Finding My Tribe – Perspectives of a First Generation Homeschooler

15941230_10103909128861605_3809756327423390882_nI was traditionally educated my whole life. I went through public school, to college, and on to law school with success. Homeschooling was not something I was even aware of until 5th grade, when the local homeschooled kids came in to do state testing with us. Homeschooling was not originally a consideration for my family for many reasons.

When my boys came along, I initially didn’t even think about school, but with my oldest having special needs, my focus was quickly shifted that direction. By age two, I was in discussions with our local school system about what I planned to do with him and his education, because in our state, kids with special needs are allowed to enter the school system at age three to get the extra help and services they might need.

Homeschooling had crossed my mind, but wasn’t something I had fully taken hold of, and in fact, I didn’t fully accept that I was going to homeschool my kids until just months before I actually started to do so. Homeschooling scared me. I knew nothing to very little about it. I wasn’t sure I could do enough or be enough for my kids. I struggled so much with self-doubt that I talked myself out of homeschooling at least a dozen times. I thought of a million reasons why I shouldn’t homeschool.

Then came a voice of reason, a God-send, if you will. I met a lady at my church whose kids befriended mine, and low and behold, she homeschooled. She herself was also homeschooled. I looked up to her as a homeschool guru (and she is!) and took the opportunity of our newfound friendship to inundate her with my questions. For probably a year I would throw my questions at her, my self-doubts, and my lack of experience, and for a year, she had an answer for every question I asked.

When I finally bit the bullet so to speak and made the decision to homeschool, there was an instant feeling of relief… and panic. All my self-doubt was still there, yet maybe quieter. Just making the decision itself was a huge step, but figuring out what my next move would be was just as intimidating.

Enter Honeybee Christian Co-op. My homeschool guru friend had invited to me check out her co-op, and by all the bragging she did, I figured I had to at least take a look. The fact that it was special needs inclusive made me a bit giddy, to be honest.

I came to some initial interest meetings, met some of the moms, and realized that I had stumbled upon something special.  Really though, I think it was less stumbling and more a directed path. Our school year began and within weeks I began to see my children growing socially, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. I could also see myself growing. That voice of self-doubt began to shrink more and more. On days that I was down or stressed, I would reach out to other co-op mamas and they threw encouragement and support at me like confetti.

Within the first few months, I knew I had found my tribe. The kids were all so sweet and kind to my special needs oldest son. Early in the school year, I witnessed them trying to figure out who was going to help him to class one day. They all wanted to help! The moms were all amazing teachers, as well. My boys were getting amazing, quality lessons on top of time to socialize and make friends. Not only were the moms all amazing teachers, they are all amazing friends. I can’t even remember how many times in the last year that they have reminded me that I am enough for my kids. Our monthly “Mom’s Night Out” is always something I look forward to because, while the guacamole is great, the people I share it with are even better! Finding our tribe really was the best possible thing that happened to our family this school year.

We recently wrapped up our very first year of homeschooling and I must say, it was a huge success. Even more so than I expected. Homeschooling a child with significant disabilities and challenges seemed daunting, but knowing that I had the moms at Honeybee Christian Co-op standing behind me was the key that unlocked our door to success.  We could not have done it without the support and love that was showered on us through our co-op. Feeling encouraged, supported, and uplifted gave us momentum on the good days. Having someone to fall back on made the hard days bearable.

Coming from a public school experience and bringing my kids into a homeschool experience has been a huge shift for me. It has pushed me past my comfort zone in all the best ways. So, to any moms out there who are ready to begin homeschooling, my biggest piece of advice for you is this: Find your tribe. It will make all the difference!

– Lacey

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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.

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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

 

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

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.

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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.

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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

 

Finding Community in Co-op

     One year ago, I was desperately searching for a community of people where my family could find friendship and fellowship. In spite of living in the area for nearly two years and attending every library story time we could, playing at the local parks, and meeting our neighbors, we had few friends in our new city. We were in a church but finding it very difficult to build relationships, and although we’re blessed to live in a homeschool-friendly county, we knew almost no one else who homeschooled. I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever find a place where we belonged when I stumbled across the open house flyer for a group called Honeybee Christian Co-op. It advertised fun enrichment classes, monthly moms’ nights, and even a nursery that would keep my young son a part of our homeschool experience. By all appearances, it was exactly the kind of place I’d been longing for. My husband and I talked about it and decided that we should definitely attend open house and just try it out.

      So almost exactly one year ago, I dropped my husband off at work and took my three daughters and son to test the waters of this seemingly too-good-to-be-true group of families. My outgoing daughters were eager to meet new friends, my son willingly toddled off toward the nursery, and I was a nervous wreck. It was almost like going on a first date. Would they like us? Would we like them? Could this be… the one? They turned out to be exactly what I had hoped to find: friendly, kind, and just crazy enough to handle our own family’s eccentricities. I’m not going to lie; that open house was a bit chaotic. But only a few minutes into the morning, I knew that we could belong here. Here were other moms who wanted to raise men and women that love Jesus and love one another above all. Here was a group of people eager to pour into each other’s lives and offer up their individual talents and interests for the sake of creating a unique experience for their children. And I wanted my family to be a part of that.

     We’re now getting close to the end of our first year at Honeybee, and I am so incredibly grateful for this community of friends.  My daughters have been in first grade this year, and thanks to co-op, have learned about the 50 states and their geography, creative writing, and Latin America. They had a great class that used Legos to solve problems and another filled with engaging science experiments. They’ve been introduced to a wide variety of handicrafts, enjoyed weekly P.E., and had the opportunity to research and present two projects each. My children have enjoyed fun playdates and gone on exciting field trips. I honestly can’t imagine a better first grade than what they’ve had between their co-op classes and what we’ve done at home. But the fun classes and great exposure to a variety of ideas and studies are not the best part of Honeybee.

      The best part of Honeybee Christian Co-op is the community it provides to its members. Relationships take time to build, but I count the moms in our co-op as my friends. I know they’ll pray for my family if I ask them to. I know they’ll kindly share their own experiences and ideas if I’m not sure how to handle a homeschooling/parenting difficulty. I know I can bounce my own ideas off of them. At this co-op, moms work together each week and play together on our monthly moms’ night out. Not only are my children making wonderful friends, but I am too.

     Another amazing benefit to being part of Honeybee is the fact that it’s special needs inclusive. You may wonder how that would benefit my family, since my own children don’t have special needs. But I have watched my children learn firsthand this year that people may look different and act differently and have different abilities, but that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore just like them in every way that matters. They have learned to simply accept others for who they are without question. Those kinds of lessons can be taught but never fully learned without experience. Trust me when I say that we have a great group of kids in our co-op. They learn from their teachers, but they also learn from each other.

     I can’t imagine not continuing as part of our co-op. We could homeschool without it, of course. But doing so would remove an incredibly valuable aspect of my  family’s life. I hope you consider coming to our open house on March 20. Our group may not end up being the right fit for your family, but who knows? You just might find the place where you belong.

Looking forward to meeting you,

Katie

Writing a Class for Co-Op

     I’m often talking about my co-op with other homeschoolers because besides being the
place you will find us every Tuesday morning of the school year, it’s also our “group.”;-)

     Our co-op means a lot to us:

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– It includes some of our closest local friends.
– It’s our immediate answer to “having a social life” to those random strangers that complain when your kids aren’t in school. 😉
– It gives my children a chance to learn about topics I’m not familiar or excited about from other teachers that are familiar AND excited about them! Win, win!!
– My kids have learned so many fun things in so many different ways because of our co-op.
– I have learned so many different teaching styles and ideas from watching other moms teach in our co-op!

     It’s not hard to sell our co-op until you get to the part where they have to teach a class to kids… that aren’t theirs. Then all of the sudden it’s “Impossible,” “I wouldn’t know
where to start,” or “I can’t speak in front of a classroom!”

     I truly can understand those sentiments, but as a homeschooler that gets to pick your own subject – and who already teaches kids (at home), it’s probably a lot simpler than you think.

     Let’s take this semester for example:
There are many different ways to make your class plan but I’ve found that this way works the best for me.

     I start by just brainstorming through my topic. This year my topic is United States
Geography, so I searched through my homeschool books for ones relating to that topic
(found 3), pulled out some American history books for famous figures from different
states, and went by the local homeschool consignment store to find a great book on the
states for just $10. So I sat down with all my books sprawled out around me, fingered
through them, and then just hashed out a ton of ideas on paper – how to approach the
states, what kind of games and crafts I want to do, how to incorporate learning the
states/capitals, and basically how I want each day of class to look like. I’m a planner so I like having an over all plan of what we do each day. Once I knew what my goal was for the kindergarteners to learn this year – a basic idea of states and where they are – I could come up with my plan of making it fun and interesting every Tuesday. Then once I came up with my overall “day-plan,” I could go through state by state and decide what I wanted to cover.

     Here’s the schedule I ended up with for my kindergarten class for the first week:
Week 1: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont

15 minutes- Begin the lesson with states puzzle: Have children put together states puzzle while playing the “Eastern Border” song. Then go through the song together while pointing to the map.

     I have learned through the past 2 years of teaching at our co-op that I always should have a couple of extra things to do in case we get through the class too fast, and also that I should always be ready to skip a few things to stop to focus on something that the class ends up getting really interested in. In other words, plan for your plan to fail some days. 😉

     Having such small classes of under ten students lets me take advantage of the fact that I am not teaching them their core subjects, so we can use these classes to just stop and have fun learning for the sake of learning.

     Then again, isn’t that why we home school anyway?

– Charity