Laurie Todd, MA I spent my twenties in and out of college studying history, political science, and education, as I searched for an authentic calling. About the time I began a Master’s program focused on the history of childrearing and parenting, I serendipitously came to the field of early care and education. Friends whose baby I was helping to care for were studying Magda Gerber’s method of infant care – RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers). With its motto of ‘authentic infant, competent child’ and focus on respecting babies, RIE spoke to many of my values. At that time Magda was teaching at Pacific Oaks, a small progressive college founded by Quakers that had an outreach program in Portland. I found their approach to teaching adults as compelling as the RIE approach to working with infants, so I switched graduate programs and got my Master’s in Human Development from Pacific Oaks with a focus on infants, toddlers, and early childhood environments. I became an adjunct faculty member in the distance learning program at Pacific Oaks and taught there for 15 years. After completing my Master’s I was convinced of the value of primary caregiving and continuity of care in infant programs. I also liked the idea of providing care in a small, home-based, non-institutional environment. Since I didn’t know anyone doing this at the time, I set out to create my model program. I remodeled parts of my home to accommodate a safe, welcoming environment for children. I went through the state certification process and enrolled my first cohort in 1993. I am a Master Trainer for the Oregon Center for Career Development in Childhood Care and Education, and have taught classes at Portland Community College. I have served as a mentor for PCC’s advanced practicum students. My professional affiliations are:
- National and Oregon Associations for the Education of Young Children
- National Association for Family Child Care
- Alliance for Childhood
- Eco-Healthy Child Care
- Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
- Child Care Providers Together Union
- Commitment to Quality in Oregon’s Child Care Quality Rating Improvement System
We begin our day with greeting the children as they arrive, visiting with parents and then saying good-bye to them. The morning transition is often the hardest part of the day; I comfort upset children and reassure them that the people they love will come back, and I comfort upset parents and assure them that their child will be okay. Then we do whatever the children need: eat, sleep, diapering and play. As they get older a routine emerges, with a morning snack, lunch, mid-day nap and afternoon snack as the touchstones of the day. We try to get outside every day. Because relationships are such a core part of early care and education I maintain a primary caregiving relationship with the children, and our ratio is always 1 to 4 or better. I often have help from my part time assistant, from my partner Terri, and from practicum students. The children in each cohort develop deep connections with each other, and we spend lots of time developing language and problem-solving skills together.
Sometimes when asked about my curriculum I’ve joked that it’s based on the many different berries I have in the yard, because if you get to eat all these berries when you’re little you’ll know that life is good – and that’s the most important thing to learn in the first three years! Our curriculum emerges from the children’s play, interests, and experiences. Much of their learning is focused on the foundational aspects of social and emotional development, self-regulation and communication, which will be key to their future learning. The early academic skills, such as counting, letters, colors and shape recognition, are all learned as part of our daily life. I am passionate about early education being an organic and integral part of children’s lives, not something that just happens at certain times and places. I like to think about the attitudes towards learning, or habits of mind, that we encourage: being curious and excited about what we see, asking questions and asking for help when it’s needed, being able to offer help and work cooperatively with others, and knowing that it’s okay to make mistakes. My home and outdoor environment have been created to give young children many opportunities to move and explore freely. Though I’ve collected lots of age-appropriate play things – mostly made from natural materials – I consciously rotate toys and try not to not have too much out at any one time. I like to use household items with infants and toddlers. Pots & pans, onions, scraps of wood, boxes, pillows and blankets provide open-ended loose parts for creative play.
I support breastfeeding mothers and provide formula to those families who use it. Morning and afternoon snacks and lunch are provided. Our menu consists of primarily organic, unprocessed, vegetarian food. As toddlers the children begin to be involved with growing, preparing, and serving what they eat. We sit together for meals, and have lovely conversations that include information about the food we’re eating and nutrition.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that having my babies at Laurie’s house changed our lives. We went from feeling guilty about having to have our child in daycare to being grateful for all the richness we would never have been able to provide ourselves, and support as we launched this undertaking called parenthood. From those first early months, Laurie starts building a culture of wonder, camaraderie, and curiosity that builds as the children get older. Lunch under the apple tree, muffins in the morning, frolicking in the garden, identifying birds in the yard, cracking walnuts in the kitchen — there were days when I wanted to stay there myself instead of going to work. Laurie preserves the slowed-down atmosphere of childhood in a way we really valued. We couldn’t have designed better child care ourselves — Laurie’s house was a great fit for what we wanted for our children and our family. Our children are now 11 and 14 and still look back with tremendous fondness on their Laurie days. –Ruth G
We’re so glad we entrusted Laurie with the care of our daughter. We did so because of her philosophy, her experience, and the intrinsic appeal of her setting. But mostly, we did it because it just felt right. Our family’s time with Laurie proved that hunch to be true. The respectful and nurturing environment she creates was an incredible positive influence on our child’s development.
Three years later, our daughter was far richer from the songs and shapes and muffins and sticks and sand. More confident from countless comforting hugs and from learning how to respect every other being. We are richer for getting to know Laurie and for the lasting bonds we have formed with each of the other children and families who were with us along the way. — Shawn C
At her house, Laurie creates a nurturing and stimulating environment for young people. She treats them with great respect, while challenging them on different levels. Kids who get to go to Laurie’s House are fortunate – our son was lucky enough to be one of them. Laurie’s thoughtful care during those formative years is an important part of him becoming the thoughtful, inquisitive and wonderful boy that he is. — Erik B
Laurie is like an ideal blend of early childhood education professor, parenting coach, loving great-aunt and good friend. She’s neither doting nor overly stern with young children, and she’s always insightful, considerate and interesting to talk to. She’s also incredibly experienced at raising young children. After all, early childhood education has been her life’s work: she has raised many children from ages 6 months to 3 years over the past years. She’s also taught early childhood education classes to graduate students, so she bring a unique mix of experience and academic research to her work.
Laurie’s program, her home and her yard are nothing short of amazing. A few fond memories stand out:
- Walking in to her house during our first week there, and seeing four little people, sitting around the miniature table as if at a formal tea party. I remember thinking “This is unbelievable. She’s either a hypnotist or a magician!”
- The smell of delicious fresh-baked muffins.
- The fantastic toys and books: I’m not sure who enjoyed them more: my kids or me…
- Color-coordinated dishes, cutlery, bibs and chairs; Maia was blue; Kari was green.
- The fruit trees, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries. What better way to learn to walk — and to appreciate nature’s bounty?
- Coming in at nap time — to find everyone sleeping!
- The day when the potatoes were finally ready: watching the kids dig through the dirt pile to harvest, and then cook, mash and then eat them.
- Homemade hummus. Yum.
The first time I walked in the door of Laurie’s house blew my mind — and it still does every time I drop by to visit. Eleven years after my first visit, my daughters still enjoy dropping by, and we still feel lucky to have found Laurie’s House. — Steve G