When I sent my kids to school two years ago after many years of homeschooling, what I grieved most was the loss of Morning Time. It was the heart of our homeschool and consequently of our family. And though I had vague intentions of maybe trying to keep it up on weekends and school-breaks, we got out of the rhythm and so lived without it for two years.
I (like much of the world) am unexpectedly homeschooling again this year and what nudged me toward both excitement and peace at the prospect was the realization that we could again do Morning Time. It has quickly resumed its place at the heart of our family and is my kids’ favorite part of the school day. Because it has been such a blessing to our family and because there are so many new homeschooling families out there, I thought I would share what Morning Time is, why it’s important, and what it looks like in our family.
What is Morning Time?
Morning Time is a time when each family member gathers to turn our attention to those soul-forming things that perhaps are not measurable and quantifiable (i.e. math and phonics), but are essential to not only our education, but our human spirits. Cindy Collins, an inspiring homeschool mom of nine (mostly now-adult) children says in her book, A Handbook to Morning Time (now a free download on her website),
Why is Morning Time important?
In my early days of homeschooling I was using A LOT of curriculum, plowing through the days, and checking things off of the list. I always wanted to read-aloud inspiring books and poetry and study artists and composers, but felt like I didn’t have the time. And then one day I had the revelation that I was mistress of my homeschool and I could decide what we were going to do. I discovered Cindy Rollins and fell in love with her vision and execution of Morning Time.
For me, with five kids spread across nine years, I longed for something to unify our varied studies and disjointed school days. Morning Time creates a common family culture where we are all reading the same books and learning the same scripture and poems. We are discussing the same big ideas and wrestling with the same literary characters’ decisions. Because we have all memorized the same lines of poetry, when we experience something, say a flock of geese streaking the sky, one of us will surely pull out the familiar stanza, with others joining in:
Something told the wild geese
It was time to go
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, “snow”
I don’t know what the future holds for any of my kids – where God will take them or what path He has in store for them. While the “formal” subjects of study will surely serve each child in many practical ways, I have confidence that what we study in Morning Time will help sustain their souls in times of trial, sorrow, and even joy. For there is little that satisfies as deeply as having a line of poetry or scripture tucked away in your heart that perfectly describes a situation or emotion. It is a solace to recognize yourself in literary characters and know that you are not the only one. And as we spend time with flawed literary characters, we are better able to respond compassionately to those flawed people in our own lives, bearers of the Imago Dei. Morning Time is a way to pour truth, beauty, and goodness into my kids without preaching. Rather we listen, discuss, absorb, and remember.
What does Morning Time look like in our home?
It has looked very different at various times during our journey, but rarely picture-perfect. When my youngest were toddlers we did Morning Time in the afternoon during nap time. We’ve sometimes done it at the counter so everyone can keep busy with a snack (and the littlest could be contained in a highchair). There was a time when my oldest would stay for Hymns (playing bongos for us) and Bible and then be dismissed because of his increasing schoolwork load. Now he is a high school junior following an online bell schedule, so he does not join us at all.
Currently Morning Time is with my four kids, ages 7-12, and we usually do it as a mid-morning break after they have worked on other schoolwork for an hour or so. I call a five-minute warning, they gather up their quiet Morning Time activity, and we meet in the living room.
I have a basic routine but switch out specific books seasonally or yearly. This year we are all studying American History, so I have incorporated some of that into Morning Time. On our best days we do all that is listed below, but there are days when we abbreviate it or miss it all together. It runs between 45 minutes to an hour. When you look at this list, remember many items take only five minutes or less to do, but over days, months, and years, those minutes bear fruit.
*Hymns: I plunk them out on the piano from The Celebration Hymnal. We do the same hymn for a couple of weeks in order to memorize it.
*Bible: We’re reading through the New Testament in Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible and also reading a chapter of Hero Tales, which are missionary stories.
Other resources for Bible Time: The Jesus Storybook Bible, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, Leading Little Ones to God, Heaven for Kids, The Church History ABCs, Dangerous Journey (The story of Pilgrim’s Progress)
Scipture Memory: Recite passage we’re learning (currently John 1:1-7); Review past passages
Poetry: We read a new poem daily (usually seasonal, so autumn right now), we practice the poem we’re currently memorizing, and we review a past poem we’ve memorized;
Other resources: The Harp and Laurel Wreath, A Child’s Garden of Verses, A Child’s Introduction to Poetry, 100 Great Poems for Boys, 100 Great Poems for Girls;
History: I will sometimes read a few paragraphs from Story of the World that line up with what we are learning about that week in History.
Other resources for U.S. History: A Child’s History of the World, Everything You Need to Know About American History Homework, Our 50 States;
Traditional Literature (my term encompassing folk and fairy tales, fables, Greek myths, nursery rhymes, and Shakespeare): Since we are studying U.S. History we just finished American Tall Tales, which my kids really enjoyed. We’re now working through The Children’s Book of Virtues.
Other traditional literature resources: D’ulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Fables, Black Ships Before Troy, The Wanderings of Odysseus, The Aesop for Children, The Real Mother Goose, Tales of Wonder, Medieval Tales, Tales from Shakespeare, an older Tales from Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers, How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
Picture book: When the library was open I would get seasonal picture books or books that lined up with our history or science, but we are just using our own home library now. We finished James Herriott’s Treasury for Children and now are reading through Jill Barklem’s The Complete Brambly Hedge.
Chapter book: We are currently reading The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith (Wonderful books!)
Other chapter book Resources: I highly recommend checking out The Read Aloud Revival’s website and podcast for book lists and resources.
Audio book: Sometimes my kids are so enjoying what they’re doing with their hands that they want to finish up Morning Time by listening to our current audio book for a few minutes. Right now that is Auggie and Me.
A word about memorization:
When I say “working on a poem” or “practicing scripture”, all that means is me reading it aloud once or twice and the kids listening. After doing that every day, they will start to join in. You will be absolutely amazed at what they will memorize just by hearing it daily. I have always wanted my kids (and myself) to memorize Rudyard Kipling’s poem If. It is 32 lines long and always seemed very daunting. When I found out I would be homeschooling for this year, I decided this was my chance and I was going to take it! I read the poem every Morning Time for about 6 weeks. One of my kids can recite it flawlessly, two can recite about 90% of it and my seven year old (who I wasn’t even sure was paying attention), when pressed can recite about 75%. And I’m at about 75% myself (old brain problems).
Our favorite quiet activities
Dolls (dressing them, doing their hair), maze and dot-to-dot books, Legos and blocks, magnetic pattern blocks, Perler beads, beading and Rainbow Loom, Paint-by-sticker books, coloring and drawing, puzzles, origami and paper airplanes, play dough and thinking putty;
Tips for starting:
Start small and age-approrpriate. If your kids are young maybe aim for ten or fifteen minutes and read the Bible and a picture book. Add time and additional books as you all get used to it. But most of all, just start! Make your Morning Time a reflection of what you want your kids to be filled up with, and above all, be consistent. Morning Time is about pouring truth, goodness, and beauty into your children little by little, day by day, but those moments will add up over a lifetime. They will matter. As Cindy Rollins says, “Morning Time is for the long haul.”
by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!