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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Part 3: Why We Homeschool

You remember that time when I said I would write a 3 part series on why we homeschool? When I posted the first two parts and then 2 months later sat down and realized I never wrote the 3rd part… oops! Life is busy and crazy, and you have my apologies…

So after reading the last two posts you know a little more about my son and our specific situation. Now a little bit about me… I am not one of those women who felt called to homeschool the second she found out she was expecting. In fact, even now at age 31 I’m still not sure what I am “called” to do (please say I’m not alone there). I grew up wanting to be a teacher, but by the time college rolled around, the bureaucracy surrounding teaching wasn’t appealing to me.  I loved the idea of Catholic school. I had always wanted to attend one growing up, and wanted  to be able to provide that opportunity for my children. So our plan was catholic school. Then we realized JP was a little different. We met with our local Catholic school, and I’m not going to say they weren’t welcoming. They were willing to meet with us, but at the same time the school didn’t cater to special needs very well. He would have been one of the only students in his grade who had learning differences, and I didn’t like how that would present itself. So we met with the our local public school we were zoned with for an IEP meeting. It was after that meeting that the idea of homeschooling became more concrete. At age 3 I was not ready to start sending my son to school 5 days a week. I love my children and I love spending time with them. Maybe I could figure out how to teach them? I love working with kids and had experience teaching in daycares and Sunday school settings. So we decided to give it a try.

The preschool homeschooling was so much fun! Lots of hands on exploring, sensory bins and fun books. Last year (K) was a little bumpy. Finding our groove took a while, and more often than not there were tears involved on someone’s part. It probably didn’t help that I gave birth in August and had some postpartum issues. This year started rough, but after a couple of months we have found our sweet spot!

So why do we homeschool? We homeschool because the Lord has enabled me to do so. We homeschool so I can raise them in the Word. We homeschool because I love my children, and I love that I get to spend time with them. We homeschool because it enables me to cater their education to their specific needs, not to the need of the average 6-year-old in the United States. We homeschool so I can help them learn how to navigate their feelings and social relationships. We homeschool so I can have  limitless teachable moments. I could go on, but those are the essentials.

So does this mean we will homeschool forever. No clue. As I said earlier, I’m not entirely sure the path the Lord has chosen for me, but I’m enjoying it during this season.  Each year we will reassess everyone’s needs and make sure we are still on the path we feel called to. Until then we homeschool.

– Valerie

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Flashback pt 2, and where we are now

Ok! So we talked about my son’s beginnings in the last post. Here I am going to copy and paste the follow up I wrote to that entry many years ago. At the bottom I’m going to go over JP’s development as it stands today at 6 (and a 1/2) years.

“Why don’t we dive right into it today and my apologies for this one getting a bit lengthy…. As I mentioned before, today we will talk about some of the little red flags that came up with us for JP. Now, for all you parents of little ones out there, this list is not meant to worry you when you notice that your child does some of these things sometimes. It might be something to bring up with your pediatrician though if you are losing sleep over it. 🙂

Looking back, I guess the first thing I noticed different about JP was his speech delay. I comforted myself with the fact that everyone told me little boys talked later than girls and it just wasn’t a big deal. At around 20 months though, it really started to worry me. We picked up JP from Mother’s Day Out one afternoon and he was crying and a few of his classmates came up to me and said, “JP crying.” I remember getting back in the car and saying to my husband those kids just spoke a sentence, and thinking how JP had a vocabulary of about 15-20 words and that was pushing it. On top of that he didn’t seem to be understanding me even when I spoke in very simple sentences, so trying to correct behaviors was virtually impossible.

Some other little things that I started to notice around 18 months… He vary rarely responded to his name. We had his hearing checked and it was fine. We also noticed a lack of eye contact. He seemed to always be interested in something else. If we did get him to look at us it was only for a couple of seconds. When he got really excited sometimes he would flap his hands a little bit. He became very picky about touching things, especially food. He didn’t want to walk in the grass barefoot, or like to be touched except by myself or my husband and even then he was a bit standoffish. He was a little bit repetitive, wanted to to do things over and over and over and over.  His tantrums were intense.. Now I know he’s 2, every 2 year old throws fits. JP’s however would sometimes come out of nowhere and could last between 20-40 mins. Intense screaming, thrashing, and hitting all normal.

Now with all that being said, something you should know about me is that I am a bit of a worrier. Anyone who has known me for longer than about a day could tell you that. So naturally once I noticed one of these little things, I googled and read books and realized that they could all possibly point to something bigger. I told myself just to pray about it and not worry over it, and bring up my concerns to his pediatrician at his next appointment. I hoped he would outgrow some of the behaviors, that this was just his version of being a toddler. When JP turned 2 his pediatrician recommended we have him evaluated by TEIS (our local early intervention system) to see if he qualified for any services through them.

At this point in our life (pre-TEIS and pre-therapy) with JP I was at a loss. I felt like the world’s worst mother. I thought I was failing at something that I felt all my life I had had a calling for. I withdrew. We quit going to play dates because I couldn’t contain my child’s sometimes erratic behavior. We quit eating out in public because the stares from strangers were just too much. I did almost 100% of shopping online. I often found myself in tears (sometimes in public) because I was just so overwhelmed and had no clue what to do…. I don’t tell you this for pity. We are past this point now, and while I do find myself overwhelmed at times, its normal. What mom isn’t occasionally overwhelmed? I tell you this in case you are a mom feeling this way. You are not alone. Or maybe you have a friend with a special needs child. Let them know you are there! It will mean the world to them. I am so lucky to have friends who have stuck with me through all this craziness. You know who you are :)”

 

Ok so that was the original blog post. I thought about adding in a couple of videos, but that just felt too personal, feel free to message if you want to see some of the behavior mentioned above.

JP is now 6 (and a half) and thriving! After 4 years of various therapies I can say early intervention was totally worth it for us. At one point we had therapy every day of the week, and some days multiple appointments in one day. Most people we meet would never know he had a diagnosis unless they are professionals in the developmental field. He is still different, but everyone is different. His main issues now are sensory related, stemming from sensory processing disorder. I also feel like he has some other learning differences with auditory processing, but that isn’t currently diagnosed. He is 1st grade aged, but at about a Kindergarten level in some subjects. We currently attend occupational therapy once a week with an amazing therapist. We graduated from speech this past summer, and will reevaluate that after he turns 7. (This momma needs a break from multiple therapies a week.) We could probably benefit from ABA therapy to help fix some behaviors he has at home (managing emotions, social skills, feeding), but it isn’t currently in the budget. All of this however has played a role in why and how we homeschool, which I will get in to on the next post.

*side note- We have been so very blessed with our son’s development. When you get a diagnosis, its a scary thing. We were told at his evaluation that they weren’t sure if he would ever talk in complete sentences, be able to fit in in a traditional classroom, or live independently. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and there are many families who start at a very similar place to where we did, but have a child that develops in different ways and may remain minimally or non verbal, and not gain independence. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pray for these families and all special needs families, and I hope you’ll join me.

– Valerie

Click here for Part 1 and Part 3.

Flashback post. An introduction to why we homeschool

I have been wanting to post about my son for a while, but I wasn’t really sure where to begin. This morning a friend reminded me about a blog post I wrote forever ago (at least it feels like forever) about my sons development and I realized that could be the perfect introduction. The sweet little almost 3 year old mentioned in the article is now 6. We will get more in to his current development in the 3rd part of this series when I write my originally intended blog post, “Why we Homeschool”….Without further ado, here is a flashback post from Feb 2014 😱.

 

“I’ve decided to start this blog as a way to help family and friends have a little glimpse into our journey with our son, who was recently diagnosed with Autism. In addition to that, I hope it could possibly help other parents in our position as well. I am going to try to keep it pretty real here. Our life is wonderful, but it is at times quite messy. I’ve gotten used to that fact, hopefully you readers can too! 🙂

I’ve had a bit of a tough time decided where to start here, but I’m thinking we will go with a very brief overview of JP (thats what we will call my sweet boy) and all his awesomeness!!

imageI had a normal pregnancy, was induced because I had a bit of high blood pressure towards the end, delivered via c-section a perfectly healthy baby boy! JP was such an easy baby. Slept like a champ starting at 6 weeks. Nursed great. Ate solids great. Was always generally VERY happy! See…. cutest. baby. ever..

imageAs he grew into a toddler his goofy personality began to show. He walked a little late, but we did hold him quite a bit. He never really got into things or made huge messes and was always pretty cautious. Watching him grow has been such a blessing! This picture was taken at a year old. See… just adorable!!!

JP is now 2 (nearly 3, but I’m in denial about that). He is 100% little boy. Full of energy and life. He absolutely LOVES super heroes, trains, and all things Toy Story. He loves music, and being the center of our attention! Getting down to the nitty gritty, he has a significant language development delay (currently testing at the 13-16 month age range), a bit of echolalia , some pretty intense behavioral issues, a very slight fine motor delay, and significant food aversions. Nothing we can’t handle.
See… just perfect!!image

 

 

I give you this information because when I started thinking about JP and Autism, I began to question everything. Was it because I was induced? Was it the c-section? Should I have been curious about his lack of curiosity? I nursed and fed him a homemade almost all organic diet, where did I go wrong that he now rejects 90% of food? Was it the ever hot topic of vaccinations? What had I done wrong? After many sleepless nights of worrying, I can answer confidently nothing happened to my baby. He is just how God intended him to be and is absolutely perfect. 🙂

Going to try to keep these brief, so coming next week… When did we notice there was something super special about JP and what did we do? Until then, many blessings to you and yours! <3″

 

 

Random reflection almost 4 years later, man I put a positive spin on a super trying time. So much for keeping it real back then. 😅

 

-Valerie

Click here for Part 2 and Part 3.