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.


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



Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Convention

     I just got back from attending my second Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Convention, and I want to spend a few moments putting some thoughts to print in hopes of encouraging others who are considering going or have never heard of it.

     Last year was our first “official” year of homeschooling. A mom from my co-op asked if I was attending Teach Them Diligently. I had no clue what she was talking about, so I went home and researched it and was immediately intrigued. They had a location convenient to me, it was at a hotel/convention center I LOVED, and several of the “talks” listed sounded like they were speaking to my heart… SIGN ME UP!

     That first Teach Them Diligently (TTD) convention was so encouraging. Being surrounded by such a large number of families walking a similar road to the one we are on was just what I needed. I was able to talk to experts in the field and ask questions over some things we were struggling with. I attended sessions that gave me fresh new ideas. When I walked into my first session, I was burnt out and counting down the days until summer break. I left rejuvenated and ready to implement our new ideas. The only thing I would go back and change would be to have gone to TTD prior to our first year of homeschooling, because I learned so much! I signed up for the 2018 convention before leaving in 2017!

     This year’s convention did not disappoint. I was blessed to attend alongside several homeschool friends from our co-op, and the moments in between sessions spent chatting were just as beneficial to me as the sessions themselves. Again, I left recharged and ready to finish our school year on the right foot!

In closing, I would like to add my top 5 tips for attending a homeschool convention!

5. Pray over the schedule, but be open to the Holy Spirit guiding your weekend!
My first year, I made a detailed plan for the weekend. I went into my first session, which was super crowded and not pulling at my heart strings. On the way to my next class, I passed a room where Sonya Schafer of Simply Charlotte Mason was about to speak, and I just felt compelled to go in. This changed our homeschooling! I fell in love with the Charlotte Mason style and the rest of the weekend I spent finding sessions to learn more about it.

4. Have a plan for the exhibit hall.
In the weeks leading up to convention, look at your plans for the coming school year and compare that with the vendor list. Make a plan for what booths you want to stop at. Walking into the vendor hall my first year was SO overwhelming because I had no clue what to look at! Have a game plan and don’t buy anything the first day! Your plans might change halfway through convention.

3. Stay on site if you can afford it.
I love the convenience of staying on site even though we only live about an hour away from the convention site. Being able to spend that extra time thinking over what I have learned that day and preparing for the next, instead of sitting in traffic, is worth it for our family. Plus, my kids LOVE the hotel!

2. Buy some sessions and give yourself more down time.
It is super tempting to want to attend every session you can, but for me that equals a burnout. I can only sit through so many speakers in a row before my eyes start to glaze over and I get distracted. Plan to buy some sessions to listen to when you get back home to give yourself some time to decompress and absorb all your new knowledge.

1. Go with friends!
Going with a group of friends is a great bonding experience. This past year I was blessed to have several friends to bump in to, chat, eat lunch, and wander the exhibit hall with. We spent time sharing what jumped out at us from our sessions and what we were excited to go hear next. It doesn’t stop at convention, though; now I have a group of ladies I can turn to and ask how it’s going for “Reaching Their Child’s Heart” from the Ginger Hubbard session. Friendships are definitely strengthened at TTD!

That’s all for now. I hope to see you there next year!

– Valerie

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,