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Dad at the Helm
By Bill Tomlinson

Homeschooling as a stay-at-home dad with a mild disability that leaves me tired most of the time would be impossible but for a loving wife and a cooperative little daughter. Oh, she (Abby) did not start out being all that terribly cooperative. But when she finally understood the homeschool formula: 12SW – 9D = 3SW + 9P, i.e., 12 hours of school work minus 9 hours of dawdling equaled 3 hours of school work plus 9 hours of play, cooperation became her middle name.

My main job is to ensure that Abby stays on track. It is also in my favor that she relishes the idea of not having to ask me for help. However, when she just “doesn’t get it,” she knows she can come to Dad, and no matter what the question, Dad will help her think through the problem with an encouraging word!

We have established a set plan for book work, though we deliberately hold it loosely so that we can make appropriate adjustments for those times that call for great adventure. We expect Abby to do her required work every day, and she readily complies. Only an occasional reminder of the "homeschool formula" is necessary (most days)! We used A Beka Book® exclusively for fourth grade, but we are branching out for fifth grade and using Saxon math, LIFEPAC® (Alpha Omega Publications®), and some others.

Not only do we get through the book work, but we are always on the lookout for adventures. My fun starts when the adventures occur! Let me share some stories of our recent “adventures”—from the discovery of hoarfrost to detective work about who or what had visited our yard when we weren’t looking to researching the history of a shipwrecked vessel tossed ashore by storms close to our home.

The Hoarfrost Adventure

It was quite cold a few weeks ago here in the Oregon's Bay Area, Coos Bay/North Bend. I took Abby out front on our large, sloping lawn and introduced her to hoarfrost. Hoarfrost comes in many forms, but in our neck of the woods, it rises up out of areas of the lawn that are devoid of grass. It grows in little adjacent columns about 2–3 centimeters in height. Like tiny soldiers standing at attention, or a breaking wave suddenly frozen, the hoarfrost rises, lifting all at once a paper-thin layer of dust and lawn debris, raising its own roof as it grows. It was all quite lovely.

The Scat Adventure

Long after the book work is done, in our “walk-abouts” on the property and elsewhere Dad may find something interesting, like say . . . scat! For those who do not know, scat is, well, animal droppings. And so “Ladybug” (our nickname for Abby) is summoned to the site of Dad’s discovery of strange scat and close examination is made—well, as close an examination as one might wish to make where scat is concerned! Then it is back to the computer, where a thorough investigation is carried out. Maybe we’ll find out who came by and maybe we won’t. The joy is in the search!

The Shipwreck Adventure

And then there are those opportunities that come once every half-century or so. Our family lives in the bay area—Oregon’s Bay Area, that is. The opportunity to which I refer involved two terrific storms that occurred back to back, which shifted large quantities of sand on the seashore to reveal . . .

. . . a shipwreck! The George L. Olson, formerly the Ryder Hanify, found her ignominious end on the shores of the North Spit of Coos Bay. The North Spit of Coos Bay is a sliver of land that separates the western part of the horseshoe-shaped Coos Bay from the Pacific Ocean proper. Here is what the Bureau of Land Management, Coos Bay, had to say about the wreck:


“The BLM research sugges

ts there is strong evidence that the mystery shipwreck is the bow-section of the steam schooner George L. Olson. Comparing historical     photographs of the George L. Olson with current pictures of the shipwreck, both ships have three portholes with three chain plates aft of the portholes. The location of the Samson Post, Hawespipes, and the black vertical bumpers are     identical. The pattern made by the through hull iron fasteners also appears identical.

“The George L. Olson was originally named the Ryder Hanify. The steam schooner Ryder Hanify was built for J.R. Hanify and Company of San Francisco by the W.F. Stone shipyards of Oakland, California. The ship was launched on January     22, 1917. At 223 feet long and nearly 44 feet wide, the Ryder Hanify was one of the largest ships built to date at the Stone shipyard. The boat was powered by a 1,000 horsepower steam engine and was designed to carry 1.4 million board feet of lumber at a time.

“The Ryder Hanify was put into service in May 1917 hauling lumber. It completed several voyages during that year, including a shipment of lumber to South America in October 1917. In December 1944, the hulk of the George L. Olson was towed to sea and was cut adrift with the intention she beach on the North Spit. During the following years, build-up of the fore dune in the area covered the wreck.”1

As you see, time rushed past the hardworking Ryder Hanify, and at some time in her life she was named the George L. Olson. Very little is known about the ship’s working life, and in the end, only twenty-seven years after she was built, she was cast off, a useless hulk, literally to be buried by the sands of time! (For any who are not familiar with sailors and their ways, their boats might have a masculine name, but you will not find a sailor calling his boat “he.”)

The main lesson in the great shipwreck adventure was concerning the rules of observation and gathering of evidence and how very important that is in understanding what you see. The wreck of the George L. Olson taught Abby that some things do not stay the same. She learned that an early conclusion about the “facts” about something or some situation might be wrong if you don’t have all the evidence and you have too many presuppositions.

Suffice it to say that a dad can be the primary homeschool parent. He just needs to help the child/children stay focused and keep on track. And if he keeps his eyes open and makes an effort to see the world with the wonder of a child, he will never lack for opportunity to draw his child into the joy of learning.

Bill Tomlinson has a mild disability that keeps him mostly at home. He is very happily married to “Donna Deane” and is the father of four adult children in their twenties and is currently homeschooling their last at-home child, Abigail, whom both mother and father lovingly refer to as “Bug,” as in “Ladybug.”

    1. Bureau of Land Management, Coos Bay, Oregon.
©2008 The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC
Originally appeared in The
Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Fall 2008.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher


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