Way back when when my oldest was in preschool, I was reading Cindy Rollins’ blog, where she continually told us that Morning Time was the best thing she did in her homeschool. I took her advice to heart and stepped out in faith that she was on to something.
As she shared about Morning Time, it reminded me of the Bible Time my mom did when she began homeschooling. We’d sing, practice memory verses, and read the Bible together as the first part of the day. I didn’t remember much of my own early years of being homeschooled, but I remember singing Holy, Holy, Holy and Fairest Lord Jesus.
When I was a little older, we sometimes did family devotions. We’d each get to choose a hymn to sing (and so developed favorites), we’d recite and memorize catechism and Scripture, and sometimes work through a book or just read Scripture.
Without a doubt, it is because of those times that I can sing dozens of hymns from memory and although I wouldn’t get a lot of accuracy reciting Scripture, I went into adulthood familiar with it.
I wanted that experience developed more, taken to the next level, for my own children, and Morning Time sounded exactly like what I wanted. It was a reserved time to practice those things that mattered more than even the math facts.
Over ten years later, I agree with her assessment of Morning Time, as well. Although we’ve been shaky in our consistency, it’s been the soil and watering that has allowed deep roots to grow and fruit to flourish.
Her description of starting the day together singing and doing the beautiful things that are so easy set aside in favor of the workbooks resonated with me.
I knew that having that time set aside for learning hymns, catechism, and Scripture would bear fruit if we stuck with it through those daily little moments that don’t feel like much.
“That is what Morning Time is. It is the daily collection of little grains of time that add up to a lifetime of learning. It is the daily sowing of the seeds of learning for the long haul. Morning Time is not about reaping a quick harvest of spinach or lettuce after a few cool weeks.Cindy Rollins
“Morning Time is about faithfully tending an orchard over long, long years knowing that the future harvest will be far more valuable than any quick crop. Maybe it isn’t even an orchard-this is homeschool carbon which will produce a harvest of diamonds for those who have the patience and the courage to go for the long prize.”
Because my own journey into Morning Time was aided so much by Cindy Rollins, Kendra Fletcher, and others who shared their memory lists and ideas, I too want to share our resources for those just beginning. Here you will find what we’ve done over the years as well as advice for sticking it out through the difficult stages.
Table of Contents
- Homeschool Morning Devotions
- How We Make Morning Time Work
- What’s Been in Our Morning Baskets (A Decade of Morning Time Plans)
- How to Get Started with Circle Time (or Morning Basket)
- Morning Time with Babies and Toddlers
- When Morning Time Is a Mess
- How we practice and review memory work
- Bible Memory Work Selections
- Hymns to Memorize in Your Homeschool
- Creeds and Catechism Memory Work
- Poems to Memorize (by grade)
- Quotes & Speeches to Memorize
- Family Mottos to Memorize in Morning Time
- I’ve Been a Guest on the Your Morning Basket Podcast
Homeschool Morning Devotions
Morning Time ought to be the happiest part of our homeschool day.
But what is happiness, really?
That’s actually a deep philosophical question expounded upon by great minds for millennia.
Too often, we think happiness is doing what we want, having no laundry to fold, or eating chocolate.
And our kids think happiness is sleeping in, playing computer games, and having no chores.
Guess what? We’re both wrong.
If that’s your idea of happiness, make sure your goal is not to keep your kids happy.
Then again, we can’t say happiness doesn’t matter.
Surely we’ve all had homeschool days with sadness, anger, and frustration.
We don’t want that to be the norm, either.
Don’t give up on happiness, just think bigger about what happiness is and where it comes from.
Let’s be classical in our approach to happiness as well as our approach to education.
“Happiness then, is found to be something perfect and self sufficient, being the end to which our actions are directed.”Aristotle
We aren’t actually made happy by entertainment or temporary pleasure. True happiness is found in what is lasting: God’s glory and enjoying that forever. And we can only enjoy God’s glory when our hearts are tuned to love His law more than our own whims – and that state is often called virtue.
“He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue.”Aristotle
Virtue doesn’t come easily to us, and neither, therefore, does happiness. Our temptation – ours and our children’s – is that we equate happiness with ease.
Happiness, however, is for the one who has learned to overcome his in-the-moment cravings for something better, something higher.
In our homeschools, we’re helping our children see that and choose that. Goodness, we also as the mothers are learning to do so more and more.
We’re giving the kids practice – and taking practice ourselves – in denying momentary pleasure for the sake of more lasting pleasure, whether that be knowledge, skill, or relationship. All of these grow us in wisdom, which Scripture tells us to value more than gold. And all of these point us to worship and increase our capacity for worship – the more we know and understand God & the world He made, the better worshippers we can be.
“St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.C.S. Lewis
“When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ordinate affections or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science.
“Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.”
Augustine, Aristotle, Plato, & Lewis in one? Surely we must pay attention.
Our school days are about shaping tastes and growing loves.
And there is no more potent time to do that than in Morning Time.
“Where your pleasure is, there is your treasure: where your treasure, there your heart; where your heart, there your happiness.”Augustine
Making Mornings Happy
So why the discourse on happiness and virtue in a planning post? Because principles apply to our practices. We don’t hold principles and beliefs in our heads, then do whatever seems most convenient – that’s hypocrisy.
I need my focus on the why behind what we’re doing so it doesn’t turn into going through the motions – and so that I don’t skip it because I’ve lost my vision. Some hold on to routine after the vision is gone, but I’m more likely to chuck it over entirely (which looks like remaining sitting with my coffee) the moment the vision begins to fade.
So I write to keep it fresh and lively in my own mind.
The longer I homeschool, the more I believe that how you begin the day sets the tone for the rest of the day. So that means our mornings matter most. Whenever your days begin, we face our most crucial moment. Starting is already the hardest part, but on top of that it’s also the most vital part, the most influential part of the day.
Some of my children have different ideas than I do about what a good start looks and feels like.
I like the coffee and pep and rev your engines sort of start. If the morning drags, I feel draggy all day.
But others are slow-starters who need some time and space to ease into their day and not feel jumped on or shoved along.
And yet those same children still want to be done with school by lunch time.
So, we have to find a way to get us all on board, together, on time, in a way that moves us into the school day ready and engaged.
And that means Morning Time.
It is both beginning the plan for the day and a gentle start. It feeds the spirit and its pace is brisk. It brings us together into unity (I almost said harmony but we’re not that accomplished in our singing yet). It ensures we start with prayer. It ensures the most important things are first and done.
So Morning Time, this year, comes before anyone is allowed to see their math pages or start any other work, other than piano practice. I don’t want to tear people away from their work for Morning Time, and I don’t want the sight of math to be done to tank moods before we’ve begun.
To ensure that everyone is grounded, together, and Scripture-soaked first thing, Morning Time will start our days – before math.
“Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ “C.S. Lewis
If Morning Time is not – generally speaking – increasing our love of each other, God, and the day’s work – it’s not doing its job. The memory work is only a tool, not a goal.
How We Make Morning Time Work
Morning Time, or Circle Time at our house, is the very heart of our homeschool practices. Every morning we come together and recite beautiful words and beautiful truths together, centering our day and work on Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from the beginning.
We’ve been doing Circle Time from the time my oldest was 5, over 7 years ago. It’s evolved and grown over the years, but it’s remained the essential ingredient that has kept us focused on what’s truly important.
Even when we know that Circle Time, Morning Time, is the best part of our day, the temptations to skip it abound. Whenever I am in planning mode, I am always determined to emphasize Morning Time. But when a midweek school day begins, all the reasons why we probably shouldn’t sit down and do it crowd my mind.
The truth is, Morning Time takes a lot of presence of mind, and I usually resist giving my entire presence of mind to our school day – which is not good at all. It is another reason why Morning Time is a good practice for me. I repent of my preference to simply shuffle everyone off to work on their own, gird up the loins of my mind and my attitude, and determine to start the school day off on the right foot.
In Morning Time almost more than any other point in our school day, if Mama’s got a stinky or lethargic attitude, everyone’s got a stinky or lethargic attitude. So I must muster the same response I want to require of my children when I call them to Morning Time.
And that’s why coffee should be an indispensable part of the routine.
Here are three tricks I’ve found to help muster my own energy:
- Teach the children to come to the table in response to an alarm or bell. Make the calling everyone together simpler and not requiring shouting and calling and herding and cajoling. If I can simply shake a bell and people come get their binders, the hurdle to begin is easier (it’s easy to ring a bell, hard to go search out and round up five children).
- Have a policy of no technology checking during Circle Time, or even after breakfast. One thing that delays Morning Time is when I get on my computer when I should be directing children and getting us all going on our business of the day. If, after breakfast, I close the laptop, we’re about 1000% more likely to start school and Morning Time on time.
- Start with a piece that everyone enjoys. It’s easier to get going if you know the first thing you have to do is something that will be an “easy sell” to the children. Build up to the parts that require more of them, don’t start off with the most demanding pieces. Get them on board first with a fun chant, a song, a call-and-response, a greeting ritual, listening to a chapter from Proverbs or a Bible story – something that will bring a smile to each face first thing. That smile is the momentum that will help you all carry through the rest.
Why We Prioritize Morning Time
Way back when when my oldest was in preschool, I was reading Cindy Rollins’ blog and took her advice to heart and stepped out in faith that she was on to something. Her description of starting the day together singing and doing the beautiful things that are so easy set aside in favor of the workbooks resonated with me. It reminded me of the family devotions my own family did sporadically while I was growing up, and I knew that having that time set aside for learning hymns, catechism, and Scripture would bear fruit if we stuck with it through those daily little moments that don’t feel like much.
After seven years of starting at least half our school days with Morning Time, every year I only prioritize it more and more as I see it bear fruit, slowly but surely.
My favorite small fruit is the two-year-old singing our current hymn in her nap-time crib. But I know without this time set aside for what is true, good, and beautiful, we would not have learned the catechism, would not have so many hymns available in our minds to hum, would not have phrases of Scripture familiar on our tongues (even if we can’t recite them word-perfectly). It would be too easy – it even is still too easy – to default to doing the math page, assigning the reading, and calling that school. And perhaps that would be school, but it would not be a life.
Morning Time is the part of the day that builds our family culture and weaves us together as we meditate on truth and let it sink down into our bones through sheer, stubborn repetition.
Why I Call Our Morning Time ‘Classical’
No, you do not need to choose classical education to do a Morning Time. Morning Time is not specifically classical. It fits with any style of homeschooling and what you do during it can be customized to fit your own particular family culture. It is simply taking advantage of the chief good of homeschooling: pulling all the family together to learn alongside one another, multiple ages, good days and bad, building a network of shared family knowledge and experience.
My working definition of ‘classical,’ however, would probably encompass your Morning Time as classical even if you don’t want the label. I believe classical refers not ultimately to studying Latin (though we do) or having a literary core (which we do), but to the aim of what we are doing, which is virtue.
Educators from Aristotle and Plato, on to Augustine and Anselm, even unto Luther, Kuyper, and Charlotte Mason, saw the entire point of education not to get a job or become a productive worker bee in the economy (that’s a modern Marxist paradigm), but to become a fully human person who both knows truth and practices truth.
Morning Time is, at heart, a time to learn truth (through singing, Scripture, catechism, and other wise words) beautifully, pre-critically, in harmony with others, so that it seeps into our minds and bones and gradually works itself out in our affections, choices, and actions.
So your Morning Time is probably classical, too, even if you don’t consider yourself a classical homeschooler.
What Makes a Morning Time?
If you take a survey of homeschoolers who do Morning Time, you will find as many combinations of materials as families you survey – and that’s as it should be. There is no prescribed formula or set material.
What do you want worked into your homeschool days that isn’t happening? Try adding it to Morning Time. What songs do you wish your kids knew by heart? Sing those together daily and watch the sulky attitudes melt.
Morning Time is our time to organize attitudes together.
What’s Been in Our Morning Baskets
Often you’ll see readalouds, handicrafts, or even grammar in people’s Morning Time plan. That’s great! However, I have kept ours shorter and included primarily the timeless truths that I want sunk into my own and my children’s bones.
The read-aloud and more knowledge-focused bits often in Morning Time plans, we do during what is actually like a second Morning Time twice a week, Elementary Lessons.
Click on the tab to see the plans made for each school year:
- Our Morning Time Plans
What makes up your own Morning Time will be a combination of your family tastes, your family needs, and your family’s season of life. Embrace the flexibility and always begin building new habits and routines slowly rather than trying to birth them fully mature.
Start with a baby Morning Time and let it grow and develop year by year.
You will not regret it.
I’ve written much over the years about our memory work binders. I have loved them, even when the creation of 5 identical hundred-page binders gave me headaches. The headache in the summer was worth it because of the headaches they prevented every school morning (that we did Morning Time).
But, their time has passed, with weeping and mourning.
I still highly recommend the process and think it’s super helpful.
But it no longer fits our goals or our format for Morning Time, so away they go.
The demise of the memory work binder is due entirely to our church replacing its Psalter Hymnal.
One primary goal of our Morning Time content choices is to prepare ourselves (particularly the non-readers) to participate in corporate worship every Sunday. This has led us to choose the particular Psalms and hymns we learn to sing and the catechism that we memorize.
Over the last 11 years of the reign of Morning Time binders, we amassed a collection of over 50 Psalms and hymns we more or less knew – a rotation of over 50 that we regularly sang as they came up as the next page in the binder.
Enter, the new Psalter Hymnal. Our denomination (United Reformed Churches of North America) and a sister denomination (Orthodox Presbyterian Churches) jointly produced a new Psalter Hymnal for their congregations. It took them over 10 years to select and publish, and finally hit our pews this last fall.
The words in several of the hymns in our binders were altered. Some of our hymns are no longer in the Psalter Hymnal, many new ones are there. The numbers are different.
And, in the end, we decided that a unified church body was a good to pursue, and to that end, we would go with the new versions and learn the new Psalter.
So, out with the self-made binders and in with using our church’s new Psalter, which also contains the catechism (wording slightly altered) and creeds. We purchased a copy for everyone, and now instead of binders, everyone comes to their place with a Bible and a Psalter.
Another benefit to this new arrangement is that instead of flipping to the next page in the Scripture memory tab of their binders, each child needs to find their passage in their actual Bible. Between the binders, Bible apps, and the audio Bible, although my children are comfortable with Scripture itself, the younger ones are not comfortable navigating the actual printed page – so although it takes longer, it’s worth it to cultivate that familiarity.
Here is our procedure list for Morning Time 2019-2020:
- I turn on Andrew Peterson’s “Little Boy Heart Alive” to announce that it is time for Morning Time – people make it to their place in the living room with their Bible & Psalter by the time the song has ended.
- I say “Lift up your hearts!” They all reply: “We lift them up to the Lord!”
- We sing a hymn from the short list (that is, the ones we’ll repeat more often so the youngest learns them as well as the oldest have)
- I read a section from Psalm 119, then we each pray, going around in a clockwise circle.
- Jaeger reads aloud the Proverb chapter that matches the date.
- We sing again, from the list of Psalms we know this time.
- We recite the catechism selections from my master loop of catechism we know – 10ish from The Catechism for Young Children (the shortest Westminster – I read from a paper and they answer from memory) and 1 Lord’s Day from the Heidelberg (reading from the Psalter)
- Geneva, Ilse, and Knox each have a passage from our memory work list that they read aloud from their Bible.
- Each of us – myself included – reads aloud or recites our chosen poem of the term (we each have all the poems on a paper folded into the Psalters).
- We sing another hymn from the long loop of hymns we know
- I say “And all God’s people said” and we all say “Amen!”
- Jaeger is dismissed, we all can go get a drink and come back to our places
- I read aloud half a chapter from Little Pilgrim’s Progress and 1 chapter from a Bob Shultz book (Created for Work, then Practical Happiness). The kids narrate after each reading.
- We close by singing either the Gloria Patri or the Doxology
The Morning Time as a whole group should take about 30-40 minutes, then another 15-20 minutes of reading aloud to the younger set after that. If it takes longer in reality, I will adjust to hit that time goal.
Our binders and procedure is not very different this year. I abbreviated it a little bit to keep the high schooler happy and the almost-kindergartener engaged the whole time instead of coloring.
In fact, coloring during Morning Time – a change last year – distracted rather than aided attention and dramatically increased the sibling bickering because there is not enough room at the table for everyone to have an open binder, crayons or pencils, and a coloring book or clipboard plus the 3 inches of personal margin they think they need. So we’re back to binders-only, but we’ll keep it brisk and 30-minutes.
The other benefit of keeping it short is that I want to rotate through fewer pieces of memory work more frequently. Instead of keeping old pieces in mind with occasional review, I want to emphasize those old pieces that the youngest has hardly heard.
Before I share our procedure or what is in our binders, we’ll actually do it for a week or two. There are bound to be adjustments made as I get real-life feedback.
Always keep the goal in mind, and troubleshoot toward it.
The color-coding there is how I keep track of where I am in the process as I put it all together. All the initial plans go in black. As I find and print the poem or passage or hymn, I turn the text purple. If a poem is one already in our collection (i.e. a younger child now has a poem that an older child did years ago – I keep all our old ones), then I color it orange to remind myself I don’t have to print that one. I’ll turn those purple after I locate them.
“Verbatim” there in the catechism section is the nickname our pastor has given the selections from the Heidelberg that our consistory recommends for families to memorize. So, each term we’ll alternate between reviewing the Heidelberg selections we know and the Children’s Catechism.
I am changing up our binder organization this year. Every year for the last 5 years I get all the pages set up for all 6 terms during the summer. This is necessary because there’s no way I’d go find new poems, print them, get them into page protectors and sort through pages during Christmas break or even our February school break. It just wouldn’t happen.
So I spend a week or two in the summer, listening to an audio book and printing pages, inserting sheets into page protectors, and organizing piles so they are grab-and-go during the year. Then it only takes me about 30 minutes to change out the pages between terms (and, honestly, I usually do it on Monday morning of the new term).
Well, last summer it was an extraordinarily tedious amount of pulling pages out of page protectors, making new combinations, and ensuring I had 5 exact replica piles of every weekday for every term. It was a little ridiculous. Near the end, Matt helped me and after about 5 minutes he looked at me and said, “Seriously? This is the best way to do this?” My answer was that it can’t be, there must be a simpler way, because I didn’t ever want to do that again.
So, here is the new simplified version:
- Instead of day-of-the-week tabs, we have “memory type” tabs: there is still daily, but then we have these tabs with past material to review (and because we’ve been doing this for 8 years, we have a lot of review):
- Instead of doing every page behind a certain day-of-the-week tab, then (which was easier for younger kids to keep up with), we’ll be doing one page from each tab, using a flag to keep track of which page we’re on. All the Proverbs and Psalms we’ve learned to date are in everyone’s binder, and those won’t change all year. The hymns, passages, and catechism sections will be divided into two halves, and we’ll switch back-and-forth every term.
- In addition to the daily tab, there will be a “closing” tab with our creed, a closing hymn (the same one every day for a term), and a benediction (only in my binder, because I am the one who recites that – then they all say Amen – and I have 5 I will loop).
- I’m keeping the Psalm 119 sections in my binder and will continue to open our Morning Time by reading a section before we pray. That helps turn our attention and it also helps inform my prayer, which comes immediately after. Those sections are in my binder just in front of the daily tab.
- The index-card-a-day plan last year lasted the first two terms, but the kids do love to color during Morning Time. This year I am getting each one a coloring book that will be Morning-Time only. They can have them as long as they are still paying attention and reciting when called upon. If they start holding up the flow because they’re coloring and not paying attention, then they lose that privilege.
I also created a “procedure chart” after thinking through the best flow. We’ll try it out, anyway, and then adjust based on how things actually play out. However, we’ve been doing this long enough, and this procedure has only minor adjustments from last year’s, so I’m pretty confident it will work. That confidence comes with time and experience and a willingness to experiment and change things up when they don’t work.
Our morning rhythm is breakfast – chores – school. Because the time chores takes varies amongst the 5 children, anyone who finishes before we’re all ready can get started on his clipboard checklist (no playing or goofing off before work is done – including school – this policy is how I’ve eliminated dawdling, at least so far – my current too-bright-for-his-own-good 6-year-old will need a baptism-by-fire in that policy this year).
Sometime between 8-8:45, when the time seems right and I’ve girded up the loins of my mind (i.e. had a second cup of coffee), I turn on an Andrew Peterson song, “Little Boy Heart Alive” and the guitar riffs playing over the house speakers let everyone know, wherever they are, that they have 4 minutes to wrap up and be at the table with their binder and their crayons.
Another change I’m making to our routine this year is that when we all go around the table praying, I will give everyone a prompt or two instead of just letting them drift into a rote prayer. I am putting together something like Brandy’s Prayer Box and for the same reasons she outlines in her post.
We actually only made it through 1/3 of Dawn’s study of Charlotte Mason’s motto last year, and I do love it, so we’ll give it another go this year. (It’s free. Download it. It’s amazing.)
I am estimating that this Morning Time routine will be in the 30 minute range once we get in the swing of it, which is a little shorter than last year (last year it was about 40 minutes), but it’s concentrated goodness and I am working hard this year to make sure all our work can be done in the morning and that we have afternoon time reserved for reading.
When I asked each child in the spring what their favorite part of school was, half of them said Morning Time. That just made me absolutely happy, because I think it’s truly the most important thing we do. It is how we build a Christ-centered home culture and how I pray their hearts will be shaped by Scripture. Because of Morning Time they know many of the songs we sing in church by heart. Because of Morning Time they think knowing poetry is normal and enjoyable. Because of Morning Time we orient our minds and attitudes heavenward first thing in the morning, before the cares and the math tears weigh us down.
Maybe, by next spring, each of my children will call Morning Time their favorite part of the school day. That is my goal.
Morning Time is fairly standardized in our house now, and part of our morning ritual and rhythm. I will be setting an alarm for 8:30 to begin. The older boys might get a start on their math or other assignment on their checklist if they’re ready before that (no playing allowed between chores and school – it’s too hard to gain momentum in the morning if they do), but I will have my own morning preparations and tidying and toddler-helping wrapped up to call everyone together at 8:30.
The Agenda for Our Homeschool Morning Time
(classical music will still be playing; I turn it on during chore time after breakfast. During breakfast, I’ll turn on the audiobook Bible for the day’s Proverbs chapter)
- Morning Meeting – We’ll go over what to expect that day and what to be prepared for; Hans will write his own daily index card to-do list during this time if he hasn’t already
- Gratitude Journal – We did this a few years ago and stopped, but I’m bringing it back this year. We’ll open with a few minutes set aside to write down what we’re thankful for. Each child has a composition notebook in their binder for this and will probably want their crayons instead of pencils. I will be overseeing, directing, and micromanaging this little project as little as possible.
(Turn classical music off)
- Call: I printed Psalm 119 with each section on its own page, and I will read aloud one section to begin our time together
- Each person pray in turn
Then we open our binders and begin with our new hymn, move to the new memory, including poems, then on to the review portion for the current day of the week.
Then we’ll do a few fun memory songs and chants. We’ll listen to a chapter vocabulary chant from both Latin for Children A (which Jaeger is in) and Latin for Children B (which Hans is in) and a song from Song School Latin (which Ilse begged for this year). Then we’ll listen to one Bible-related memory song (I have a playlist with songs for the kings of Israel, the books of the Bible, the 12 disciples, etc. Most of them are Jamie Soles songs). Finally, we’ll listen to 1-3 (depending on length) knowledge songs, looping through a playlist that includes the Periodic Table, grammar definitions, states, presidents, and Kings & Queens of England.
If you have any favorite memory songs, please share them in the comments!
This year I’m adding a new element: ending with a reading and narration.
I’m planning to start off the year with a study on Charlotte Mason’s student motto (I am, I can, I ought, I will) that Dawn Garrett is currently working on (Yes, you’ll hear about it from me when it’s ready!). We will learn about and memorize the motto during the summer term, then incorporate it as a final pronouncement before we move on to other things for the rest of the year.
After the motto study (which the children will not narrate), I plan to read Concise Theology, 2-3 paragraphs at a time. We’ll roll a die for which older boy will narrate it, and their narration job will be to summarize it for Ilse & Knox, not for me – I want them to practice speaking plainly rather than repeat terms or try to impress me with their vocabulary, so I think using Ilse as an audience for the narrations will help with that. Then I’ll roll the die again and Knox or Ilse will have to tell me something they learned.
They will also have their gratitude notebooks during this time that they can draw in while listening.
I shortened up our memory work review amounts this year to make room for the addition of the final reading. We’ll see how the first few sessions go, but I believe I have planned no more than 40 minutes worth here in this list. However, as is now my custom, I plan 40-45 minutes worth of work and block off an hour for it. Because life does happen, there are always interruptions, and children generally don’t simply fall in line on command, turns out.
I’m messing with our morning pattern this year. Last time I tried this it didn’t work, but I’m still going to give it a shot again. If it doesn’t fly, we’ll just go back to our typical pattern and it’s not that big a deal.
- breakfast & chores (with classical music playing)
—> when finished, pull out Bible and Circle Time stuff and read at table while waiting for us all to gather
- Circle Time
—> after it’s over, put Circle Time binders away and pull out math sheets.
Circle Time Agenda
The primary reason I want to move Circle Time to the first item on our list is that I want to be more consistent with doing a little daily agenda-setting with the kids for the day. I’m going to be working more on time management with the older two, mostly because it’s my hobby and something I can share with them. It is more that they have an aptitude for it, a potential that I see, rather than that I see a deficiency. As I’m working on my own habits in this regard, it makes sense to share that with them and bring them along for the ride.
Also, one resolve I did make after reading Desiring the Kingdom was to be more purposeful and conscious of the liturgies I set during our day. I don’t want our starting liturgy to consist of frantic herding and sharp order-barking.
So, the plan for the flow of Circle Time is
- Ring the bell at 8 (or set a timer on my iPod for 8 that will chime) for everyone to gather if they aren’t already there.
- Agenda. Talk about each person’s agenda for the day and give a quick pointer for making it through possible rough patches.
- Pray. I start & each child prays, going around the table.
- Call. I say “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” and the children respond, “And also with you.”
- Start binder recitation. This will start with reciting the Apostles’ or Nicene together, then comes our term’s new hymn, then it will move into Scripture memory. I’ve placed a hymn in the middle and at the end. And each child (and myself!) also has a poem to recite daily.
- Closing. After the last hymn, we all say “Amen.” Then I read a benediction verse such as “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” To which the children respond with “Amen.” And then we all get up, put our binders back on the shelf (in the same room), and move on to the next thing.
Circle Time Content
Our Circle Time is primarily memory work. It’s our warm-up together for the day, starting by speaking (or singing) 40ish minutes of truth out loud. Read alouds come at different points in our day, and they don’t happen at the table like Circle Time does. It’s all interactive and not at all passive, I even let the younger set get up from their chairs to “dance” during the singing. I wouldn’t be able to wrangle all 5 kids to be quiet and passive enough to read aloud for that amount of time, so I keep it to 40ish minutes (planned for an hour-long block) and we only do our singing, memory work, and poetry during this time.
We sing hymns that we often sing in church so that the non-readers are better able to participate. We learn Scripture that I’ve made notes on to myself would be good to memorize. We each recite one poem per day (myself on down to the four-year-old); the 9-year-old and 11-year-old selected their own poems this year. We learn some catechism (The Catechism for Young Children and selections from the Heidelberg).
Now, we also do things a bit differently because I use that term “memorize” a lot more loosely than a typical classical educator. I think that deserves a post all its own (again), but suffice it here to say that all we do is read aloud together each of the day’s selections in our binders, and after six weeks of daily repeating, they are at least very familiar if not word-perfect and memorized by rote. During the break week between our six week terms, the content changes regardless of how we did with it. If we know it perfectly at 4 weeks, we keep at it another 2 even so. If it’s nowhere near memorized, it still gets swapped out. It’s very uncouth and perhaps scandalous, but it has been a key factor in eliminating stress from Circle Time (which previously was a hotbed for frustration born of unmet expectations). I am, perhaps, taking too far Cindy’s admonition to not despise “little drops of water, little grains of sand.” After all, Scripture reading and memorizing is something none of us will ever stop doing, so this is more about building habits and growing in abilities and affections; I want Scripture to be in our heads and hearts for the Spirit to work with when we need it. So I think this sometimes glacially slow process will work us over well over the long haul, but it doesn’t leave much to show in the short term. It’s ok that way, really.
All-Year Memory Work
This year I’m trying something a little different. I put some new content behind the day-of-the-week tabs in our Memory Work binders that we’ll recite on that day of the week all year. It adds up to a similar number of times recited, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.
Colossians has 4 chapters, so every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, all year long, we’ll read aloud together a chapter of Colossians.
I want us to learn and internalize the 10 Commandments this year, so I broke it up like this:
- Monday, overview: Exodus 20, Catechism for Young Children Q& A 72-79, Heidelberg Q&A 91 (“What do we do that is good?”)
- Tuesday, commandments 1 & 2: Catechism for Young Children Q&A 80-83, Heidelberg Q&A 94 & 96
- Wednesday, commandments 3 & 4: Catechism for Young Children Q&A 84-90, Heidelberg Q&A 99, 100, & 103
- Thursday, commandments 5, 6, & 7: Catechism for Young Children Q&A 91-96, Heidelberg Q&A 104-109
- Friday, commandments 8, 9, & 10 + the use of them: Catechism for Young Children Q&A 97-102, Heidelberg Q&A 110-113
The Catechism for Young Children Q&As include “What is the x commandment? The x commandment is:…” and the commandment from Exodus 20 verbatim.
I love the planning time of year. The possibilities seem boundless and the potential is invigorating.
None of these elements are a completely new thing in how we do things; each is a slight development and building upon previous years. The following Circle Time plan is simply continuing to develop our previous years and experiences. We started with 10-15 minutes five years ago. I tried a 60-90 minute plan at one point (way too early) and pared it back.
Last year we spent about 30 minutes singing & reciting, and it was the right amount of time. The pace was brisk, I didn’t belabor anything (I can be a killjoy), and it didn’t [usually] leave the children exhausted by the end (not that I can say the same for myself). So I’m keeping the format and the amounts that worked so well last year, and only adding a 2-3 minute additional tab to my binder (not the children’s) for even/odd where we’ll work on short verses (like Proverbs) and catechism, repeated from memory rather than reading along.
This year my third and fourth children are the same ages as my first and second were when we began Circle Time and short official school times. So, as I put the materials for the year together, I tried to balance adding in new and challenging work for the older set and yet not leaving out and leaving behind the old stuff suited for the 5 & 3 year old. It does the older pair good to have it repeated, anyway.
1. Personal Devotions
Everyone will finish up math at different times, so instead of letting them run off and get lost or wrapped up in something else while they wait for Circle Time, they will grab their Bibles (or Bible picture book in the case of non-readers) and have the time to read the Bible for themselves. Last year I printed off a Bible reading checklist so they could check off how much they had read. In the daily wear and tear, those sheets didn’t last long. I’ll try it again this year, printing it on heavier paper with hole-punch reinforcements. However, mostly I am just hoping to instill the habit of daily Bible reading, and they can pick and choose where they want to read, since all Scripture is profitable.
2. Group Devotional Reading (3-5 minutes)
At 8:30 (so my hopeful schedule says), I’ll pull out the binders, tell any still working on math to set it aside, and open our time together by reading aloud a short chapter from a devotional-type book. Just in the last couple months of school I started opening Circle Time by reading a chapter from Boyhood and Beyond by Bob Schultz, and Hans and Jaeger both really enjoy it. We didn’t finish the book yet, so we’ll pick up with the last handful of chapters when we begin again. Here’s my line-up of selections for the year:
Some days the reading will be skipped if I am pressed for time, or have a sore throat, or some other excuse. Rather than schedule the books out with specificity, we’ll read the next chapter and move on to the next book when we finish one. Just as we didn’t finish Boyhood and Beyond by the end of our school year, we might not finish these by the end of this school year. No big deal. This is a “do the next thing” category, not a “must finish this set amount” assignment.
3. Prayer (2-3 minutes)
I start by praying for our day and our attitudes and thanking God that we have this time together, then each of the children takes a turn praying, with an emphasis on thanking God for all He has provided.
4. Binder (30ish minutes)
Then we open our binders and begin our singing and memory work. I’ve written before about how I organize these and put them together. They held up all year, so I’ll be doing it the same way again.
- New hymn (one per term); new this year: Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, All People that on Earth Do Dwell, I Waited for the Lord, Rock of Ages, It Is Well.
- New Psalm (one per two terms); new this year: 16, 100, 20
- New Heidelberg selections (two per two terms): Lord’s Day 2 & 3, Lord’s Day 9 & 21, Q&A 52 & 53
- New Scripture passage. This year we’ll recite Ephesians, one chapter per term.
- Hans’ poem (one per term): Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson; The Children’s Song, Kipling; To Be a Pilgrim, Bunyan; The Sluggard, Watts; Land of Counterpane, Stevenson.
- Jaeger’s poem (one per term): A Good Play, Stevenson; Stopping By the Woods; Marching Song, Stevenson; Four Things, Van Dyke; Summer Sun, Stevenson; The Boy We Want.
- Ilse & Knox’s poem (one per term): Happy Thought, Stevenson; Purple Cow; Whole Duty of Children; Now We Are Six, Milne; Once I Saw a Little Bird; Wise Old Owl.
- My poem (one per term): A Litany, Donne; An Apology, Bradstreet; All the World’s a Stage, Shakespeare; Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, Shakespeare; Death Be Not Proud, Donne; As Spring the Winter Doth Succeed, Bradstreet.
Hans & Jaeger helped pick their poems this year. I have a poem, too, because all this memorizing and poetry is good not only for the children. And, I love Donne.
This section will be in my binder only, and we will do it by my reading a line and the children chorusing it back.
- Creed (Apostle’s or Nicene or Lord’s Day 1); this we will actually all recite this together
- A Proverb (I picked a handful I thought we could all use)
- Short review Psalm or passage (ones I want the little ones not to miss)
- Heidelberg Catechism (1-2 Q&A)
- Children’s Catechism (10-15 Q&A per day)
This material would have been all Circle Time was (plus singing) when the older boys were beginning. Because it’s review for them (and familiar by repetition to the youngers), we’ll have a momentum to get through it that we didn’t have in the early years, and it doesn’t take as much time as it used to.
Day of the Week:
Each day of the week will have a different set of review, which will change each term.
- Review hymn
- Review Psalm
- Review passage
- Review hymn
- Other review (motto or poem or catechism or another passage)
- Review hymn
5. Calculadder Drill (3 minutes)
I think a 2-minute Calculadder drill would fit most conveniently at this point, but we’ll have to see how it actually plays out.
6. Playlist (5-8 minutes)
After Circle Time is over, I turn on a playlist with memory songs like Geography Songs, books of the Bible, Shurley grammar chants, Latin chants, history timeline songs etc. I have a different playlist for each day of the week, and the content rotates each term, too. At this point it’s all review. That plays while the kids get up, put away their binder, and move and get their wiggles out after being at the table at attention for so long. While it plays, I move laundry and straighten things up and line up what’s next.
It’s more memory material, but it feels like a break.
I know most people include their read-alouds in Circle Time, but I count that as a separate time — even though it usually flows right after Circle Time. For me, Circle Time is composed of those things that we do all together as a family that center and ground us, that focus us on what truly matters: reading the Bible, praying, singing, memorizing Scripture, and then some other memory work because it’s a convenient time for it.
So, here’s the Circle Time plan for our coming year:
Circle Time Phase One: Personal Devotions
I have been challenged and encouraged from several places over the years to ensure the children have time set aside to read the Bible for themselves — to establish as children the habit of daily Bible reading. I’ve tried putting it at different parts of the day, but it came as no surprise to me when the only time that worked consistently was as a first thing. So that’s where it goes.
When I call everyone together for Circle Time, we’ll sit around the table, each with our memory work binders, crayon & pencil boxes, and Bibles (a picture Bible for Ilse). I will encourage the boys to read one chapter or part of a chapter, and copy one or two favorite verses on the notebook paper in their binder. They both enjoy copying from books. The binder also has a checklist of all the chapters in the Bible, so they can keep track of what they’ve read. I’m not going to supervise or make sure they do any particular plan or order, though; this is their time in the Word, which never returns void. I’ll set the timer for 15 minutes, and we’ll all have 15 minutes of individual Bible-reading time.
Next, we’ll all take turns praying aloud for the day and our work, and also pray thanking God for his blessings.
Circle Time Phase Two: Memory Binder Time
During the next chunk of time, we’ll work through our memory binders:
- Hymn: We’ll learn one hymn per term by singing it through everyday for six weeks.
- Psalm: We’ll learn one Psalm every two terms by reading it aloud together everyday for twelve weeks.
- Scripture Passage: We’ll learn one paragraph-sized portion of Scripture every term by reading it aloud together everyday for six weeks.
- Poem: Each day each reading student will read his poem for the term aloud.
- Hymn: We’ll sing a hymn we’ve learned in previous years. I picked out five I want to make sure the little ones know, and we’ll sing them, one a day, each week, for all thirty-six weeks.
- Creed: On different days of the week, our creed will be different, rotating between Heidelberg Lord’s Day 1, Nicene Creed, and Apostle’s Creed
- Catechism: Each day we review about 15 Q&As from the Catechism for Young Children and 2-3 Heidelberg Q&As. We’ll do the same 12 Heidelberg weekly all year, and we’ll go through the Catechism for Young Children every two terms.
- Psalm: We’ll review 5 previously-learned Psalms each term, one a day for a whole term (i.e. for Summer Term, Psalm 1 is said every Monday, Psalm 8 every Tuesday, etc.)
- Scripture Passage: In the same way, we’ll review one or two previously learned passages each day, reviewing the same set weekly all term, then changing them out for another set the next term.
- Hymn: We’ll rotate review of 4 other previously learned hymns each term, one per day.
- History Sentence: We’ll learn three sentences per term, saying one every Tuesday, the next every Thursday, and the next every Friday.
- Motto: We’ll learn three mottos per term, saying one every Tuesday, the next every Thursday, and the next every Friday. One or two of the set will always be a review motto.
Circle Time Phase Three: Listen to the Playlist
Finally, we get a little change of pace and I turn on that day’s memory work playlist. The kids follow along together for Latin chants, Veritas timeline song, and Geography Songs in the binder with the reference materials for those (Latin chant page, timeline cards, and maps). Then it’s the songs and they can get up and move and sing along.
- Latin Chant (one chapter a day)
- Veritas Timeline song (8 events per song, 1-2 songs per day & all 160 on Fridays)
- Geography songs (1 per day, a different continent each term)
- Shurley Grammar definitions chant (once a week, a different one each term)
- Bible Memory song (once a week, a different one each term, like the Books of the Bible)
Circle Time Phase Four: Bible Lesson
We do one set of lessons together: Bible. We use Covenantal Catechism by Rev. Van Dyken, and I really enjoy them. It is set up with Bible-knowledge catechism questions incorporated, but I use those as review & discussion questions rather than memory work, because I figure we have enough catechism and memory work as it is. We are doing Old Testament again this year. I have the books broken up so that we do two a year: a year in Old Testament and a year in Gospels & Acts, and we’ll rotate between them for a number of years. Eventually I will likely dismiss the older ones for these lessons and only do them with younger ones, but I will probably be switching back and forth, teaching this rotation for eight or ten years yet.
I follow, roughly and inconsistently, the following weekly pattern:
- Tuesday: read aloud or listen to the audio of the lessons’ passage.
- Wednesday: read the lessons
- Thursday: discuss the chapters’ questions
- Friday: illustrate the lesson (and write 3-4 sentences about it for the 9yo)
The children all have related coloring sheets they can color while they listen, also.
This plan puts us at about an hour and ten or fifteen minutes total, if things flow smoothly, which they almost never do. My ideal is to have Circle Time fit into an hour, so we’ll have to see how it goes the first few days and see if it works and what needs to be tweaked.
There is always tweaking needing to be done.
Circle Time — or maybe Morning Gathering — Plans
Proverb of the Day
We used to listen to the Proverb for the day (the chapter corresponding to the day of the month) during breakfast, but that no longer works well for us. If we all get settled into starting breakfast at the same time and taking about the same amount of time, I’ll move it back to breakfast, because it sets the tone, gets us going, and cuts down on raucous table “conversation.” To make sure they listen, I ask each of the boys to tell me one Proverb they remember, but I think that has backfired on me. They seem to think then that they can remember one of the first or one of the last ones and tune out the remainder. Maybe instead I’ll start asking them how many they can remember, or which was their favorite, or if there was one they had a question about.
I start by praying for our day and then everyone gets a chance to pray, also. If they say they don’t know what to pray, I tell them to think of 2 or 3 things they are thankful for and thank God for them. Each child praying used to be up to them, but then I was pretty sure my boys were opting out due to laziness, so when I said, “Would you like to pray?” and they said, “No.” I said, “That’s sad that you don’t want to pray to God who made you and takes care of you. It’s not the right answer. Let’s try again. Would you like to pray?” That only happened one or two times after that. I still say to each one in turn, “Would you like to pray?” and if they say anything other than “Yes!” I cheerfully respond, “Wrong answer! Try again!” I still give Ilse the words to say after me, but I remind her that she is God’s child and God listens to her when she prays.
I have a 8×10 little whiteboard and stand that I write the day of the week and date on. We sing the days of the week, sometimes the months of the year, then I write the full date out, then write the number-shorthand saying, “April is the 4th month, this is the 20th day of the month, and it is the year of our Lord 2011” or “2011 years since Christ was born.” That the year is not spot on doesn’t matter to me. Technically, it seems it would be better to count years since the resurrection, but I will submit to my place in the stream of the history of the church and be content with the accounting we have received. Christ’s birth is the hinge point of history, and that is what the years are counting just like the days’ number counts the day of the month. Anyway, then the board stays on display so the boys can date their work without asking me to spell things out for them.
I was hit or miss with this concept this year, but that allowed me to notice the substantial difference in our atmosphere when I was diligent with it. A gentle, fun reminder of how we do things when it’s not a confrontation or “hot” moment does worlds of good. I have one motto per term and we’ll review one motto a day or a week, too. This year I’m going to print them one per sheet and hang them up or otherwise display them to make it smoother and easier. Some of the mottos/protocols we’ve done already are “When I call [Hans/Jaeger/Ilse!], you say, ‘Coming!’ and run to me.” And we practice and they think it’s funny. Or “If I say [some command or request], you say ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and start obeying, then if you need to, you can politely ask, ‘May I ask a question?’ but you have to be ready to obey no matter what answer you get.” And then we practice and I try to make it silly. “Leave a room better than you found it” and “Lights off when you leave a room” are some of the mottos I have listed for this year.
Our manners lessons fell on hard times about halfway through the year, but I saw a lot of fruit from them still. I realized that what the kids really need more than anything is simply to know what they are supposed to do. My two oldest tend toward the shy side and my daughter can be stubbornly silent when talking wasn’t her idea, but a lot of that was resolved when we talked in a non-heat-of-the-moment about what is expected and what is polite and what is rude. I realized part of the boys’ shyness was really uncertainty about what was expected or called for. They didn’t know what to do or how to respond and so they didn’t respond at all. So we’ll be continuing with “manners” lessons, this year focusing on conflict resolution based on Doorpost’s Brother Offended chart and book and the lessons in the Young Peacemaker’s Teacher Manual.
I can’t sing on key or keep a tune myself, and my husband sometimes gets nervous I’ll pass on my poor ear to the children, so I always try to find accompaniment tracks to use for our Circle Time singing. I have a cheap little external speaker for my iPod to use when we do Circle Time away from the main computer, but for now I’ve moved Circle Time back to the breakfast room where the computer is handy. I think changing up locations helps keep us fresh. This year I went ahead and got volumes 1 & 2 of Susan Beisner’s Listen While We Sing. It is piano accompaniment for the Trinity Hymnal, but the jacket cross-references the numbers for our church’s hymnal, too, and it has most of the tunes for the Psalms our church sings, as well as the hymns. I was having a very difficult time finding music for the Psalms I wanted to add to our repertoire, since part of my goal is helping the children be able to participate well in worship at church. She’s a little on the slow side, but not quite plodding, so I’ll take it and be grateful. The kids also enjoy listening to hymns in the afternoon or during their quiet time (the boys each have an ancient iPod shuffle, which was cheaper than getting a CD player and keeps quiet time quiet). I have lots of hymns in my memory, and it’s due to my family singing them regularly and my Mom having hymn CDs to play (Glad acapella hymns were my favorite), so I am hoping to perpetuate that in my own children. But, after shopping for some cheap hymn compilations, I must say I am very annoyed by all the people putting hymns to new music, leaving me with only options along the lines of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Anyway, CBD clearanced out a tenor singing hymns produced by Ligonier Ministries, so I bought that after wasting much too much time on Amazon and iTunes. Anyway, during Circle Time we’ll sing one new hymn a term (we just go all out and sing all the verses every day from the start rather than go one verse at a time) and one review hymn a day. This time I’m making a binder for everyone, so we’ll just cycle through our previous hymns, one per day.
Scripture & Catechism Memory
I prefer that we memorize paragraphs and complete thoughts rather than fragmented random verses, so it takes us a long time to memorize my selections. And this year the memory results have not been stellar, so I’m switching up our method from exclusively listening to reading and reciting all together in SCM’s system, tweaked (of course). I’ll make a separate post about our binders after I make them. But we will have a passage a term and a Psalm for every two terms that we recite daily. Then we’ll review a few previous passages and Psalms daily, and we’ll do one page of catechism questions daily. I have 5 Q&As from The Catechism for Young Children per page, and 2 Heidelberg Q&As per page, but we’re only working on 12 Heidelbergs. Our church’s consistory (pastor & elders & deacons) selected 12 Q&As that they commended for memorization a couple years ago, and so I promptly added them to our repertoire. I love the language in the Heidelberg (at least the translation in our hymnal, that is), it is so elegant and beautiful while also being strikingly clear and straightforward.
Using the playlist memory work this last year, I ended each day’s play list with a song, and that was a big hit with the kids. Now that were switching to reciting our memory work ourselves, I am still going to keep a playlist with memory songs for each day. We’ll be learning songs from a CD made for Classical Conversations with 8 of the Veritas history cards set to a song and one song with all 160 events in one song. We aren’t going to do CC, but looking at the program did leave me quite energized to memorize the Veritas timeline flow, and even more so when a friend showed me a CD she had from another CC mom with these songs. She doesn’t sell it online; you have to call her. If you want information about it, email me. I love the CD; it is home-done yet better produced than many other CDs I’ve heard with more money behind them. We’ll also continue with Geography Songs. We’ll memorize a few Bible-related songs like the Books of the Bible and the Twelve Apostles; most of the Bible memory songs I’ve selected are Jamie Soles, kids’ Bible-story songs with a backbone. Last year I bought just the Shirley Grammar chant CD and I’ll keep a few of those in the rotation, too, just so the definitions can be familiar and on our tongues when we need them. The Greek Alphabet song and Latin chants will also be in the rotation.
Other Potential Components
I am thinking about adding in gratitude journals or lists to our Circle Time, but I might do it only at certain times in the year. I haven’t quite decided on implementation. I am thinking this is an important element not only because I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp more lately, though she had an excellent post on doing gratitude journals with children, but also because Rachel Jankovic had a chapter in her book called “Thanksters or Cranksters” where she posited that whining and complaining is selfishness and is best combated by giving thanks. She started with examples from her children, but then swung it around as a reminder to us mothers that when we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, the faithful response is to give thanks instead (addressing yourself always and first is her book’s main theme). And her book came out before One Thousand Gifts. Plus, I’ve started Piper’s Future Grace where he denies that gratitude should be a motivator, and so my ornery side is prodding me to increase my own emphasis on gratitude.
Reviewing the Preschoolers and Peace posts I linked at the beginning reminded me that I have some cards of presidents and of birds and of art that I could possibly work in, too. And we could do a word of the day. But for the first term, I’ll stick with the list above and then adjust from there.
Summing up the Energy
I noted this year that Circle Time didn’t happen when I was feeling hazy. Circle Time is the part of the day that calls for my presence of mind most, and I find that I often have to sum up mental stamina to start. It is the starting that can be a hurdle. So I am also working on finding a good cue to help me over that initial hurdle of starting. So far, all I know is checking my rss feed or email is not helpful.
Do you have a routine or cue that helps give you starting momentum? Coffee is already a given.
Children: 7yo boy, 5yo boy, 3yo girl, 1yo boy
- Pray (everyone may have a turn)
- Sing (one hymn or psalm per turn, one review hymn or psalm, and the Doxology or Gloria Patri)
- Recite a creed (usually the Apostle’s, later in the year we’ll learn the Nicene; this is our pledge of allegiance)
- Repeat memory work (we don’t do all of this every day, some is only weekly or twice a week)
My estimate is that this takes 30-45 minutes. Singing is 5-8 minutes, memory work is 8-10, manners is 5, Bible is 10-15, and wrangling & managing is 5-10. That’s not on the list because it’s constant.
I found a song for the presidents on YouTube that we’ll use to memorize them. None were updated to include Obama, so we have to tag that on the end ourselves. The boys enjoy that because they think Obama is a funny name to say.
For the states, I’m using the Geography Songs selections and we’ll do one section (Eastern border, Northern border, etc.) each term.
The Bible songs will be a Book of the Bible song or a Jamie Soles list song (like Apostles or Kings or Prophets).
I decided not to do formal grammar this year, but instead we’ll learn the Shurley grammar chants (I bought the CD only) and we’ll check out Ruth Heller’s books from the library. With these helps, we’ll do a “as you walk along the way” approach to grammar, since I’m comfortable and familiar with the terminology and concepts.
The math facts songs are from Math-U-See.
Need help getting started with Morning Time? Want open-and-go plans to start your own Morning Basket practice?
Pam Barnhill, from Your Morning Basket, is your girl.
Pam and team have done all the hard work for you. Try these sample plans and bring the entire family together to learn and laugh.
Discover how fun and simple Morning Time can be.
How to Get Started with Circle Time (or Morning Basket)
“I can barely make it through ‘circle time.’ How long does your Circle Time take each day? Did you start out full force, or have you been adding to it year by year? Could you write an article about Circle Time? Could you include more of your planned circle times? I find myself just wanting to grab things from your plan, because it is SO much like what we do!”email from Meg in 2014
Our Circle Time – or Morning Time – has definitely grown over the years. The plans I am now putting together are our seventh or eighth (eighth if you count spending 5-10 minutes a day (sometimes even done in the car) learning the Children’s catechism, Holy Holy Holy, and Psalm 1 at 4 & 2 – and why would that not count?.
The majority of our Circle Time is spent on reviewing previous materials, so that is how our time together has naturally expanded.
Here is our progression over the years (grade is that of my oldest):
- PreK (2007) – Psalm 1, questions 1-20 of Children’s Catechism, and Holy Holy Holy
- K (2008) – Psalm 1, Ephesians 6:1-3, and The 10 Commandments (that didn’t go well), questions 1-50 of the Children’s Catechism, Holy Holy Holy, A Mighty Fortress, and For All the Saints.
- 1st (2009) – I added one more passage (and actually replaced the 10 Commandments), all the Children’s Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, and another hymn, so that we had one per day (we did CT four times a week).
- 2nd (2010) – I think this was the year I incorporated our term structure, so I had new material every 6 weeks and had a review section in my binder where we daily reviewed one passage (maybe a hymn?) and just rotated through them with a sticky tab marking the spot. After a term, that term’s passage went into the review section.
- 3rd (2011) – I think this was the year I added poetry memory and also first made the oldest two their own binder. I added new material each term and added the previous material into regular review. For both 2nd & 3rd grade I took most of my ideas for what to pick from Brandy’s and Cindy’s lists.
- 4th (2012) – Starting this year, I also began keeping a note when I’d read a passage I thought would be good to memorize or when we sang a hymn at church that I wanted to add. Now I get my memorization ideas from that ongoing list. I improved our binders to the system I am still using and loving.
- 5th (2013) – Hans & Jaeger got to choose half their own poems this year and we worked on learning the entire book of Ephesians (we read a chapter aloud daily and we’ll still continue with it the next year).
- 6th (2014, not yet begun) – Hans & Jaeger each picked all 6 of their poems for the year. We’ll focus on reinforcing Ephesians and on learning the Ten Commandments and the Catechism questions that explain them.
Some people use Circle Time to do read alouds, to do art or composer study, or to do other group lessons. For us, however, Circle Time is exclusively memory work (with singing and prayer, as well). It’s our way to start our day off on the right foot: with prayer, song, Scripture, and beautiful language. That’s the beauty of Circle Time: It can be whatever fits your family and season of life right now. There is no Right Way to do it. Take the ideas that inspire you, keep it as simple as you can, and just do it daily.
Circle Time’s primary function is to bring the family together and create a family atmosphere and culture around truth, goodness, and beauty.
Start Small. Keep It Simple.
Circle Time doesn’t have to be a huge production, and it doesn’t have to take an hour or more.
Circle Time is best when everyone is on board and cooperating at least 80% of the time. If it’s less than that, it’s better to chuck what’s causing contention than to hold on to it and have conflict every morning. It’s better to have a 15 minute happy time together than an hour of fighting. Believe me, we’ve had those days and I had to let go of what I read was the Best Way in order to find what made it a Happy Way for us.
Remember the point is relationship-building, culture-building, and affection-building. That’s why you shouldn’t do more than you (and your children) can do cheerfully.
But do stick in a small bit of something you (or your children) don’t naturally like, but that you know you should. Familiarity breeds affection, not contempt. If you want to grow to love poetry, or the catechism, or singing, or Scripture itself, then the best way is simply to do it a little bit every day, in amounts that don’t wear you down. Knowledge, familiarity, and skill build affection, and those all come through daily encounters.
Don’t despise the day of small beginnings. One hymn, one Psalm, and one poem might seem like an insignificant start, but an insignificant start is better than no start at all. In six years you will be shocked at how far you’ve come if you stick with small changes. Festina lente.
Morning Time with Babies and Toddlers
How things flow and what is included in our Morning Time has changed every year, and often there are tweaks or even major alterations midyear.
Particularly in the stage of the game where new people are being added to the family, where babies change their habits every three months, where toddlers come and go and come again, and where more children can’t read than can, Morning Time sanity can be touch and go.
There’s no “right” way for it; remember that. Having time together to pray and sing and do some Scripture memory is really the important part, and everything else (and how it happens and how it flows) is incidental.
For awhile, I recorded all our memory work and played the tracks for us all to recite to, because then my attention could be directed at babies, toddlers, and miscreants. Sometimes we only colored while listening. That was after a particularly rough bout where it was pulling teeth to get my oldest as a 5-year-old to repeat after me. It was a power struggle that made me a frazzled and not-nice mommy.
So much for “best part of the day.” I changed the tactics on him and won. I decided exposure and enjoying the time was more important than having it happen the way other people said to do it.
Give yourself that freedom to be unconventional and do what works. Most likely, you’ll need a brand new plan in 6 months or a year anyway. How you do it now doesn’t have to be how you do it forever.
When Morning Time Is a Mess
I think it was our second year of school and Circle Time and I remember “Best Part of Your Day” being a phrase that stuck in my mind.
Because it definitely wasn’t.
Quiet time was definitely the best part of the day, and I’m not talking about early morning devotions.
Circle Time was like the refining fire that brought out all our impurities.
No one could sit still (though they did perfectly well sitting for dinner and for church), half the time at least half the “participating” (I use the word loosely) children (at that time half would be one) were uncooperative, and my oldest and I spent much of the time vying for control of the situation and routine.
Repeating catechism or Bible verse lines after me was more often than not physically impossible and almost every aspect of the entire half hour (often dragged on for an hour or more) seemed to bring out the worst in us all. My oldest isn’t strong willed – except for during Circle Time.
It clearly was good for us.
Between Kendra and Cindy touting it as the best thing ever, I wasn’t going to give up easily, and I was determined to win any parent-child battle-of-the-wills (strategically, of course, not by brute force: outlast and stay in charge).
Finally, this year, the crop is starting to bear fruit.
I attribute it to these factors:
- I finally won the “this is how it is and will be” contest. It only took 3 years. Talk about outlasting.
- I eliminated the main source of friction (repeating after me) and changed the atmosphere to one of we’re-each-a-part-of-this-together instead of I’m-in-charge-here by giving each of the children their own binder and us all reading aloud together (or alternating individually — I still shake things up to keep them flexible). This wasn’t possible until I had readers.
- I now have 2 fluent readers and more mature students to carry the thing and I have it set up in such a way (each with his own binder, reading/reciting) that the preschooler, the toddler, and the baby can’t derail it. Now my older two are experienced, adept, and habituated enough to keep going even if I have to walk out with a toddler, stop to correct a preschooler (they don’t stop), or comfort a famished infant. Now, even if half the students are misbehaving (and half is now 2), the other 2 can keep it running (and doing so helps them feel in charge and responsible, which is what they weren’t feeling when they had to only and constantly follow and obey commands).
So, if you are in the midst of that Circle-Time-as-Chaos phase, be encouraged.
It might take 3 years to overcome, but it’s worth it. Those early years without older kids is just flat difficult. Change things up, problem solve, get creative, and persevere. Those little ones will be your leaders in just a few short years and be your assets that will make maintaining much easier with the next round of chaos.
I still have a temperamental 5 year old. I have the most chaos-inducing toddler of them all. I have a newborn who is no respecter of schedules or school times. But I have two fluent readers who can still carry the show if they stay on board and if I captain cheerfully.
The 5 year old can participate or not as she deems. She doesn’t make or break us (when it was just a 7 year old and 5 year old, the 5 year old could make or break it). She is still hearing it all and it’s soaking in whether she likes it or not. She’s still catching it, even if she thinks she’s refusing it.
The toddler can (and does) fuss and get in and out of his chair and interrupt and otherwise make hay. We soldier on, ignoring most of his antics. And, he can be banished, and we can still go on; he’s already learned he’d rather stick around be a part of this family culture thing than be solitary in his room while we’re singing and declaiming. And, for our part, we want him, too. So we’re willing to speak up and put up with his activity. He sits for dinner, when Dad reads the Bible aloud, and for church. He doesn’t have to sit still for Circle Time.
When one reader puts up protests, the other is quick to step up and take over, which provokes the would-be-mutineer to either buck up and continue pulling his load or risk banishment.
The only thing that can really derail us now is my own attitude and my own responses. So, we still have plenty of trouble.
But, in our fourth year, the thing is that we all really, truly enjoy Circle Time when we are all in fellowship.
Singing together is very bonding. It is also mood-lifting. I don’t think you can stay a mean and upset mom while also singing a hymn with your children. Often, bad attitudes all around melt during the opening hymn. Thus, singing is now sprinkled throughout Circle Time: beginning, middle, and end.
My readers are not getting the skill of careful listening and duplicating nor of precise rote memorization. But they are gaining skills in inflected, well-articulated reading and in fluent hearing, reading, and understanding long paragraphs of good, strong English (without it being broken up by phrase or sentence).
Every day or once a week, we hear the same Psalms over and over, and the phrases flow over us, softening and shaping. Every day or once a week, we say aloud the same New Testament paragraphs, not separating the application verses from the doctrine or doxology verses, but letting the whole connected thought pound its way in day after day.
Now, at last, our Circle Time really does resemble a circle with us all around a table. And we all sing together, we all read aloud familiar Bible passages together, we echo catechisms and mottos and creeds. And, even in the daily messiness and craziness, it is the true blessing of a family unity and a family culture being birthed.
Yes, in fact, it is like birth. In that moment, it’s all pain and overwhelming work. No one (in their right mind) wants to go through labor and birth. But we all want that little person that comes after all the trouble.
In its own little way, Circle Time is a labor and a trouble. It still often is. But it’s worth it in the end. And, in those precious moments in the midst of it where the glimpses of perspective are granted, it’s beautiful even in the midst of it.
How we practice and review memory work
For many years we used memory work binders. Every reader had the exact same pages in the exact same order, with tabs between sections. We’d typically do one page per section and move a Post-it flag to the next page to keep track of where we were in each section. Here are some video tours of our memory work binders:
Simply Charlotte Mason’s Scripture memory system is a popular resource for a reason. It’s a great way to organize your memory work not only to learn it by repetition, but also to retain it by repetition. It’s so easy for previously learned work to fall by the wayside because it isn’t reviewed. And, as John Milton Gregory writes in The Seven Laws of Teaching, “No time is wasted, which is spent in review.”
Rather than use index cards and boxes, I made up a binder with a similar set up for our Circle Time. Well, I made up 4 binders. One for me, and one for each reader (or, soon-to-be reader who wants to follow along).
Is putting the words we are memorizing in front of the readers “cheating”? It is accessing a different sort of memory than having to learn strictly through oral repetition, but I’m ok with that.
My readers are not getting the skill of careful listening and duplicating nor of precise rote memorization. But they are gaining skills in inflected, well-articulated reading and in fluent hearing, reading, and understanding long paragraphs of good, strong English (without it being broken up by phrase or sentence). Every day or once a week, we hear the same Psalms over and over, and the phrases flow over us, softening and shaping. Every day or once a week, we say aloud the same New Testament paragraphs, not separating the application verses from the doctrine or doxology verses, but letting the whole connected thought pound its way in day after day.
I like this set up because
- It has reduced friction and battle-of-wills between my sons and me.
- It makes it easier and smoother to work on entire chapters of Scripture at a time.
- It helps the flow of Circle Time continue even if I am distracted by or absent because of babies or toddlers.
- I believe it is helping my readers’ spelling naturally and visually, as they both say and see hundreds of words daily. We don’t do spelling as a separate subject, and they have few misspelled words when they write.
- I love hearing the 3-year-old use phrases from Psalms or the catechism and tunes from hymns in his playing.
- I think slowly reading through a large chunk of Scripture, or a poem, or a beautifully written catechism answer (the Heidelberg is beautiful while also being succinct; I love it) is a great way to meditate on things that are lovely. Circle Time is for myself as well as the children. Even if I end up missing my own personal devotions in the morning, we spend an hour together praying, singing, reading together 2 Psalms, a chapter of Ephesians, and 2-3 other shorter paragraphs of Scripture, as well as reading grounding, comforting catechism answers.
To keep track of what sections we have and what memory work we would add each term, I used tables. Here’s a video tour of my Morning Time plans from 2015:
We do not worry about memorizing our memory work.
Rather than pursuing perfect recitation (which will likely not last past their childhood), I’m seeking more to begin and set their deep foundation that will be continually and cyclically renewed and built upon throughout their lives. I want familiarity, language patterns, and ideas to seep in.
I am not a meticulous person — I am more a hack — we recite one passage and one Psalm daily for one term (6 weeks), whether it’s memorized in 2 weeks or not memorized yet by the end. Usually it is memorized or pretty close by 4 or 5 weeks, depending on the length and our consistency.
Then, for better or for worse, it is replaced by the next term’s passage and Psalm and it moves into the review tab, where it gets hit when we get to it. After a week or two without saying it daily, usually the boys cannot recite it as well as they had by the end of the term. But because my goal is building a lifetime of familiarity rather than perfect rote memory, this no longer frustrates me.
This is my own personal “good enough” and “works for us,” because my priority is on keeping it simple, no-pressure, and about exposure, familiarity, and whole-idea rather than perfect articulation. There is a place for that, and if you can achieve that without stress and it’s working for you, then keep it and run with it!
However, if memory work has been a stressful thing, don’t give it up! Just pare it back, remove the pressure and expectations, and remember that God’s Word is active and will bear fruit — getting it to them (and us!) and in them (and us!) is what counts. Also, perfectly articulated memory is easily and quickly lost if not reviewed constantly, as I know well from all I memorized week-to-week when I was young, having little to show for it a few months later. Even so, it was a foundation of familiarity that was not unfruitful.
Bible Memory Work Selections
Passages that are bolded are the ones we emphasize in review so the younger crowd picks them up, and are the ones I would start with if we were doing it over from the beginning.
- Lamentations 3:21-40
- Habakkuk 3:17-19
- Micah 6:6-8
- Matthew 5:2-16
- Matthew 6:5-13
- Matthew 22:37-40
- John 1:1-5 & 9-14
- John 3:14-18
- Romans 8:1-4, 26-39
- Romans 10:9-11
- 1 Corinthians 10:12-13
- 1 Corinthians 13
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
- Galatians 5:22-26
- Galatians 6:7-10
- Ephesians 4:25-32
- Ephesians 6:1-3
- Philippians 4:4-9
- Colossians 1:9-23
- Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
- 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15
- 2 Thessalonians 3:7-16
- 2 Timothy 2:3-7
- 2 Timothy 2:20-26
- 2 Tim. 3:14-17
- 1 Timothy 6:3-16
- Hebrews 2:14-18
- Hebrews 4:12-16
- Hebrews 11:1-16
- Hebrews 11:1-6
- 1 Peter 1:3-19
- 1 Peter 3:8-17
- Titus 2:11-3:9
- 1 John 1:5-9
Hymns to Memorize in Your Homeschool
The primary goal I have for our hymn-learning, and therefore how I make most of my choices, is that the children learn hymns we sing regularly at church so that they can participate better in worship.
We also regularly sing together the service music (Doxology & Gloria Patri). I absolutely love hearing my 2-year-old sing the Doxology in his crib — all of my 2-year-olds have, and it is a blessing.
Bolded hymns are the ones we repeat most so the youngest children learn them, too. All numbers are from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.
- All Glory, Laud, and Honor (325)
- All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name (374)
- Amazing Grace (433)
- And Can It Be That I Should Gain (431)
- At the Name of Jesus (270)
- Be Thou My Vision (446)
- Christ Shall Have Dominion (421)
- Christ Whose Glories Fill the Sky (156)
- The Church’s One Foundation (404)
- Come, Thou Almighty King (428)
- Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (429)
- Crown Him with Many Crowns (380)
- For All the Saints (408)
- Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken (403)
- Great Is Thy Faithfulness (245)
- The God of Abraham Praise ()
- God Himself Is with Us (164)
- God Moves in a Mysterious Way (256)
- Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah (524)
- Have Thine Own Way, Lord (533)
- Holy, Holy, Holy (230)
- How Vast the Benefits Divine (426)
- I Sought the Lord, and Afterward I Knew (427)
- Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise (224)
- It Is Well (476)
- Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting (479)
- Jesus Paid It All (276)
- Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun (417)
- Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners (456)
- Lead On, O King Eternal (544)
- May the Mind of Christ, My Savior (488)
- A Mighty Fortress is Our God (244)
- Not What My Hands Have Done (435)
- Nothing But the Blood of Jesus (278)
- O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (291)
- O the Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus (463)
- O Worship the King, All-Glorious Above (219)
- Praise the Savior (335)
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (216)
- Rejoice, the Lord is King (281)
- Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me (452)
- Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us (525)
- Shout for the Blessed Jesus Reigns (411)
- Take My Life and Let It Be (538)
- This is My Father’s World (PH 374)
Psalms to Sing
- That Man Is Blest (1A)
- Lord, Our Lord Thy Glorious Name (8C)
- Wholehearted Thanksgiving (9B)
- The Fool Speaks in His Heart (14)
- Amid the Thronging Worshippers (22C)
- The Ends of All the Earth Shall Hear (22D)
- Now Unto Jehovah (29B)
- How Blest Is He Whose Trespass (32B)
- I Waited for the Lord (40B)
- As the Deer (42A)
- O Lord of Hosts, How Lovely (84C)
- Now with Joyful Exultation (95C)
- O Sing a New Song to the Lord (98A)
- The Lord God Reigns in Majesty (99B)
- All People that on Earth Do Dwell (100B)
- O Come, My Soul, Bless Thou the Lord (103E)
- The Glorious Gates of Righteousness (118B)
- How Shall the Young (119B)
- Let Israel Now Say in Thankfulness (124)
- From Heaven O Praise the Lord (148A)
- Hallelujah Praise Jehovah (148B)
Creeds & Catechism Memory Work
We generally start off our memory work time by reciting together a creed. I have three we alternate between:
Catechism for Young Children
We memorize and regularly rotate for review the Catechism for Young Children, with all 145 questions. You can find the full version here.
Selections from the Heidelberg Catechism
- Lord’s Day 1 — What is your only comfort in life and in death? Q2: What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort?
- LD 5, Q12 — According to God’s righteous judgment, we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after: How then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favor?
- LD 7, Q13 — What is true faith?
- LD 10, Q27 — What do you understand by the providence of God? (another of my favorites)
- LD 12, Q32 — But why are you called a Christian?
- LD 23, Q60 — How are you right with God?
- LD 25, Q66 — What are sacraments?
- LD 30, Q81 — Who are to come to the Lord’s Table?
- LD 32, Q86 — We have been delivered from our misery by God’s grace alone through Christ and not because we earned it: Why then must we still do good?
- LD 45, Q116 — Why do Christians need to pray?
Poems to Memorize (by grade)
Poetry is a wonderful component to add to our homeschools, though those of us unfamiliar with it might be unnecessarily intimidated by it. However, poetry reading and listening develops language patterns, listening skills, and complex thinking ability.
There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.Andrew Pudewa
But poetry does not have to be a whole different subject, added in on top of everything. Poetry can be sprinkled into – integrated with – the things we are already doing and even into simply living life.
Here are some simple steps that my family has taken to incorporate poetry into our daily routines:
- Add a poetry book to our read-aloud pile and just read 1 or 2 pages during preschool time. Some of our favorites are Tasha Tudor’s illustrated version of Stevenson’s A Garden of Verses, A Child’s Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa and T.S. Elliot’s Book of Practical Cats.
- Find picture books that illustrate one narrative poem as a stand-alone story. The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, Casey at the Bat, and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening are some that we have enjoyed.
- Add a poem to our memory work binder. Poems from A Garden of Verses are a great place to start with young children.
- Listen to poetry in the car using A Child’s Introduction to Poetry.
- Sing. We often forget that most hymns and folk songs and other good songs are poetry set to music. In ancient times poetry was almost always recited with musical accompaniment. Don’t discount singing together as a family.
Particularly when the children are elementary and younger, focus on introducing and enjoying poems together. Don’t worry about analysis or interpretation or even comprehension. Just let them experience and enjoy poetry at their own level.
Allow the time and space for love and taste to develop before teaching content and analysis. Then the analysis in later years will be more like sharing thoughts about common friends and less like dissecting a dead frog.
Once a child is 8 or 9, they start to pick some of their own poems, and by the time they are 11 or 12 they pick all their own poems for memory (subject to my own veto, of course). So some of these are not my choices, but they are all poems we’ve learned to love together.
Poetry for Young Children
- Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Brown and Furry by Christina Rossetti
- The Elephant by Hillaire Belloc
- Good & Bad Children by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Happy Thought by Robert Louis Stevenson
- If Wisdom’s Ways (found in Little House)
- The Land of Counterpane by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne
- Marching Song by Robert Louis Stevenson
- My Friend by Lela Birky
- Once I Saw a Little Bird
- Purple Cow by Gelett Burgess
- Summer Sun by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti
- The Whole Duty of Children by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Where Go the Boats? by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Windy Nights, Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Wise Old Owl
- The Year’s at the Spring by Robert Browning
Poetry for Elementary Kids
- Bath Song by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Bombadil’s Song by J.R.R. Tolkien
- A Book by Emily Dickenson
- The Boy We Want
- The Bugle Song by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Cat Morgan Introduces Himself by T.S. Eliot
- Children’s Song by Rudyard Kipling
- Crack the Plates by JRR Tolkien
- Crossing the Bar
- Daffodils, Wordsworth
- The Duel by Eugene Field
- The Gardener by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Lamb, Blake
- A Good Play by Robert Louis Stevenson
- If, Rudyard Kipling
- Jim by Hillaire Belloc
- Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold by JRR Tolkien
- Foreign Lands by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Four Things by Henry Van Dyke
- A Pirate Story by Robert Louis Stevenson
- The Proper Addressing of Cats, TS Eliot
- My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Song of Drake’s Men by Alfred Noyes (found in My Book House)
- Song of Mr. Toad by Kenneth Grahame
- Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
- There Was a Naughty Boy by John Keats
- Tiger, Tiger by Blake
- The Village Blacksmith
Poetry for Middle & Upper Years
- Blow, Bugle, Blow, Tennyson
- The Character of a Happy Life by Henry Wotton
- Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson
- Destruction of Sennacherib, Byron
- Dolci et Decorum Est
- Happy the Man by John Dryden
- Henry V before Agincourt by William Shakespeare
- Hymn, Addison
- In Memoriam, Tennyson
- Macavity, the Mystery Cat by T.S. Eliot
- The Man in the Moon by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Not Marble Nor the Guilded Monuments, Shakespeare
- The Patriot by Sir Walter Scott
- The Private of the Bluffs, Doyle
- The Sluggard by Isaac Watts
- To Be a Pilgrim by John Bunyan
- The Troll by JRR Tolkien
- The World by George Herbert
Poetry for Mom
- All the World’s a Stage by William Shakespeare
- An Apology by Anne Bradstreet
- As Spring the Winter Doth Succeed by Anne Bradstreet
- Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind by William Shakespeare
- Death Be Not Proud by John Donne
- God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Happy The Man by Dryden
- Holy Sonnet IV by John Donne
- Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne
- A Litany by John Donne (modified)
- New Every Morning Is the Love by John Keble
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained by William Shakespeare
- Redemption, Herbert
- The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats
- She Walks in Beauty, Byron
- Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare
- A Valediction Concerning Mourning, John Donne
- The World Is Too Much with Us by William Wordsworth
Quotes & Speeches to Memorize
- Henry V’s speech at Agincourt by Shakespeare
- Patrick Henry
- George Washington’s Farewell Address (abridged)
- Hamlet’s Soliloquy
- We Shall Fight, Churchill
Family Mottos to Memorize in Morning Time
We recite mottos during our Morning Time.
I think the first place I encountered the idea was when listening to ACCS teacher training audio (back before there were CiRCE conferences or podcasts). The elementary classes of Logos School, at least back in the old days, had mottos they recited daily that then the teacher could call to mind when they were relevant.
As a family, we already had a few little sayings – ways to keep a frequent command familiar, memorable, and pithy.
Over the years I’ve collected mottos, adding to and subtracting from our repertoire, but finally settling down on a select few for this year.
This year, these mottos are behind the daily tab of our binder, and most days we go over them quickly. We alternate this selection with a selection of pithy Shakespearean proverbs each term.
These mottos are not only reminders for the kids. They are reminders for myself, as well.
Obey right away, all the way, with a good attitude every day.
Clearly, this is an important one particularly for the toddlers, and since they’re with us during Morning Time, they’ve all learned this family motto (that we originally learned from Matt Whitling, though Ted Tripp has a similar one) in happy times when they aren’t being reprimanded and required to do anything. I think that helps.
And, sometimes I’m tempted to wield this saying like a sword over the heads of my older children who think they are growing above the law, but usually when I want to slam them with it it’s because I want to shut down the argument which they need to work through in order to grow in understanding, to grow in maturity and independence, and to be heard. “Be careful what you command” is even more true for teens than for toddlers.
What would be more effective for them would be to see me applying this motto to myself – to show them the way.
Yes, this motto is for me as much as for the toddlers. If I can’t obey my Lord, how can I expect them to obey their mother? We’re all imperfect obeyers – trying, being held accountable, but always needing reminders, forgiveness, and grace.
….with a good attitude, everyday… reverberates in my head all day. And that’s exactly what I need and why we continue to recite the mottos: we get truth stuck in our heads so the Spirit can easily bring conviction when necessary.
Don’t pass it up; pick it up.
This saying revolutionized my thinking when I first encountered it as a young mom trying to stay above the chaos (and not succeeding). It taught me to pay attention and even notice that I was passing things up.
Now I can say it to the kids as I see them step on a magazine as they walk through a room. Instead of getting angry or exasperated (or, at least, masking my bad reactions), I have practice saying “Don’t pass it up; pick it up” in a chipper voice.
I don’t expect it to make a huge difference to the kids’ actual behavior now. But I do expect these words to haunt them when they have their own homes someday. It’s a little strategy for life success that I’m putting down in the back recesses of their minds.
And as I move through the house throughout the day, it’s primarily a reminder for myself. A strategy for sanity I must be the first to heed.
Business before pleasure.
We encountered this saying first when reading Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World. The boys were amused by the repeated phrase in the chapter about the first Olympics, and so I seized upon it as a motto.
It is the basis and reminder phrase for our morning flow: Business before pleasure. No going off and doing your own thing while you have business left to finish. Period. If you do, more “business” (i.e. housework) will be added to your list or pleasure shall be removed (i.e. no computer that day).
Voices: Cheerful, Polite, Strong
No mumbling, watch your tone, look me in the eye – knowing how to hold yourself and speak confidently is a skill I want my children to have. It’s a skill I’d like to have, but I scorned and hid from all speaking practice until about two years ago, when I finally realized that it maybe I was wrong about not needing to know how to communicate with others out loud (ya think?).
This is not just a reminder for the kids. It is a reminder for me that – even with the kids – I use a cheerful, polite, yet firm tone. I have no problems with the strong and firm tone in my own house, but a convivial atmosphere requires cheerful and polite as well.
Leave it better than you found it.
A good principle to live by. It applies at the park, when you borrow something from a friend, when you leave a friend’s house. It’d be downright amazing if each member of the family (myself included) put this into practice every time we left a room – or the car (maybe that will be our next practical application!).
But I had another sudden pang of application the other day. What about deposits v. withdrawals on my children’s “bank accounts” of affection? What if, with each interaction we had, I made sure they were better for it, more sure of the fact that they belonged and were loved – which means holding them to a standard still, for sure, but tone matters.
The mottos just keep giving. With greater familiarity comes not contempt, but contemplation.
I highly recommend the practice.
The Your Morning Basket Podcast
I’ve been featured on the Your Morning Basket Podcast, which is one of my favorites on homeschooling:
If Morning Time still seems intimidating or confusing, check out this free Morning Time Methods workshop from Pam. I highly recommend it!