect: loving, parental, concerned, protective, involved, just, strong, forgiving, generous, and completely tender-hearted toward me.

My job as a parent is to keep my lifeboat watertight and afloat – whether the “tiger” is having a good day or not.

Have you seen or read The Life of Pi? What did you think of it?


    Monica Cappelli is a wife and the mother of four wonderful children. Over the years her family has been blessed to experience home, public, private, and parochial schooling. This has given Monica an appreciation for the strengths and challenges of the educational choices available to families. A successful experience is possible in any of these situations with the support of community and prayerful, encouraging parents. Monica strongly believes that parental academic expectations and “leadership by example” in the areas of competence, autonomy, and service set the stage for a young person’s entrance into a successful, joyful, and productive adulthood.


Creating Time Together

    By Nicole Wenger

My life would be incomplete if I weren’t creating on a daily basis. Most of all, I love creating with my boys. We enjoy sewing, painting, cooking, gardening, woodworking, stamping, felting, blowing things up and more; and truth be told, we are more creative during different seasons of our lives. While the “things” we create are fun and satisfying, what is most important is the time I spend with my children.

As a child, some of my fondest memories are centered around experiences with my grandparents. My grandmother was the first person to teach me how to thread a needle on a sewing machine. I learned how to sing Polish songs stuffing pillows with duck feathers, and I love Kapusta because I cooked it with my great-grandmother. Those memories are some of the most cherished I have from my childhood. In the same way, I want my boys to experience a rich, creative life filled with fond memories of our times spent together laughing, talking, and singing.

In my search for fun activities I stumbled across this ingenious creation. With tweaks of our own, we built a great Light Box while spending time together building, laughing-and, as always-singing. What kinds of things are you creating with your family this week?

pic 1

I used two shallow, plastic clear containers. The shallower, the better, so the light can reflect closer to the lid. I sprayed the inside of both bins with metallic silver spray paint (Lowe’s). After they dried, I lined the sides with black paper. This helped keep the light from reflecting.


I used one 18″ fluorescent light – removed the top plastic lid from the light, and duct taped the light to the bottom of the plastic bin. I cut a hole at one end of the bin and pulled the cord through. This allowed the bin to be plugged in an outlet. I read a few other posts about using battery operated lights so it becomes more portable, however, the expense of the batteries was too much and the light was inefficient.


I used frosted spray paint on the underside of the top lid to help diffuse the light. If you can find a white or frosted lid top for the bin you can skip this step.

Wallah…the Light Box!


Below are some of the activities we did today…more to come!

Tracing with stencils…


Finger painting and mixing colors…


Practice writing the alphabet and numbers:


Using store-bought materials I spent about $35.00 for one light table, saving over $110.00 on a small 12×9 light table as seen on 

What do you think?!
Try these links for other ideas:


    Nicole WengerNicole Wenger is the mother of two spunky boys and the wife of her best friend, Chris. She is the founder and director of Science Quest: a science education company which introduces students, parents, and teachers to interactive and affordable science learning. Nicole is the Preschool Director and the Director of Development at The Garden School. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Bridgewater State University and a Master of Science in Environmental Studies/Conservation Biology with an emphasis in Ornithology from Antioch University. You can keep up with Nicole, her family, and their adventures in home education, crafting, birding and loving the outdoors at The Cuckoo’s Nest:

Recognizing (and Surviving) the Beginning of the Logic Stage: “Whaaat?”

    By Monica Cappelli

question-marks[1]Well, it had to happen sometime. My sweet, compliant, easy little girl is growing up, and I am no longer the epitome of reason in her eyes. As she approaches her first double digit birthday, the Logic Stage* of learning is quickly gaining upon us.

Below are two of the many, daily, and sometimes hilarious examples of what the beginning of the Logic Stage looks like at my house. Needless to say, not all “opportunities” will end in giggles, but these recent moments did!

1. While deciding what to watch during a Mommy/Daughter Mani/Pedi:

DD: Let’s watch SpongeBob. It helps me think. (Scary…she was serious and straight-faced when she said that!)
Me: No, no, no, no, no. NO! Please, I can’t stand that show!
DD: But it’s FUNNY!
Me: I think it’s disgusting, and repetitive. Not funny at all. No way can I enjoy my pedicure with SpongeBob on TV.
DD: But please Mom!
Me: Uh uh. How about Ella Enchanted?
DD: No, thanks, Mom.
Me: Or Nanny MacPherson?
DD: Mom, now you’re just being difficult.
Me: But you like Nanny! We both do!
DD: But I don’t want to watch it! You know. . . Jon, and Aaron, and Chrissy like SpongeBob. Only you don’t like it…
Me: Ahhhh, but they’re not here. So you can watch it when they come home…When all three are here together. (Even though I secretly know that will probably be next June!)
DD: But Dad likes it. And he’s here. So who’s more important: you- or DAAAD?
Me: Well, when it comes to pedicures – I am!
DD: Uhn uh. Dad is. ‘Cause he married you, and then you got the babies!
Me (choking): Whaaaat?

Your child will probably offer many such mind-boggling “arguments” as they transition from the grammar stage to the logic stage. They will enlist all kinds of faulty reasoning in an attempt to understand their world, and to bend it to their liking.

These are good times to model well a reasoned argument – if you can manage to contain your laughter. (I admit, her appeals to popularity [siblings], authority [DAAAD], and the great big straw-man [babies. Really?!] left me laughing too hard to marshal my thoughts). Eventually their arguments will mature, as they practice under your cheerful tutelage.

2. Picking up my rather dramatic little daughter one day after school:

DD: Where WERE you, Mom? I didn’t see you ANYWHERE! I looked all over the place!
Me: Well actually I was parked right across the street from school. (Okay, so I wasn’t standing patiently outside in the cold, like some of the native Colorado moms, but she knows my car – right?)
DD: But I didn’t SEE you!
Me: Ah, but I saw you. You followed that little puppy all the way down to the other end of the block. You didn’t even look for me! I had to go get you!
DD: But I couldn’t help it! He liked me, and he was sooooo cute! And did you see his cute little ears? They were soooo floppy!
Me: Yes, he was cute, wasn’t he? (You see, I, too, am easily distracted by puppies!)
But I need you to come straight to the car from now on, okay? I shouldn’t have to go looking for you.
DD: Okay. Sorry. Well, I’m hungry and I think you owe me an ice cream.
Me: Whaaaat? What are you talking about?
DD: Well you’re the responsible adult. And you weren’t being very responsible, were you? I was a block away and A STRANGER could’ve grabbed me! So you owe me an ice cream. (A very self-satisfied smile followed this little zinger!)
Me (cracking up): Sorry, kiddo. . . Nice try though! That might have worked if it was true and if I wasn’t on a diet! (She laughed and settled for the two-day old Wheat Thins which happened to be in the back of the car!)

Ahhhhh, parents! Let’s enjoy this rocky transition from compliant Grammar to challenging Logic. Here are a few strategies:

1) Enjoy the mental gymnastics.
2) Choose your battles wisely.
3) Keep it positive whenever possible – the goal is to train, not to conquer.
4) Help your child analyze the quality of questions, reasoning, and arguments witnessed at school, in the community, in books, as well as on TV and other media by asking questions like:

a. “What did you think about that?”
b. “Did they really prove their point?”
c. “How would you have approached that question?”
d. “Did his/her decision make sense, in your opinion?”

5) Be willing to be convinced when their arguments are well-reasoned.
6) Your counter-arguments should model the same reasoning and respectful tone you expect your child to employ.
7) And just for fun: Give in sometimes with a mutual giggle – acknowledge the ridiculous and tip your hat to their valiant ingenuity!

Please share a story about your child’s Logical Journey. How are you coping with your budding logistician?

*To learn more about the three stages in a classical education-Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric-read Dave Miller’s post here:


    Monica CappelliMonica Cappelli is a wife and the mother of four wonderful children. Over the years her family has been blessed to experience home, public, private, and parochial schooling. This has given Monica an appreciation for the strengths and challenges of the educational choices available to families. A successful experience is possible in any of these situations with the support of community and prayerful, encouraging parents. Monica strongly believes that parental academic expectations and “leadership by example” in the areas of competence, autonomy, and service set the stage for a young person’s entrance into a successful, joyful, and productive adulthood.

Grammar Stage: Little P Explores the Old Upright Piano

    By Dave Miller

    Kid at PianoMy tenants moved out and had no room in their new apartment for the old upright piano. I told them I’d “buy it” for $200 as I had no stomach for rounding up the manpower to move the behemoth. Besides, I thought, it just might be a selling point for a new tenant. It was.

    A new set of tenants moved in as the old ones moved out. In the transition, I’m doing repairs and remodeling, and casually listening to 2 year-old little P get acquainted with this musical piece of furniture. In the classical model of education, the beginning of learning is called the Grammar Stage (followed by Logic and Rhetoric). Lasting until age 7 or 8, children learn the “grammar” of the world in which they crawl, toddle, walk and run. They learn the ABCs of just about anything they can. They love nursery rhymes, learning things by heart, parroting back what they — “Little pictures have big ears.” Patterns are established that will last a lifetime.

    Little P is exploring what the piano does. He pushes on the pedals. Nothing happens. (One of those pedals will make the note he plays sustain, but he’ll learn that later.) He tentatively pushes down on a white key. It makes a sound! He presses it again with a little more force. Again, a sound, this time a bit louder. Now he presses several keys with his right hand. If one hand can make sounds like this, what can TWO hands do?! Cacophony! Like chickens cackling in a henhouse at feeding time he goes Bang! Bang! Bang!

    So this is when mom or dad or older sibling has a choice: Scream at Little P to STOP THAT RACKET! or firmly remind him that a piano is an instrument and needs to be treated gently (while demonstrating a few pleasing chords). I’ve found that a two-year-old banging on the piano really doesn’t hurt it. After all, didn’t Jerry Lee Lewis make a whole-lotta money banging on a piano? Great balls of fire! I’ve just found that saving my sanity is important, too. Besides, screaming at Little P to stop is likely to squelch the exploration process.

    (This is a good place to interject that “re-directing” rather than “squelching” the discovery process is almost always the best tack to take in parenting a child. You could even use a little Cline-Fay Love and Logic, “Now Little P, I love to take little boys to the park to swing who know how to treat the piano like an instrument without banging on it.” Or something like that.)

    Now, Little P resumes his exploration. He presses two keys next to each other down at the same time with one hand. Then two separated by a key. Hey, that sounds better. He wonders what the skinny black keys sound like. He bangs on them with his fist. Mom says, “Gentle, Little P.”

    There’s so much to explore on this instrument when you’re two. Wise parents or siblings will allow for some dissonance in their life in the hope that Little P will move on to the Logic and Rhetoric stages of making music.

    The scope of this blog is not to show you how to teach your child piano. There are lots of books and methods on how to do that. In fact, in the comments section below, would you list any resources that you’ve found helpful in teaching your child to not only learn to play but to LOVE to play?

    Another quick story to illustrate the Grammar stage of learning, this time in drawing:

    My wife Renee decided to take a beginning art class at the local community college when she was in her 30’s. The instructor pretty much told the class to take up their pencils and create something. Not having any formal art training (Grammar level), she didn’t have the slightest idea where to start. Visions of stick figures danced in her head. How do you even hold the pencil?

    When the second class proved to be as dismal as the first, she called the instructor over and asked, “Do you play the piano?”

    “No,” he answered.

    “I do,” she said. “If I sat you down in front of a piano and asked you to ‘Just play something that sounds good,’ do you think you could do it?”


    “That’s exactly how I feel when you tell me to ‘just draw something.’”

    “Oh, I had no idea.”

    Unwilling or unable to change his methods, Renee did not return for a third class.

    Since then, she has found some very good Grammar stage art books that have helped her become pretty decent at drawing:

    Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards
    Drawing Textbook, Bruce McIntyre
    The Artist’s Way, Julie Cameron

    Feel free to add to the list in the comments section below.


A professional educator since earning his teaching credentials at San Diego State in 1985, Dave’s 26-year teaching career has been both challenging and rewarding, often in the same day. He and wife Renee have lived and taught in San Diego, Germany, and Colorado, traveled to dozens of countries and are still raising six great kids. Along with his role as Guidance Counselor at The Garden School, Dave has been reinventing himself as a work-at-home dad and recently promoted to Vice President at Lightyear Wireless. Now he gets to teach people how to live the life of their dreams.

Welcome and Giveaway

Welcome to The Garden School Journal! We’re so glad to have you.

It’s hard being a parent. Harder still to be both parent and teacher. But hardest of all is feeling like you’re alone.

That’s why this blog exists. We believe in you and your right to teach your child in the way you choose-whether that means through homeschooling, private school, or otherwise. But we also know it can be a lonely calling. We know, because we’ve been there.

We wanted to create a place where you as a parent could be equipped, encouraged, and empowered. But we also wanted to create a community of parents who came alongside each other, regardless of age or experience.

We envisioned a place where older moms gave advice to new moms just starting out-a place where triumphs were celebrated, teachers refreshed, and ideas exchanged.

That’s why we’re here. To help support you. To share with you. But most of all, we’re here because we believe in you.

Join us every Friday for new posts, practical tips, and encouragement from parents just like you, and please make yourself at home. You can visit our “Resources” page to view books and websites we’ve found helpful, check out our blogroll to see blogs we’ve enjoyed reading, or mosey on over to “The Writers” page to find out more about us. Or just stick around and say hello! Either way, we’d love to have you.

To make sure you don’t miss any of our posts in the future, you can click on the “Follow” button in the top right hand corner.

But now, for some fun news!

To celebrate the launch of this blog, we are giving away one free copy of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts!*

Ann is a homeschooling mom of six, and you can read more about her book here:

Interested in entering? Here’s the details:

  • Share the link to this blog address through either Facebook, Twitter, or in an e-mail, and help us spread the word
  • Leave a comment here on the blog letting us know where you shared the link, and be entered to win!

Thank you so much for visiting, and stop by again this coming Thursday, January 10, when we draw a name and announce the winner.

We look forward to getting to know you, and we’ll see you then!

*Giveaway open only to U.S. citizens. Garden School writers are not eligible.