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Family Spotlight: Emily Niehaus in Moab

by Britany Sproul

Interview with Emily Niehaus, homeschool mom and founder of Heron School

Guest writers are invited for their insights into different aspects of Homeschool Hub Utah's four pillars, which are to connect, empower, educate, and serve homeschooling families in Utah. While we feel each guest blogger's message will be helpful to homeschooling families, not all ideas presented by every guest blogger are officially endorsed by Homeschool Hub Utah.


Tell us about your family

My husband and I met in graduate school. He said, "Marry me, and move to Moab!" I had no idea what I was saying yes to. We were excited to build our relationship, have fun, and start our family. In February 2009 we had our son. (He’s just about to turn 14.) He’s an incredible kid. He has always been really smart and funny and fun. Huggable and loveable. And we always knew he was different from the other kids. After a very difficult 3rd grade year, we had him evaluated. We discovered that our son was on the autism spectrum.

Why did you begin to homeschool?

We started to experience challenges in public school for our son because of the environment of big classes that were just too overwhelming for him. When kids would talk with him he didn’t know if they were being nice or not nice. He’s on the spectrum. It became a bullying situation for him. He started to be afraid of going to school. He wasn’t learning. He was getting straight A’s but wasn’t challenged academically. He started coming home crying everyday from being overwhelmed. We had a meeting with all our teachers and the administration of the school and the special ed department, and we said we simply weren’t getting our needs met. I cried. It was a horrible breakup.

Why did you choose to live in Moab?

My husband said, “Look, we’re not moving. We love where we live.” He grew up moving a lot with his family and it was important to him to stay here. And I have fallen in love with living in Moab, too.

We need to cultivate the resources we want to see in our communities. It is really disheartening to hear rural legislators say if you can’t get your needs met in rural Utah, then you should move to the Wasatch Front. What a horrible thought. We should be building in rural communities, not deserting them. So I founded Heron School to serve a community I love.

We need to cultivate the resources we want to see in our communities.

Tell us about your micro school and why you started homeschooling:

I'm optimistic that there is room for people to collaborate for those who’ve decided that public school isn’t the right fit.

Heron School grew out of the idea of collaborating and working together with other parents to meet our kids’ needs together. There’s a lot of similarity between what we’re trying to do and what homeschool parents are trying to do.

For example, we have a parent who has been homeschooling her son because he needed more than the public school could provide. Her son’s giftedness has been a challenge for her. As her boy grew older, it became apparent they would not be able to serve all his educational needs. That’s why I launched Heron School: to collaborate with other parents. This model could work for many parents. We were all in the same boat trying to find the best education for our kids that supports their needs and builds on their strengths.

Can you give us a view into what a day in a micro school looks like?

A micro school is a beautiful thing - you can create the structure that fits the needs of the kids.

A day in the life of a student starts at 9am to provide for more time to get ready in the morning. Our students struggle with executive functioning and need more time for their routines. They can bike or walk to school, and the physical activity is helpful for their brains. Students have 2 classes each day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. School ends at 3pm. This allows for sports and after school activities with kids who do attend public school. Our students can be with friends and participate in activities in the community. No school on Friday. No school on weekends. No homework. Having Fridays off gives parents the opportunity during the school week to give their children time to deep dive int the subjects or activities they love. We use an AB schedule, where they have 2 unique classes on Monday and Wednesday (The "A" Days) and two unique classes on Tuesday and Thursday (The "B" Days). We have 3 Quarters, with 4 classes per quarter, which gives them 12 courses a year. Within those courses, at least a couple of them are independent study so the kiddos can take subjects that are really interesting to them. They are able to take 4 classes over each quarter, which are 10 weeks long. We build in a whole lot of breaks and a whole lot of space for learning and growing [You can look at the calendar on our website to see how it runs].

How does a micro school give kids more freedom in education?

A micro school can provide kids with what they need rather than a pre-set curriculum where they are not going to succeed. We can use the Common Core objectives and standards as guidelines instead of goal posts for our kids to learn the same things as kids in public school but in a way that will serve them best and accommodate their learning differences - building on their strengths instead of focusing on their challenges.

Homeschooling parents can feel pretty exhausted with the weight of coordinating resources in a small community as kids get older. It's really helpful to have someone lead and organize the coordination of education and extracurriculars. I was happy to step up and be that coordinator.

Question: If you could do it all over again, what would you change? (Tip for other beginning homeschoolers)

If I were going to do it all over again, I would have pulled my son from public school after 2nd grade to get his educational needs met at an earlier age through homeschooling.

Homeschooling parents are teachers. Most people just presume that with homeschooling there’s no teacher, but that is just false. Homeschooling parents are teachers, and they need support, too. Kudos to all the parents working hard to meet the educational needs of their kids!

Homeschooling parents are teachers, and they need support, too. Kudos to all the parents working hard to meet the educational needs of their kids!

If you know someone whose story in providing an education for their kids would be helpful for other parents to hear, please contact Britany Sproul at

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