Contributing Member Introductions

Hello, and welcome to the Honeybee Christian Co-op blog! Here we will post about co-op, our faith, homeschooling, parenting, and just whatever is on our hearts. We can’t wait to share all the fun and craziness that comes with homeschooling our crew! Here is a quick introduction of our contributing members!

Hello! My name ispulk49 Valerie,  and I am a catholic homeschooling mom of 2. I have an energetic 5-year-old boy and a sweet little 6-month-old girl. Giving birth within a week of starting our first official year of homeschooling has made things interesting, but we are so very blessed. In my “free”/me time I enjoy sewing, crafting, reading, watching Netflix, and all things Harry Potter. I’ve been married to my husband, Stephen, for 7 years now. As a family, we enjoy spending time outdoors, going to concerts, and just getting together with family and friends. My son has high functioning autism, so you will occasionally see me post about ASD or special needs topics. Our homeschooling style is very eclectic. We pull from Charlotte Mason, Reggio, Montessori, and Unit Study methods. The biggest thing I have taken away from our first year official year of schooling is that my son will learn things when he is ready, and trying to rush him will only cause both of us frustration.  I look forward to sharing our journey with you!

I’m Charity and I’m mom of 3 kids. They range from 1st grade down to 3 years old so I’m
charityconstantly balancing teaching different grades, keeping up with the house, and getting as much social time as we all love! I have been married for over 8 years and my husband and I were both homeschooled so to us the easiest choice at this point is to homeschool – but we know that any year that could change for any of our three kids. We moved here from out of state 2 years ago and from the beginning, Honeybee Christian Co-op has been our most profound circle of friends. I have learned so much from seeing the different teaching styles of other moms and having this close group of friends for my husband, kids and I to bounce ideas off of, encourage, and pray for. I live for playdates and love visiting playgrounds, libraries, or hosting random playdates at my house. I studied Marketing in college and sometimes do some small marketing jobs from home but most of my time is spent in keeping up with my kids and hanging out with friends at playdates.

Hi! I’m Melissa, wife, and Mama to 3, almost 4, littles. Ages 5,3,2 and one coming in June! Needless to say, our arms are full, but our hearts even more so! I had 0 intentions of homeschooling our kmelissaiddos, but the Lord has used countless ways to open my eyes and more importantly my heart to educating our children. I would say when it comes to homeschool style we are an eclectic family because Mama can’t seem to settle on any one idea or style. Ha! We love to learn through play and exploring the world around us. We love trying new things and meeting new people from all walks of life. I spend most of my time with my little family, but also enjoy studying God’s word, being an active member of my church’s women’s group, spending time with friends, all things crafty and supplementing our family budget with my small photography business. I’m looking forward to sharing about our experiences in homeschooling and hope they will help to encourage others, because if the Lord can equip me to do this, He can equip anyone!!!

Hello! I’m Katie, and I have four sweet little munchkins: triplet daughters who are six 6B382F4F-9D36-41CE-AF8B-5267D1884F03and one three-year-old son. I was homeschooled through high school graduation; my husband Jonathan was homeschooled for several years, as well. We passionately believe that home education is not simply something you can fall back on when running from other options; rather, home education offers so much to families, it is a choice to run toward! We love homeschooling for far too many reasons to list in a short paragraph, but I look forward to sharing some of those reasons with you in my posts! Our own homeschool, with three children finishing first grade and another entering preschool, is an eclectic blend of several styles, but overall, we lean toward the Charlotte Mason method. Our family is very social and we greatly enjoy getting together with friends. I love being with my family and most of my interests flow out of that. I am passionate about quality children’s literature!! I also enjoy reading, writing, hiking with my little family, and encouraging others with the truth of God’s Word. I’m excited about being part of this blog and I hope you are encouraged by it!

30264629_10103714902822104_4075783883545640960_oKaitlin is a homeschooling mama and part-time speech therapist and autism researcher. She and her husband Ted, the fisheries biologist, have four children ages 7 and under. Neither of them were homeschooled or had any experience with homeschoolers growing up, but knew early on in their dating relationship that it was the plan God had for their family. Homeschooling in these early years consists of morning prayers and Bible readings, nature hikes and outdoor adventures, lots of family read alouds, and occasionally a math or phonics lesson. She loves Charlotte Mason, audiobooks, and firmly believes that Cindy Rollins is correct and “reading aloud and narration cover a multitude of sins.”

Hope you enjoyed getting to know us a little better!

Spring Recap 2018

As an adult you take warm weather for granted… until it’s January or February and you have four small children trapped inside. You can’t play outside because it’s so frigidly cold. Parks are out. Indoor play places are nice, but usually crawling with some type of crazy flu germs, so you tend to stay away. Well for the McNeal crew, we have co-op to break the monotony of staring at our walls at home. Once a week we get to go enjoy time with friends and learn!

This spring semester was months of fun and new things for our co-op. We enjoyed new members, new classes, and new ways of doing things. We would like to think that we as a co-op are always open to suggestion and change, and that we will benefit from everyone’s ideas.

Our pre-k and nursery class stayed very similar to the fall for subject matter, but our older classes changed it up and got some new learning material.

With Mrs. Valerie, the boys and girls enjoyed a handicrafts class where they were able to learn about and practice skills like embroidery, clay molding, jewelry making, rock painting, soap carving, floral arranging, and many more!

The elementary aged kiddos also participated in a South America study with Mrs. Charity. They studied a new South American country each week, and every child prepared a presentation on a country of their choice. It was such a great opportunity for the kids to take some ownership of what they wanted to talk about and to start building their public speaking skills! On the last day of co-op the two elementary classes combined and cooked an entire Latin meal for all of co-op to enjoy! Here are some pictures of the fun they had!

The third class that was offered was an intro to science class. I came home hearing about chicken life cycles, how our digestive system works, and what vinegar and baking soda do when combined! Mrs. Sarah, their teacher, did a fantastic job even while being very pregnant! We’re thankful to have had willing moms to jump in when Sarah was gone on maternity leave.

27624582_10103587647432924_3144263055191305466_o

Pre-k had so much fun with Mrs. Lauren and Mrs. Katie. They learned about servanthood and washed each other’s feet. They learned about stars and made constellations with tooth picks and marshmallows, and they topped their great year off with some pretty popular visitors. Two of the MTSU Blue Raider basketball players were able to come read, play, and help out with an end of the year field day! I think the kids loved having these special visitors and especially enjoyed having extra adults to play with them! Below are some highlights from the preschool class this semester.

Mrs. Jessica and her helpers in the nursery class are amazing, to say the least. Teaching a class of students whose ages span three years, especially infants to 3.5 year olds, can be extremely challenging, but they took it in stride! With fun activities like acting like different types of animals each week, singing songs, adding in some arts and crafts when possible and lots of outside time in the warmer weather, the nursery kiddos were sure to have fun!

To watch children who started out as strangers at the beginning of the year leave co-op nine months later as the best of friends is more fulfilling than I could have imagined. We had a great spring semester this year and I can’t wait to see what next year holds!

-Melissa

 

To the Reluctant Second Generation Homeschooler

“Respond, don’t react.”

“Respond, Katie, don’t react.”

If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. It seems like my mother spent half of my childhood reminding me to be mindful of my choices instead of reacting unwisely and impulsively. Now that I’m a mother myself I often find the same caution on my own lips. More than that, I hear Mom’s voice in my head. And I’ve discovered that the same advice applies to homeschooling too.

It’s like any other aspect of parenting; so much of what we choose to do is based at least in part on our own experiences growing up. Again I hear Mom’s mantra, “Respond, don’t react.” Suppose a mother remembers feeling suffocated by her parents’ restrictions when she was a child. In reaction to that frustrating memory, she declares her child will never be told “no.” That’s not a well-considered response. It’s not searching out which boundaries are actually good for her child, but considering only how far away she can get from the overly zealous boundaries she experienced herself.

Unfortunately, I know a number of adults who were homeschooled at some point during their childhood, disliked the experience for various reasons, and have determined that because they didn’t appreciate some aspects of their own home education, they will not even consider homeschooling their children. None of these friends were abused or neglected in any way. Some of them didn’t like their curriculum; others detested the busywork that took up so much time. I’ve heard people complain about the homeschool groups they were a part of, and I’ve heard people say they always wished they had the opportunity to be part of a homeschool group. Some felt their studies were too rigorous; others wished their parents would have pushed them harder. I’m going to be honest here: not everyone’s homeschooling experience is rainbows and sunshine. But I also know that children don’t always see everything clearly, and that holding fast to mistaken childish opinions after reaching adulthood rarely leads us to good decisions. It’s just another way to react impulsively instead of responding appropriately.

“Respond, don’t react.” This well-worn saying goes for second generation homeschoolers too. Our education choices should never be simply a knee-jerk reaction to our own memories. But we can- and should!- carefully consider our background as we determine what is best for our families. Experience can be a wonderful teacher if you’re willing to learn from it responsibly instead of just tossing it aside. You’re the adult now with the freedom to make your own decisions concerning your children’s education. That video teaching program you hated so much it seems to darken every homeschooling memory you have? Guess what, you don’t have to use that with your children! The same goes with the schedule your mother liked but you didn’t, the poetry group you just couldn’t get interested in, the math curriculum that made math harder than it needed to be. Every single aspect of homeschooling can be altered to fit your family.

There’s a wealth of resources and groups that just weren’t around when we were kids. There’s also a wealth of experienced homeschoolers to learn from. Even if you want to forget everything you did as a homeschooler, you don’t have to start from scratch.  Truthfully, our kids’ experiences will be completely different from our own whether we try to make them the same or not. But remember that’s a good thing. You get to decide what works best for you as the parent as well as what works best for your kids.

 My husband and I are friends with a couple who did their best to avoid homeschooling for several years due only to the fact that the previously homeschooled father was holding on to some bitterness over his own experience as a child. Finally, though, the family was put in a position where their only feasible choice was homeschooling, and even then they began very reluctantly. But by the end of the first year they were hooked. That was a number of years ago now and they’re still homeschooling. And due in large part to their influence, some of their friends began homeschooling too. It turns out that home education is more customizable than our friends initially believed. I hope you realize that can be the case for your family too.

Maybe you didn’t love homeschooling when you were a kid. Maybe your bad memories have made you determined to never homeschool your own kids. But as you consider next year’s educational choices for your children, take a deep breath and relax. Put homeschooling back on the list of possibilities and make the choice to respond carefully and wisely to your experiences instead of reacting out of fear or frustration or bitterness. You’ll be better equipped to make a well-informed decision. And you’ll make my mom so proud.

– Katie

 

Reflections from a Second Generation Homeschooler

Thanks for checking back with us! I hope you’ll enjoy this second half of our little series on how second generation homeschoolers’ experiences affect their educational choices for their children. The first half can be found here.


     My homeschooling experience began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when I was starting fourth grade. My parents had answered a call to be missionaries in the great city, and my mom homeschooled me and my older sister while we lived there (my brother was in college). She had homeschooled my siblings off and on since I was a baby, so she was quite comfortable with it by the time she started teaching me. When we eventually returned to the States, we continued homeschooling all the way through our high school graduations. To say that my own homeschooling days have affected the way my husband and I educate our children now would be an understatement.

    In many ways, second generation homeschoolers have an advantage over parents who were never homeschooled themselves. There isn’t a book, blog, YouTube video, or podcast that can speak as loudly as the voice of experience. And I appreciate that. I joke sometimes that my college degrees didn’t actually prepare me for my life, but the truth is that homeschooling did prepare me, no matter how much my children’s education differs from my own.

     At the very least, my homeschooling experience saved me from any anxiety I might have otherwise felt when my oldest kids reached school age. Since our dating days, my husband (who was homeschooled for a short time) and I knew that we would choose this kind of education for our children. We were confident in and content with our choice; there was no wrestling over what to do when the time came. The thought of homeschooling was never overwhelming. It was normal.

     But both second and first generation homeschoolers have in common the tendency to compare our own educations with what we’re providing to our kids. I’ve heard countless first generation homeschoolers talk about the first time they realized that homeschooling does not mean imitating public or private school at home. This often came after many struggles that were direct results of their initial attempts to force homeschooling to be “school at home.” Guess what? Second generation homeschoolers experience a similar phenomenon, but instead of rebuilding traditional classroom expectations in our homeschool, we tend to expect that our kids’ education will look a certain way based off what we remember from our own childhoods. And just like first generation homeschoolers, we end up realizing at some point that our children’s schooling won’t look like what we imagined in the beginning, and that’s okay.

     When Mom was homeschooling us kids twenty and thirty years ago, the vast majority of the options we have today simply didn’t exist. And when I began looking into what was available for my own family, I was amazed. The incredible variety of curriculum and resources was spread like a feast before my eyes, but I found that I gravitated to the same things that I’d used as a child. And when my daughters were only in kindergarten, I had my first opportunity to recognize that their education wouldn’t be the same as mine- and to acknowledge that that was good.

     I have one daughter who is hard-wired pretty much like me. In addition to her, I’ve got three other wonderful children who are all as different from each other as they can get in regards to temperament, personality, and ability. I learned early on that our homeschool days were going to look vastly different from my own memories. I was six grades behind my older sister, whereas my children are triplets plus one more three years younger. Obviously, our experiences would be different. That one daughter who’s so much like me? She had no trouble at all with enthusiastically jumping into the same routines and resources I used as a kid. Those other two daughters who are so different from her (and me)? Not exactly a perfect fit for them. I had to learn how to determine ways to meet all their needs as well as how to mold it all together to fit our whole family (including little brother). And after three years now (counting pre-K), you could look at my childhood homeschooling compared to my children’s homeschooling and find very few similarities. Not because I had a poor education by any means, but because our homeschool has evolved from an imitation of my memories into something that fits who we are as a family, taking into consideration everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and learning styles, including my own. It’s not the same thing that I did, but for my kids, it’s better because it meets them where they are and draws them forward.

     I look at my son sometimes and wish that some of the things his older sisters enjoyed due to their being my first babies were available to him too. But then I see how his sisters play with him and read to him and cuddle him, and I’m halfway sorry they don’t have an older sibling to dote on them! Each of my children’s experiences growing up in our family will be unique, and the same is true for homeschooling. Their education isn’t going to be the exact same as each other’s, and it certainly won’t be the same as mine. But that’s just one of the many benefits of homeschooling. Each child’s journey is as unique as he or she is.

     As I grow more experienced as a homeschool mom, I am more and more grateful to my own mother and others like her who were working hard to figure out homeschooling long before it was considered a popular – or even acceptable – choice. My education served me very well and led to unique opportunities, great success in jobs and college, and a firm foundation on which to build my family’s own homeschooling culture. I have experienced personally what a blessing this kind of education can be in every aspect of life, and I’m confident that when my children are grown they will say the same thing.

– Katie 


     Charity and Katie obviously enjoyed their homeschooling years as children. But that isn’t the case for everyone. Next week we’ll have a follow up piece for former homeschoolers who have rejected homeschooling as an option for their children because of their negative experiences with it. I hope it will offer some much-needed encouragement and a refreshing perspective.

 

Homeschooling by the Homeschooled

     Thirty years ago, families who chose to homeschool in the U.S. were few and far between. Just as the homeschooling movement has grown, though, so have those children whose parents taught them at home before it was popular. They’re adults now, having families of their own, and many of them are making the choice to homeschool their children too. We have a few of these second generation homeschoolers in our co-op, and two of them have written a short series on how being homeschooled as children has affected the ways they homeschool their own kids now.


    My husband and I were watching a movie last week and the word detention was13450087_10153806979263823_5650168592609421699_n mentioned in reference to high school. I looked over at him and asked, “What exactly is detention? Is it just staying late after school or does it include extra jobs or homework?” He had no idea either… we just both knew it was some kind of punishment. We’re both in our 30’s and I have a double major from college, so there is really only one answer for our ignorance – we were both homeschooled.

     My husband and I were both homeschooled from birth through high school. In my case, my father was even homeschooled from third grade through high school. So my background is a little different from that of most of my generation. I joke that homeschooling is the reason why I know the voices (and songs) of Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, and the Statler Brothers – they are from my grandparent’s generation. My father grew up listening to them at home on records, I grew up with them on tapes, and my kids can hear them from YouTube. 😉 Here are some of the things I appreciate about homeschooling first hand (and try to pass on to my kids) because I was homeschooled myself.

Homeschooling Takes Away Some of the Peer Pressures

     To me, this music passed down through generations is a symbol of something I love about homeschooling. When you homeschool your children, they learn their values and culture and morals from you first, instead of predominantly from their peers. I never had to deal with sexting, constant peer pressure, or underage drinking as a teenager, and I don’t think I missed out on anything!  I can still hold conversations with my peers; in fact, I can hold conversations with people of any age.  As a 10 year old, I would argue with adults on why my homeschool education was still a good education – and they’d stop arguing pretty quickly. One of my best friends when I was ages 6-14 was a man in his older 80’s who I would sit with every Sunday morning after church. He taught me about flowers and poetry and told me what it was like to see horse-drawn fire engines in the old days. What better way to learn history!

     Now, don’t get me wrong, I still had many friends my own age growing up (and still do) and I valued getting together with friends as much as I could. The years that my family was a part of a co-op (where homeschoolers come together to teach different classes once a week) were my favorite ones by far, and I do feel that my teen years were sadly lacking in a social life. However, I have never blamed that on homeschooling. I had many other homeschooled friends who did youth group, weekly co-ops, and other things with their friends on a regular basis. This generation makes a teen social life even easier to set up so I don’t think my kids will lack in that as they get older, either. In homeschooling my children, I just help their first introduction to life, morals, and culture be through me instead of from peer pressure.

Homeschooling is Student-Focused

     My education as a homeschooler was unlike any other – unlike my siblings’, unlike my peers’, and probably not exactly like any other child’s education in this generation either. Even as my parents’ first child, my parents learned quickly that a benefit to homeschooling was to teach each child according to his own abilities and interests. I never took Algebra II in high school; it was beyond my understanding and we didn’t have a good tutor at the time. So instead I studied Chemistry and Geometry after Algebra I in high school and my liberal arts college started me a class lower in math than a typical business major starts with. I caught up when I needed to and learned to love math from my college teachers. I’ve known many students from public school with this same problem – only they had still taken Algebra II in high school but couldn’t understand it, so they got a pass from their teachers. I can add, subtract, multiply, and divide in my head as fast as or faster than most people I know, and I’m not sure that I even use Algebra II in my life at all!

     I have a strong background in mythology, poetry, and literature because I love it! My Mom would turn on classical composers’ biographies and music during lunch, and took us to the National Gallery of Art dozens of times to see her favorite Impressionist Artists. I was reading by kindergarten and writing poems for fun by first grade. I have written and published poems and business articles, and helped publish two business books, and my focus on reading and writing while growing up has helped me in this.

     My mother’s style of homeschooling was to create her curriculum from different companies and mesh them together for each child. Certain curriculums she used for all five of her kids, and others, like math, she would change up, trying to find the right one for each child. I copy her in this way a lot. I use Sing, Spell, Read, and Write for kindergarten and first grade language arts. I use Math-U-See for math, Apologia for science, Story of the World for history, various things for Bible, various things for Spanish, and throw in a lot of random music, art, and hymn appreciation. My first child, S, loves engineering, so we’ve studied things like “How Things Work” and mechanics with him. My second child, N, loves art, so I got her a new art curriculum for next year and I’m constantly getting out craft stuff for her to use. My youngest, P, is in pre-k and loves puzzles, so I’ve been doing more puzzles with him for learning his numbers and letters. Homeschooling individually for my child is just second nature to me because it is how I was raised.

Homeschooling Isn’t A Huge Unknown 

    Ispeak I imagine that most homeschooling parents are wondering if they can do it, if their kid can succeed, find a job, and make their own place in the world with “just” a homeschool education. I remember my mother talking this over with her friends, so I know the fear is real. I also remember the first year of high school when my mom was in a frenzy to make sure I got all my credits in – so I completed over 1/3rd of them in 9th grade. 😉 I remember the visible relief in my mother’s face when I graduated high school and my mom knew she could do it – and had. I don’t feel that same fear in myself though. Yes, of course, I wonder if I’m raising my kids right – doesn’t every mom? But whether homeschooling makes that possible is absolutely no question in my mind. I know enough homeschoolers from my generation that I have seen succeed beautifully in so many different ways because of homeschooling, not in spite of it.

     My background of being homeschooled myself has given me many tools for my own children to help them grow their values, explore their interests, and thrive in their lives. My hope is that homeschooling continues to be the right choice for our family, and that this generation we are raising can build even higher on the shoulders of our own.

– Charity


I hope you enjoyed Charity’s perspective! Check back next week for the second half of this short series! Found here.

The Miracle of Manners

30073725_10103710984883684_376941394_oMy husband and I have spent our entire married life in the South (first Mississippi, then Florida, and finally Tennessee) but that doesn’t negate the first two decades we spent up “north” in Missouri. When I graduated from college and moved to Mississippi to start my first job, I received a crash course in how to behave in this world that was so new to me. One thing I learned (and quickly!) was to say “ma’am” about 300 times a day.

I adapted quickly and it soon became a habit. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am. No, sir,” and “Ma’am?” (my personal favorite used in place of the incredibly rude “huh?”). Not being a born and raised Southerner, however, means that I didn’t mind if people forgot to use this form of respect when speaking to me. It’s still a tad foreign to me even after all these years. We have never taught or expected our children to use “ma’am” or “sir” because none of the other adults in our families expected it. In fact, outside of the South it can be seen as rude and make people feel offended and as if you think they’re old!

This worked for our family and I never gave it much thought…..until that wonderful day we were introduced to Honeybee Christian Co-op. I knew from the first five minutes we had found our “people” here in our new town. I loved the mission, the moms, the children, the classes, the camaraderie, and the support. We joined immediately. The kids were thrilled and “wished every day was co-op!” (That’s called school, kids, and I promise you it’s not as fun as your co-op!) As we attended the classes and interacted with the other families, I suddenly became aware of how un-Southern my children were, despite their Southern births! Nary a “ma’am” escaped their lips when the other moms spoke to them. I was a little embarrassed even though all the moms were very gracious and no one but myself seemed bothered.

I tried requiring this new language in our home, but it was a hard habit to teach. They weren’t trying to be rude, but I was suddenly aware of all the “no’s, yes’s,” and “huh’s” that peppered their language, and it began to grate on my nerves. After a few weeks of trying to reinforce new manners I wasn’t seeing any progress. Then, like most of my finest parenting moments, I blurted out without even thinking, “Every time I hear you say ‘ma’am’ you get a penny!” That did it. That was all it took. Within one day their language had completely changed. After three days the babysitter noticed a drastic difference. Two weeks later their co-op teachers told me how polite and obedient they were in class. I was shocked and elated.

Even though it had only been important to me in light of their co-op teachers, I came to appreciate these manners for myself. And then something surprising happened. Simply saying “yes, ma’am” actually led to prompter, more cheerful obedience. When I called them and heard “ma’am?” in return, I began to speak more respectfully to them as well.

“Paul!”

“Ma’am?”

“Have you brushed your teeth?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Please go do that now.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Followed by actually getting up and going to brush his teeth!

To which I reply, “Three pennies, bud! Way to go!”

It’s a far cry from our previous way of speaking to each other.

“Paul!”

“Huh?”

“Did you brush your teeth?”

“No.”

“Go do it.”

“Ok.” Followed by not actually getting up and going to do it until I repeat myself.

Requiring our children to use these words has truly transformed our family. We are all more respectful, gentler, and kinder. There is less yelling. Less repeating. Less frustration. I can’t believe all it took was a few dollars’ worth of pennies. After a few weeks we brought home rolls of pennies from the bank and dished out their rewards. Each child has enough to buy two whole things from the Dollar Tree, and they thought it was Christmas in April. I didn’t even actually count as it would have been too difficult, but no one seemed to mind as they placed their pennies in their piggy banks one at a time. Gradually we will fade this reward system away, but I have no problem using it for now.

If your family isn’t in the “yes, ma’am” habit, I encourage you to give it a try! Not just because old fashioned Southern people think you should, but because it will foster a more respectful and positive atmosphere in your home. Just like sweet tea, college football, and wearing your Sunday best for church, using “ma’am” and “sir” is one thing the South definitely gets right.

But don’t expect us to start calling soda “coke” any time soon. No, sir!

– Kaitlin

Autism Awareness Day

29939343_10101318383062098_1400571782_nI knew I wanted to write a post for Autism Awareness day, but I had no clue what direction I wanted to take. While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a spectrum, so too are my thoughts and emotions when I reflect on our journey with it. When reading Sarah’s beautiful series on Down Syndrome, I had a moment of pause. My thoughts on ASD are not nearly as pretty, so if you’re looking for uplifting sunshine, you might just go read her posts instead. That’s not to say there isn’t happiness in what I’m about to say, but it’s more in the form of a rainbow, which comes after a storm. Let’s get to it.

Here’s what autism was/is for my family…

– Autism is your child learning to speak in a therapist’s office after a year of twice-a-week speech appointments. Followed by 6 months of just echolalia (simply repeating what he hears). Followed by even more speech therapy.

-Autism is meltdown after meltdown over any number of things. (When I say meltdown, I’m talking 40 mins of screaming, crying, thrashing, hitting, biting, etc. that can happen anywhere at any moment, for example the grocery store checkout.)

-Autism is practicing everything. Every possible situation. (ex, watching someone else open presents for a birthday party, leaving a playground, how to introduce yourself, how to have a back and forth conversation, family gatherings.)

-Autism is pushing your child outside of his box even though it makes you just as nervous as it does him.

-Autism is watching your child struggle through things other kids pick up instantly and watching him practice twice as hard.

-Autism is LOATHING meal time because you child doesn’t eat anything. (Started as sensory aversion, but at this point it is definitely behavioral.)

-Autism is living in anxiety while you watch your second child develop. Waiting to see if you are going to go down that path…. Again.

-Autism is apologizing for your child’s behavior, again, when you get those stares in public…. And occasionally from family.

-Autism is turning down invitations because the environment isn’t a place where your child would thrive. Canceling last minute because your child is having an off day. Leaving early to avoid making a scene.

-Autism is going over the budget, again, trying to figure out how to afford Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, Extracurriculars, and living expenses…. For possibly 2 children instead of one.

Then again….

-Autism is REJOICING over the moment when your child said his first thought (not echolalia, not a repeated phrase he learned), and you still remember it 2 years later (“Dad, I like your hair cut”).

-Autism is CONQUERING meltdown after meltdown, finding ways to help your child cope with the world around him. (And perfecting that hold that gives your child the input needed to help him calm quicker.)

-Autism is LEARNING how to tap in to your child’s amazingly unique brain and help him develop, and learning to appreciate his obsessions and passions (presidents, specifically Abraham Lincoln).

-Autism is GROWING through the struggles, checking off goals one by one!

-Autism is APPRECIATING the little things and big moments. Like how God provides month after month to help keep those supports in place.

-Autism is ACCEPTING your child with all his strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, and teaching everyone about ASD to help them accept others as well.

-Autism is LOVING through the puzzle that is ASD. Loving the extra time you get to spend with your children. Loving the extra hugs and snuggles they want for sensory input. Loving their lack of filter in the most inappropriate moments. Loving the moments of random eye contact.

Autism and I definitely have a love-hate relationship. Some days I can appreciate all the things I listed, but then other mornings I have lots of dark and twisty thoughts about how life isn’t fair. These thoughts have been intensified lately as we are possibly going down this road again with my daughter. Won’t you join me in praying for them and all families affected by autism?

– Valerie

What We Learned At Co-op Last Fall – and what my kids still remember!

My family’s main reason for attending our home school co-op is not education. That’s because our main goals of attending a co-op are to have a community of fellow homeschoolers, teach my kids to respect others, and to have a group to strive with in our journey. However, we always learn a ton!

In the past three years at HB, we have learned a lot from our co-op friends, but for this article I thought I’d focus on just what we learned last fall and what my kids have still retained.

I have three kids ages 4, 6, and 8; they just had their birthdays so that means Pre-K, Kindergarten and Second Grade.

Pre-K Class29258024_10105257179232855_8206849077137113088_n

I’ll start with my youngest in Pre-K. P started the school year very excited to be with his friends (as always) but also behind in most school subjects. This school year, P’s class focused on a new letter each week, a Bible story, crafts, and lots of play time. P started the school year barely knowing his colors, not counting, and not knowing his alphabet. We started working on the same letter as his weekly co-op class when the year started and he sometimes begrudgingly, sometimes happily, complied in the beginning. Today though, he can go down the alphabet and name almost every sound. He also has started pulling out his preschool work every day (besides co-op day) to ask me to help him with his letters and numbers.

At the beginning of the school year, I was usually told that the letter of the week was “B” and he remembered nothing else (and “B” was obviously only the letter of the week one time). Now since the end of last semester, I’ve been told what the Bible story is, the correct letter, and he runs up to me after class to proudly display his craft and explain it. I’m extremely grateful for all the love and hard work his teachers have poured into his classroom and I think it really shows in him!

Kindergarten Classes

N is also one of the youngest in her class but was super excited to start school again, like she always is. N loves learning and wants to be capable of doing everything her older brother can – right now! The three classes N took last fall were “USA Geography,” “Creative Writing,” and “Legos.”

 USA Geography – K

N can still recite most of her states and capitals from USA Geography and has a better idea of geography in general than she did before the class. The best experience she had in the class, though, was doing her own 1-3 minute presentation. N has a hard time in new places or with strangers around. She did a great job though, and at the end of her presentation the class all clapped and congratulated her (like they do for each student) and she was all smiles. N was so excited about last fall’s presentation that she offered to do her spring presentation during our open house day – with new strangers coming! Having her friends support her efforts has helped her gain confidence in this area.

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Lego Class – K

N took more time assembling Legos in her Lego class than most of the other students, so that was a challenge at times. However, by the end of the semester she was super proud of herself and her imagination in her Lego creations!  N has been even more creative when playing with her Legos now and has more confidence that she can do Legos on her own instead of having her older brother help her.

Creative Writing – K

N also had a creative writing class which she loved!  She has a clear concept of what a noun, verb, and subject are now, as well as how capitalization and punctuation are used in sentences. By the time I went over those concepts in her language arts curriculum, she already knew it! This class was a great way for her to get this reinforced at an early age by another teacher; she loved creating her writing notebook and thinking up stories.

1st/2nd Grade Classes

S is the oldest in his class and loves anything STEM-based but often struggles with writing. The three classes he took last fall were also USA Geography, Creative Writing, and Legos, but in higher level classes.

USA Geography – 1st/2nd

The best part of Geography class for S was the word recognition needed when we did a state/capital relay race. The teams had to run to match the capital flashcards with the states. It was great for him to have other students at different reading levels (half of them ahead of him in reading) to help inspire him to work harder on his reading skills! S has come really far in reading this school year and I think the inspiration of fellow students has helped him a lot.

Creative Writing – 1st/2nd 21317478_519017234000_9098193604200211416_n

S does not enjoy writing, so it was great for him (and me) that he had another teacher and a classroom setting to inspire creative writing. His teacher seemed to know just how far to push him. He never came home unhappy with the class and always remembered the grammar rules they were going over. I’m sure that having other students with him in that class helped him enjoy it more, and I know it helped him a lot with the concepts of sentence structure.

Legos – 1st/2nd

S has always loved Legos, but before this Lego class he had always refused to make anything with his Legos that wasn’t in the included instruction book.  So I wasn’t sure how it would go. Well, S loved it and learned a lot. He is now combining his Lego sets and literally making his own Lego action transformers – giving them moving parts that twist and turn into different characters. He also is designing his own cars, cranes, and much more. It’s almost like the Lego class helped his creativity catch up to his love of engineering.

Andrew Pudewa once said at a homeschool conference, “The best way to teach a child is to teach them about something they are excited about; the second best way is to teach them about something you are excited about.” Honeybee helps me find that excitement for my kids about topics that I may not love and my kids may not love, but someone else does and can give them that excitement. This is only one of many things that I love about having a co-op – giving my kids more reasons to love learning!

– Charity

 

What March 21st Means to Me (2018)

28945247_520592162830_405684227_oThis World Down Syndrome Day, our Luke is 5 years old! The past couple of years have been both challenging and rewarding. In my experience, ages 4-5 are the “terrible twos of Down syndrome.” This child is into everything! Teaching boundaries has been tough, and to make the job tougher, Luke is bigger, stronger, and more experienced than any typical 2-year-old, which means he can get into that much more trouble. We’ve had to take “baby-proofing” to an advanced level with this one.

But there is always progress! It’s slow progress, but he is surely maturing and learning and growing. Most helpful is his newfound use of consistent language. It has improved by leaps and bounds this past year! We can now ask him questions. He verbalizes many of his needs. He uses our names. He tells us he loves us. We still have a long way to go to be fully able to communicate verbally, but what a blessing this growth has been! To be able to hear some of what is on his little mind has been an answer to prayer and a wish come true. I can’t wait for him to learn more so we, in turn, can learn more too.

When you learn that your child has a disability, I think most parents anticipate the challenges. I know I did. I worried and wondered (and still do sometimes). I expected that some things would be harder because of it. But what I didn’t expect were the blessings. Of course I knew that Luke himself was a blessing, but I had no idea that his diagnosis of Trisomy 21-Down syndrome would open so many opportunities and connect us with so many people. These are people I would not have met and groups I would not be a part of otherwise!

Take, for example, our homeschool co-op. I chose it specifically because it is special-needs inclusive. Knowing that all of my kids could attend and learn and make friends is what drew me to it. And what a blessing it has been for us! We’ve all formed wonderful friendships and received love and support that we likely would have missed out on had it not been for Luke and his needs. It’s amazing how God plans and lays out our path for us.

Equally amazing to me is how positively having Luke’s needs have affected our other kids. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of challenges there too, but not in the ways I initially worried. I worried about jealousy or others feeling left out or not understanding why he is sometimes treated differently or given extra attention. But having a sibling with special needs has only increased their awareness and acceptance of others with differences. It’s given them a comfort level well beyond any I ever had as a kid. As our circle of friends has grown to include more and more families with kids who have varying needs, I witness time and time again how loving, compassionate, and understanding my own kids are. And I feel like I can’t take credit for that. They’ve learned something well beyond what I could teach them. God is teaching them bigger things through their brother with Down syndrome.

Lately I’ve been hearing other parents of kids with Down syndrome refer to us as “The Lucky Few.” They’re using a symbol of three small aligned arrows to represent the third copy of the chromosome and to also represent the strength that we find when we are pulled back even farther than we think we can handle. 1 in 700. Approximately 1 in 700 babies in the US is born with Down syndrome. Hitting that jackpot was not something I ever anticipated, and I can most certainly feel myself being stretched and challenged on a daily basis by this 5-year-old in his “terrible twos,” but they’re absolutely right in comparing it to an arrow on a bow string. The further you allow yourself to get stretched and pulled back, the stronger you become and the farther you can fly. With each obstacle that we overcome together with Luke as a parent, a sibling, a family, we grow that much stronger. We need him more than he needs us-in so many ways this is true. Not just for our family, but for the world. The world needs people with Down syndrome and all other varying abilities so God can teach us the bigger lessons. So in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day this year, I will continue my attempts to “advance baby proof” to teach Luke his boundaries. I will continue to try to allow myself to be stretched beyond what I think I can do in order to meet his needs. And I will leave the rest to Luke and let him continue to teach us the bigger, more important lessons-the ones God knows our world needs. That’s what this March 21st means to me.

– Sarah

(Click here for the posts from 2014 and 2016.)

 

World Down Syndrome Day (2016)

28945422_520541234890_994591471_oThis year, March 21st finds our little guy at three years old. And it finds our family with a little more knowledge, a little more experience, and always so much to learn.

What has it meant to live with someone with Down syndrome this past year?

It has meant appreciating the village. The village of support we have is beyond what I ever could have dreamed. From his teachers and therapists to our family and friends, and even beyond to acquaintances and strangers, our interactions regarding having a child with Down syndrome are overwhelmingly positive. My favorite part of the village however, has to be Luke’s siblings. I’ve seen variations of this quote: “If you want to know how to treat someone with special needs, watch their siblings.” It is so true! Few things make my heart happier than to witness this. They meet him right where he is and then treat him with the same love, compassion, playfulness, and annoyance as their other siblings. With them, there’s no underlying therapeutic motive, and there’s no extra attention because he has a disability. With his siblings, he can most perfectly experience what life is like as a typical kid. More than anything, this is what I want for him! And this circle of siblings is the most blessed foundation for that.

It has also meant slowing down. Life is busy and life is fast. I often find myself too preoccupied with my daily tasks to stop and notice the little things. I have a hard time slowing myself down. Luke naturally takes things a little slower, and when I let him, Luke slows me down too.

Recently we took the kids on a little road trip. We stopped at a rest area to stretch our legs and it happened to sit along a portion of one of Tennessee’s scenic rivers. We all hiked down a small hill to adventure for a bit. On the way back up, the other kids took off running. Luke stuck close to me and Steven as he maneuvered the uneven terrain. I was tempted to pick him up and carry him so we could catch up to the others, but we really wanted him to stretch his legs before getting back in the car. So we let him walk. We let him be a little slower and we slowed down with him. And slowing down allowed me to see. It allowed me to see the way Jacob exactly followed the path his big brother and sister took. It allowed me to see how the rays of the setting sun streamed over them as they crested the top of the hill. It allowed me to breath in deeply the smells of early spring flowing from the river and its surrounding foliage. And it allowed me a chance to grasp my husband’s hand and just simply be in that moment with my family.

This past year I’ve discovered that Down syndrome means slowing down life just a little so we can walk it next to Luke, and what a beautiful blessing that is!

I’m sure I could write more, as we are constantly learning, but these are the highlights! This journey is not without its moments of frustration, but it is truly one of love, blessings, and celebration. And we got to celebrate a few big milestones this year! Sleeping in a big boy bed, participating in his first Buddy Walk, finally getting all of his teeth, saying “mama”…

It has been a blessed year with our Luke and we are so grateful that we get to share our lives with this person, who just happens to also have Down syndrome.

– Sarah

 

What March 21st Means to Me (2014)

19885592_520541229900_1095371686_oMarch 21st is World Down Syndrome Day. A year ago I had no idea such a day existed, let alone that I had a sweet, little two-month-old reason to be recognizing it, celebrating it. Last March 21st, we were in the beginning stages of noticing that our baby seemed to have a few little “challenges” that we would eventually learn were related to low muscle tone. Last March 21st, he was just barely starting to regress on the growth charts. Last March 21st, I had no earthly clue that our perfectly behaved baby was 4 months away from being diagnosed with the very thing I wasn’t aware was being celebrated that day. Last March 21st I had no idea I was living with, caring for, and absolutely in love with someone with Down syndrome.

Reflecting on this past year brings to mind so much. It reminds me of the uncertainty-the unanswered questions before the diagnosis. Why is he so small? Why can’t he sit up or even hold his head up well? Why does he have this funny breathing problem? Then came the discussions with the pediatrician when he was 4 months old, then 5 months, then the decision to draw blood for tests. The uncertainty continued as all she would say was “we’re doing a chromosome analysis.” Then the test results were delayed. We had to wait for weeks-trying not to worry…

Perhaps I was naive. Maybe I should have been expecting it, but hearing the doctor say: “We got the test results back and they did show something; Luke has Down syndrome” hit me like a ton of bricks. I literally felt my stomach drop and my head spin. My eyes immediately started to sting and it took every bit of strength in me to hold it together in that exam room. Steven simply said, “Okay, what do we need to do?” He’s amazing. I remember the doctor discussing some of the possible health issues we needed to be aware of; she had already scheduled appointments at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to have his eyes and heart checked. Suddenly my baby could have heart defects, thyroid issues, hearing or vision loss. “I know it’s a lot to take in, but do you have any questions?” All I could do was shake my head “no,” still barely holding it together. Steven spoke when I couldn’t. Then the nurses came in to draw blood to check his thyroid levels (another common health concern for people with DS). Steven held him as they poked his tiny arms trying to find a vein. I watched from the corner of the room through burning and blurry eyes. “Downs babies tend to be a hard stick” I heard one nurse tell the other. I know she didn’t mean anything by it, but my emotions were raw and hearing that comment was one if the toughest moments I’ve experienced since receiving his diagnosis. That was the first moment he was actually labeled as special needs. That was the moment it started to become real.

During my special ed classes in college, I remember my teacher stressing the importance of person-first language. She taught us not to speak of a “downs baby” or an “autistic child.” We were to speak of babies with Down syndrome, and children with Autism. And I learned it, but it wasn’t until that moment in the doctor’s office that I understood it. Luke wasn’t a “Downs baby,” he was MY baby. He was the same happy, sweet, 6-month-old who we had brought into the doctor’s office a couple hours prior. He was still Luke.

The next couple of days were really hard on me. Once we were alone in the car, I let the tears flow. I let the grieving process begin. Steven made the phone calls to our families-never a crack in his voice, always positive, so incredibly strong. He was absolutely my rock while I grieved. And it took a while. It took a couple days of putting up a stronger front for others and then letting my emotions flow when my family and I were alone. I remember rocking Luke and holding him so tight while I cried and cried and thought: “How could I not have known this about you? How could I not have been giving you what you need all this time?” But as I started to get used to the idea, as Steven assured me over and over that this really changed nothing, my grieving lessened. It lessened more and more with each appointment that showed healthy eyes, healthy ears, a healthy heart. It began to dissipate completely with each day that passed with Luke happy, healthy, thriving. And that brings me back to March 21st.

This March 21st is different. This year World Down Syndrome Day finds us with 8 months of Down syndrome “experience” under our belts. It finds us with 8 months’ worth of appointments, meetings, and therapies. It’s amazing what we’ve learned in that time about Down syndrome and about Luke. To me, this day means acknowledging what we’ve learned: the genetics of it, the particular ways that extra chromosome manifests itself, how much these ways vary from person to person. Most importantly, we’ve learned the particulars of how this extra chromosome affects our Luke and what we need to do to help him overcome his extra challenges. To me, this day means celebrating Luke’s accomplishments and how he met all of the goals we set for his first six months of therapy. It’s about celebrating what a hard little worker he is. It’s about appreciating all the help we’ve been given and the love we’ve been shown. It’s about the friends we’ve made, the community we’ve discovered, and the support system we’ve found. It’s about how wonderfully his brothers and sister treat him and take care of him.

Most important to me, though, is that I’ve learned and am recognizing more and more each day that Down syndrome is just a part of who Luke is. It is a diagnosis, not a definition. I was trying to explain this to someone the other day but was having trouble putting it into words. I was trying to explain how I don’t look at Luke and see Down syndrome first. I do see that he’s developmentally a little behind most other kids his age, I do see the therapy sessions he has each week, I do see that he’s still small, is barely starting to cut teeth, doesn’t yet say “mama.” But these are just all part of Luke and who he is. When I look at Luke I see a super sweet, 14 month old boy who loves to eat, take baths, play patty cake, and bear-crawl on his hands and feet. I see a kid who absolutely adores his siblings. Down syndrome has become an afterthought. It is no longer in the front of my mind when I look at him. It is no longer on the top of my list of worries. This past year has taught me so much and enlightened me in so many ways. I still have a long way to go and I know that Luke will never stop teaching us. I pray that I will always be open to learning these lessons.

First, Luke is a child of God, our number three baby, a little brother, big brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend. Second, Luke is someone with Down sydrome. That’s what I’ve learned this past year. That’s what March 21st means to me.

 

– Sarah