Imagine a preschool-type setting where you can sit beside your children and be directly involved in their education as they learn, play and grow.
That’s exactly the concept that Melanie Johnson, Casey Ibanez and other Horizon West-area moms set out to create two years ago when they launched Teach Beside Me. Now, with the new school year looming on the horizon, TBM has grown to the point where there is a waitlist.
TBM is affiliated with Citrus Church in Horizon West. It’s a preschool co-op with small groups of parents and preschoolers in various age groups. Everyone gets the chance to interact and socialize, and the preschoolers are introduced to numbers, letters, shapes, words and more.
“It started off with a few moms interested in doing an organized, structured preschool lesson with curriculum,” said Johnson, TBM’s preschool coordinator. “They wanted to teach alongside of them, meaning they can be teachers and they can kind of be there for each step of their kids’ (education) as they learn and progress without having to enroll in a daycare or preschool.”
Teach Beside Me follows the Orange County Public Schools calendar, and parents’ roles in sharing the teaching responsibilities make it a truly cooperative venture, Johnson said.
Johnson has a background in early-childhood education, having once served as the director of College Park UMC’s Child Development Center. However, it always was a dream of hers to be a stay-at-home mom. So, when she was pregnant with her oldest daughter — who starts kindergarten this year — she decided to turn in her resignation.
But when her daughter was only a few months old, Johnson found that she needed to create a way to get out with her and meet other moms and children. She created a mommy-and-me circle time at First United Methodist Church Orlando, but it wasn’t just about the socialization.
“For me, the idea of being able to be part of my child’s education is important — play dates are wonderful, and we had play-based curriculum, but it was a little more structured than just a regular play date,” Johnson said. “I wanted to create an environment where they’d also learn and have structure so they’d be ready to go off to real school.”
The family moved to Horizon West a couple of years ago to start Citrus Church, and Johnson began thinking about starting a preschool co-op. Teach Beside Me was born out of that, and Johnson credits her friend, Ibanez, with being a large part of helping her bring it to life.
“I pulled her in alongside with me and she’s been definitely my right-side woman throughout the whole process,” Johnson said. “She’s the other mom who’s been with me since the start — I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”
“I wanted to do more than just meet other parents — I wanted to create an environment where they’d also learn and have structure so they’d be ready to go off to real school.” — Melanie Johnson
TBM uses lesson plans based on the “Teach, Play, Learn” curriculum. The 2-year-old class, which meets Tuesday mornings, has a “Letter of the Week” focus. That includes a book and activities surrounding that week’s letter.
The 3- to 4-year-old class centers on a theme that lasts two weeks, based on one story book. With this class, TBM incorporates “Handwriting Without Tears,” which introduces children to letters and teaches handwriting. This class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Parents are required to stay with their children and work alongside them in the teaching process.
“The whole idea is, even though you may not be teaching that week, you’re able to work hand-on-hand over your child,” Johnson said.
Being part of TBM is free, and the only thing parents are responsible for paying for is any necessary craft supplies during their week to teach. However, TBM provides basic classroom supplies such as glue, scissors, markers and crayons.
There is a waitlist for TBM, and you don’t have to be a church member to join. Johnson recommends that interested parents fill out the registration form to join the waitlist, and if a spot becomes available they will be notified.