Today I’m going to kick off a series on homeschool rhythms. One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “how do I structure my day?” or some variation of that. In just a minute we’ll start at the very beginning with the idea of morning time but first I want to give you a snapshot of what you can expect from the series.
Wanna know the key to a confident homeschooler? Rhythms.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll talk about rhythms – or pillars – that will help you create a homeschool that works for your family. These aren’t rigid schedules that need to start on the minute. A rhythm is more of a flow to your day that leaves room for flexibility, meltdowns, and prompts from the Holy Spirit to move in a different direction. A pillar is something that provides essential support and when you have even a couple of reliable rhythms built into your homeschool day, you will find that things run a lot more smoothly.
I talked about this in a post for nurturing the pre-school years but I’m going to expand on that post for school-aged children. If you have littles in the mix or if all of your kiddos are under 7, you may want to see that post instead.
I want you to think of the pillars I mention in this series as being “ala carte.” Some days we do them all, some days we don’t. There is an ‘ebb and flow’ to life that should be honored and as homeschoolers, we have the freedom and privilege to do just that. Different seasons look well, different. It’s okay if your days don’t all look the same. Doing all of these doesn’t mean you are more successful than you were on a day when only half of them happened. It just means your homeschool looked different that day. And if your days seem to always run off the rails of how you’d like them to look, consider these rhythms something to help you get back on track.
what is education, anyway?
Let’s start with the premise that education does not come in a box. Teaching your children doesn’t mean completing every check box of a curriculum. Nor does it mean sitting at a desk or table for an allotted amount of time.
So what does education mean?
Maybe more than you think.
Nelson Mandela said it “is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In their book, Educating the WholeHearted Child, Clay and Sally Clarkson say that the goal of education “should be to raise spiritually mature children who have both the will and the skill to learn and the desire and ability to keep learning.”
Charlotte Mason called education “an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” She unpacked that idea by saying this:
“seeing that we are limited by the respect due to the personality of children we can allow ourselves but three educational instruments – the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit and the presentation of living ideas” (A Philosophy of Education).
All of these examples show that education is about much more than textbooks, standardized tests, and hours clocked. Education, in short, is the cultivation of a person.
With this definition, the sky is the limit. Education is everything and anything and though you may have limited resources, state standards to meet, or specific subjects you must teach (and indeed, should teach), your child’s education does not begin and end with the three r’s. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are certainly necessary skills but there is no one perfect way that they must be taught and they are only the beginning to what you can give your child.
Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s kick off this series with the first part of the day.
“Morning time” is a phrase coined by the great Cindy Rollins. She may not be the first person to ever put those two words next to each other, but the idea that it represents, the “coming together”-ness of it, can largely be attributed by the homeschool community to her.
Pam Barnhill calls it “Morning Basket” and has an entire website dedicated to the practice. In episode 46 of this podcast, Melissa McMahan referred to it as their “together time.” Others call it “symposium” or “daily basket” removing the time constraint of the morning. Whatever you call it, the idea is to gather together and learn together.
We tend to call it morning time because we do, indeed, do it in the morning. I know some people are into “eating the frog” first thing and even start with math (I cannot imagine…) but the only time I “eat the frog” is when I have a dentist appointment. The way I see it, we all wake up on empty and need to be filled. Truth, beauty, and goodness are what fill the soul and although math is “true”, “good”, and for some people even “beautiful,” it’s just not nearly as enriching for us as something like poetry, devotionals, or composer study.
We are a family of slow-risers. We are PJs-and-fireplace-and-a-cuppa-something-hot morning people, especially in the autumn and winter months. I keep our materials in a basket on a living room side table that is just one step away from the adjoining dining room where we have breakfast. This way, if it’s a cozy kind of morning we can have morning time in the living room. If we’re up and at ’em, we can meet at the table and eat breakfast at the same time. Either way, the basket is nearby.
I like to use this time for “the riches” or “enrichment” subjects. In a Charlotte Mason education, these subjects include things like hymn study, composer study, picture study, Shakespeare, lower science, habits, and poetry. You could certainly tailor it to fit your family though; perhaps you all want to learn how to knit or learn a foreign language together? Or you watch CNN10 every morning? Maybe you’re praying for the world one country at a time? These are all things my family has incorporated into morning time in the past but for simplicity, I’m going to stick to the ones I’ve listed above.
Because I often attach our morning time to breakfast, I try to choose subjects that don’t require a lot of writing – if any – on the kids’ part. We rotate the subjects, not doing every one every day, in order to “spread a feast,” as Miss Mason so aptly calls it.
Children of all ages – yes, pre-school through high school – are welcome to enjoy morning time. It lasts about thirty minutes for us but this has varied depending on age and ability. The trick is to make sure you have a captive audience; when you start to lose them, it’s time to wrap it up.
Here’s what a typical week might look like for morning time:
|Lower Science||Lower Science||Lower Science|
Now let’s talk about each subject broken down, keeping in mind Charlotte Mason’s 12th principle that “education is the science of relations” and the overarching goal is to make connections and form a relationship with the ideas presented through the study of the following subjects. I’m going to throw a lot of practical information at you; skim over what you won’t use, mentally store it for later, or adapt it to work for your family. Keep in mind a term is twelve weeks long and the final week is intended for exams.
Hymn Study – Choose one hymn to learn each term.
Goal – to be able to sing the hymn and become familiar with the story behind it
Week 1, I introduce the hymn by reading a short biography. Then, I hand them a paper I’ve typed up with the lyrics to the hymn and we sing along to our preferred version on YouTube. I have created a playlist just for hymn study.
Weeks 2-10 we sing the hymn together.
Week 11, we listen to the playlist to review old hymns as well as the new one.
Week 12 for exams, they sing the hymn.
Habit – Choose one habit to work on each term.
Goal – to grow in character
Weeks 1-11 we follow Laying Down the Rails lesson-by-lesson
Week 12 for exams, we reflect. I celebrate how they’ve grown in this habit and they are invited to comment on what they’ve learned about the importance of this habit in their life.
Lower Science – Choose one or two topics to cover each term.
Goal – to nurture wonder and explore the world God made.
It’s called “lower science” because in years 1-6 we study science together using living books. Older kids transition to independent study using Apologia or something comparable and are exempt from this part of morning time but they usually hang around because they enjoy it.
Over those six years, we cover an overview of creation, the earth, trees, animals, birds, insects, fish, water, flowers, and the human body by reading living books.
Weeks 1-11 we read from a living book and I ask my children to narrate back orally or do a sketch in their nature journals after/during a reading. When applicable, they can build or create something (like when we put together a skeleton while studying the human body).
Week 12 for exams, pick one or two main ideas for them to describe (orally or written). For example, if you are studying trees, you could ask young ones to tell about how some leaves change each season. A 3rd or 4th-year child might be asked to compare deciduous and evergreen trees and give some examples of each. An older child could explain photosynthesis.
Devotional – Pick one devotional a term, sometimes carrying over terms
Goal – to grow spiritually
We usually work through 1-2 devotionals per year and have a special devotional time during advent.
There are no exam questions.
Composer Study – Choose one composer to study each term
Goal – to become familiar with the composer and enjoy his/her work
Week 1, I introduce the composer by reading a short biography. Picture books are also a great option. Then, I have them narrate back to me about the composer’s life.
Weeks 2-11 we listen to a different piece by the composer each week.
Week 12 for exams, they hum their favorite piece and tell a little about the composer.
Shakespeare – Study one play a year, usually in the summer
Goal – to become familiar with The Bard and enjoy his work
Weeks 1-11 we use Shakespeare in Three Steps.
Week 12 for exams, they tell back (orally or written) their favorite part of the play and can compare it to other plays of his if you’ve done others.
Picture Study – Choose one artist to study each term
Goal – to become familiar with an artist and enjoy his/her work
When possible, we use Picture Study Portfolios.
Week 1, I introduce the artist by reading a short biography. Picture books work great. Then, I have them narrate back to me about the artist’s life.
Weeks 2-11 we admire a different work of art by the artist each week.
Week 12 for exams, they tell about their favorite picture and a little about the artist.
Poetry – Read through one collection per year
Goal – to explore multiple types of poetry and find favorites
Weeks 1-11 read from the collection
Week 12 for exams, reflect on a favorite poem(s)
Nature Study – Weekly outings and nature journal entries (done any time of day)
Goal – to become naturalists who enjoy observing and exploring creation
Weeks 1-11 go on a hike/walk/outing every week (even if it’s in your neighborhood!) and have your child make an entry in the nature journal afterward (you can make an entry in your own, too!)
Week 12 for exams, look back through nature journal and reflect on favorite outing/sighting
Hopefully, these descriptions give you an idea of the atmosphere you are trying to create with morning time. These are all areas of study that will enrich your homeschool and nurture your child’s soul. Remember, you are a part of your family’s “home-school” and these activities can certainly help to fill your pitcher as well as provide an ample variety of living ideas for your child to feast on.