For those of you that homeschool you KNOW how crucial a routine or schedule can be. I firmly believe that Life and Death (read: total anarchy vs. productive management of unruly natives) hinge on the power of a well honed homeschool routine.
We’ve been practicing what we call “Morning Meeting” for the last 4-5 years, and before that, I only had one school aged child, so it looked a little different – bot more on that in a minute.
Our Morning Meeting is the anchor of our day.
Fussy toddlers, lost math books, endless interruptions, doctors appointments – you know what I’m talking about – all of these can totally batter our homeschool schedule, but the Morning Meeting holds us in place and if it’s the only thing we get done in a day, I still consider it a full and productive school day.
Each morning, after everyone is (mostly) dressed, teeth are (hopefully) brushed and chores are (usually) done, we start our Morning Meeting, with all 4 at the dining room table. Right now my kids are ages 11.5 (6th grade), 9 (3rd grade), almost 6 (Kindergarten), and 2 (small ball of energetic destruction).
Everyone is required to start at the table, because we’re building the expectations, even with the 2 year old, that this is how school starts. He usually lasts through Bible and Poetry, and after that, it’s anyone’s guess! Playdough, watercolors, blocks, magnets, and coloring are our best friends at this stage, and a lot of those items only come out for school time, so he starts to get used to a routine, even in his “school work”.
The Kindergartener stays through Bible and Poetry at the bare minimum, but he usually wanders back in for history and our read aloud as well. All other subjects (that I’ll explain below) the girls (6th and 3rd grade) stay through, and we take breaks sporadically and have a snack thrown in as well. I’m flexible at this point because he’s not yet 6, so as long as he’s quiet and doesn’t interrupt, he’s allowed to get up after a little bit.
So rather than try to explain, I’ll walk you through our morning and then show you what books we’re using right now…
We usually try to start no later than 9 with everyone at the table together. The kids have binders that they bring to our Morning Meeting that have tabbed sections for each subject that we cover, in case there are notes, drawings or copywork that we want to record.
Every day, we go through Bible, our memory work, hymn study, poetry, our nature journals, grammar and our read aloud book.
We have been using Dangerous Devotions for our Bible stories, and it seems to do the best at holding everyone’s attention. It’s written in a conversational way and I really like that there are discussion questions, things for the kids to think about, scripture to reference and questions at the end of each story. We’ve used both the Old and New Testament books throughout the years and have really enjoyed it.
We’ve also rotated through some of these as well and LOVED them:
Hinds Feet On High Places: Illustrated and Arranged for Children (this is one of my girls’ favorites!)
Kingdom Tales (this has been our all-time favorite and we re-read it often – it never gets old and is one of the most beautiful allegories I’ve ever read)
We work on memorizing scripture as well as poetry, so this flows into our poetry time. I’ve been using the free memory cards as well as the memory method described on Simply Charlotte Mason and have loved it. It’s easy to implement and we don’t stick to a strict schedule, we just keep going forward. Some times we hang on a verse for a few weeks, sometimes we have it down in a few days. We go at our own pace and review often and spend no more than 5 minutes, just reciting and reviewing.
We are also working on memorizing great speeches and passages and the occasional Shakespeare. I don’t have a set schedule for which ones and when, but I try to tie things into what we’re studying in history or science. For example, during our recent Civil War studies, we took time to memorize parts of the Gettysburg address, and once we reach WWII, we’ll be looking over some of Winston Churchill’s speeches.
This is one subject that I admittedly didn’t do for a long time. We sing mostly contemporary songs at our church but I’ve always loved (most) hymns. Admittedly not all hymns are worth studying…I can only take so much “Little Brown Church In The Vale”. However, there are so many rich hymns that really can be viewed like heartfelt prayers and classic poetry. When doing our hymn study, we focus on both the song and the writer. Each time we do our hymns study, I read a bit about the writer and then we listen to the hymn via youtube (and I’ve heard spotify is great for this too). We also tie this loosely into our history studies, so right now we are studying the early 1900’s and talking about some of the great hymn writers of the modern century. This only takes us 5-8 minutes but is a wonderful tie in with music, history and Bible.
There are several books that I’ve found to be wonderful resources:
Hymns For A Kids Heart Series is fantastic and has a great format. Each chapter studies a different hymn writer, then Joni Ericson Tada writed a small devotional type section, and then the hymn sheet music is featured and there’s an accompanying CD
Then Sings My Soul series – these books are similar in that the song is featured and then a page or two about the writer’s life.
When in doubt, just grab a favorite hymnal or scour an antique or thrift store for one and use wikipedia to look up information on their lives. Ambleside Online also has wonderful resources for hymn study.
I know this is an easy one to skip over, but don’t!! It only takes a few minutes to read through a poem, but read it, and then re-read it. And then read it again. Hang on a poem until it is easily recognized and the meter and rhythm become second nature. We memorize some, but we read a lot. Simply exposing your children to poetry builds rhythmic patterns in their brains, much like music, and as a bonus, it makes memorizing much easier, even with unfamiliar or little used words. Each time we read a poem, the kids copy it down in their notebooks and we reference it for memorization. It’s nothing elaborate and we don’t spend more than 5-7 minutes on it.
Here are some books we’ve loved and are using that should definitely make their way into your home library:
Where The Sidewalk Ends By Shel Silverstein and any books by him! (My 5 year old BEGS to choose the poem that we read from here; they’re funny and the sketches are fantastic)
Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson – I just discovered this series and have fallen in love! The illustrations are gorgeous and the first 5-6 pages is the story of the poet’s life. We just started Emily Dickinson and I have many of the other books in this series on my wish list!
The Classic Hundred Poems – a wonderful anthology of some of the most famous poets with a selection of their work.
In a perfect world, we’d do regular nature walks and spend hours outside each day. However, reality is, for the time being we live in the city, and we don’t do nature walks often enough (and truth be told, during busy seasons or our miserable Indiana winters, there are many weeks that we don’t get to it all). However, I’ve found a compromise for the time being that at least satisfies some of our nature study and builds those skills of observation in an easy to do format.
During our morning meeting (often during our Read Aloud time) the kids all work on their nature journals, which simply means that they look through our mass of science books and choose something to reproduce in their journals, complete with text descriptions and diagrams. I’m not picky, but they do need to do it neatly, have some text and at minimum a description and title, choose something new everyday, spend more than 5 minutes on it, and add color to it. We don’t have a chance to experience many exotic animals or places here in the midwest, so this bridges the gap, allows them to interact with science in an artistic way, and builds their observation skills.
I also have them draw what we call our “window picture”. It’s easy to do and is actually very effective. Every week or so, instead of drawing from a science book, we simply use our window as a picture frame of sorts, and they draw what they see out the window. That way, they’re observing one 2′ x 3′ rectangle, what animals meander in and out of the frame (usually squirrels and birds) and how it changes with the seasons and weather.
Some books we love:
Nature Anatomy – this is a favorite and has wonderful illustrations. Yes, that means that they are reproducing from a reproduction, but especially for younger artists, this is a great tool and it makes drawing a little easier.
Sibley Backyard Birding Flashcards – these are gorgeous!
The Nature Connection – a new favorite, especially for our “window picture” drawing and the times that we can get outside.
Other books that we are using I’ve found at garage sales and thrift stores. Just find a book with beautiful illustrations, hand your kids some paper and a pencil and let them have at it! It’s simple to implement and is also a good way to keep hands busy while you read other subjects.
Oh that dreaded subject that you feel like you should do but are all too happy to nix if things get busy. Given the grade levels that we are at, all of my children do the majority of their language arts work through copywork and dictation, per the Charlotte Mason method. It’s incredibly effective and sufficient at this point. Now, that being said, it doesn’t always teach them the “rules” or terms of English grammar, but it’s amazing at training their ears and minds to recognize complete sentences, rich vocabulary, and the flow of the language. I could go on and on about the benefits, but all of their dictation and copywork is part of their independent work. For our Morning Meeting, we are using some memorable books that take us less than 5-10 minutes to go through each day. It’s just enough that they are getting practice with the parts of speech, diagramming sentences, and the general rules of language use that they’ll need in highschool. We go thorough the lesson, diagram a sentence and then move on. Relatively quick and painless, but a reliable way to make sure that they’re doing some grammar each day.
Right now we’re using:
Grammar Land – an older book but a silly story that teaches the parts of speech and their application using a fictional story about the Judge and subjects of “Grammar Land” and “Schoolroom-shire”. It makes it memorable and easy to remember the rules of grammar. There are also worksheets and drills available online if you do a google search.
Grammar Island by Michael Clay Thompson. Check out the publisher that carries all of his books and you’ll be able to see samples and choose which subject (he has several to choose from!) and level is right for your family. These are wonderful resources and easy to work through – especially for sentence diagramming practice. These books hold their value but I’ve found good deals on Amazon, Better World Books and Ebay.
Read Aloud books
I can’t go on enough about the value of reading out loud together. If attitudes are less than desirable, the schedule is hectic, or mom is sick, this is always the default. Stories have a way of bringing us together and calming everyone and if you do nothing else for a “morning meeting”, then do this – make a cup of tea or hot cocoa for everyone, maybe a snack if time allows, and cuddle up for a chapter, or two or three.
One winter, we’d been snowed in for what seemed like days with no where pressing to go. We had terrible cabin fever and no one (mom included) felt like sticking to a regular schedule. We called a “homeschool snow day” and the kids played outside for awhile in the morning, and when they came inside, we spread a blanket on the floor in front of our fire place, had cocoa and our lunch picnic style, and then read, literally for hours, from a Little House series book that we were in the middle of. The kids wandered in and out with small quiet toys, art and craft projects, or they just snuggled up and listened. My voice was exhausted at the end when we finally wrapped things up, but it was one of the most pleasant and rewarding “school days” that we’ve ever had and the kids beg to do it again anytime there’s a heavy snowfall.
We are currently reading The first book in the Green Ember Series and it’s fantastic!! For the sake of brevity in this post, there are too many good books to list, but for reference, I love finding books lists and recommendations via Ambleside Online, The Read Aloud Revival, and Beautiful Feet Books, to name a few.
This list is getting really long, so I’m breaking it into two parts! In the next post, I’ll cover the subjects that we rotate through and what resources we’re currently using.
Part 2 of our Morning Meeting series is coming soon, so check back!