Tips for Morning Hour (and a planning printable)

Last year was the first year that we instituted the “Morning Hour” which is all the rave in homeschooling right now.  It’s sometimes called a morning basket or a morning meeting.  I have found it to be one of the most productive additions to our homeschool day.  It took awhile to work out what worked for our family.  I took awhile to grow into it. My favorite place to get inspired about Morning Hour has been this site.  (Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Most are not.  All are honest recommendations.)

Morning Hour is the first start of your day.  It’s when you gather all the kids, regardless of age, and be inspired to learn.

Morning hour is about inspiration.  It’s not about checking things off a list.  It’s not about sitting still.  It’s not about being school-ish.  Although those things may happen during the hour, they are not the goal.

Morning hour is about setting our minds on things that are true, beautiful and good.  

It’s about setting our children’s hearts in the right direction, at the beginning of the day.

I have our morning hour broken into 5 parts, based on what I want to tackle with my kids when we are all together:

Truth

Beauty

History

Geography

Diligence

I need to figure out another word for History and Geography that fits with the rest.  We just study history and geography as a family, and it’s easiest to do it when we’re all together so that I don’t have to gather them all later.

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Truth

We read either a devotional or a chapter of the Bible.  We have gone through several devotionals that are well done, and I would recommend, I have recently been inspired by the book For the Children’s Sake in which the author says that most of children’s exposure of the Bible is through stories, or watered down children’s books.  She says we should be reading straight from the Scriptures, and exposing them to God’s actual Word from an early age.  So this year for our “Truth” section we are doing just that.  We started reading through one of the gospels (John) and are currently in Romans.  I intend to read through the epistles with them for the rest of the year, as I’ve realized since they are not story-heavy, they have not heard any of it before.  It’s really been enjoyable and encouraging for all of us.

Then we work on our Bible memory work.  This year we are working on memorizing the 3 chapters of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are adding roughly a verse a day, and I don’t know if we’ll make it to the end of the sermon by the end of the year.  I haven’t counted it out.  We just keep moving forward.  If we finish earlier, we will start memorizing something else.  If we finish later, than I guess we will just continue memorizing it next year.

Beauty

We are on a 4 day week at home, like many homeschooling families, because we spend 1 day a week at our co-op.  Each of our days at home have a theme.  We pull from a variety of poetry books.  This one is my favorite for studying poetry from a child’s perspective.

Day 1: poetry

During this portion, we work on: memorizing a poem together, and reviewing past memorized poetry.

Day 2: Music

I have found my favorite resource ever for learning about classical music.  It’s free, I don’t have to do any work, and it lasts exactly 6 minutes, which is perfect timing for our morning hour.  It’s a podcast that I’ve subscribed to called “Classics for Kids.”  It’s a 6 minute show explaining a piece of music or a composer, and giving the background story.  My kids were skeptical of this at first, but it has turned out being their favorite, as they are often bent over laughing from the stories.  The little girls often dance to this portion as we listen.

Day 3: Art appreciation

We have been using the art prints through Simply Charlotte Mason.  Basically we work on our skills of observation.  I set an art print on the table, and set a timer.  The kids have to look at the art piece together for 2 minutes without talking.  When the timer is done, they can raise their hands and tell me what they noticed about the art piece.  I’m always astounded at their observations.  They notice things in the background, reoccurring themes, or say what they like or hate about it.  The little booklet that comes with it has a paragraph or two about each piece, and I’ll usually read that after we are all done talking.  If the kids are chatty, sometimes we’ll discuss more once they know the background combined with their observations.  I don’t force this discussion if it’s not flowing.  They usually want to talk about it, though.

Day 4: Handwriting

The younger kids work on handwriting everyday because they are still learning it.  I have added this back into art for the older kids who know how to write, but have gotten sloppy.  They will write out in their best handwriting a famous quote.  I have found some great printables for this HERE.  We talk about adding beauty to all parts of our lives, and leaving each job we touch more beautiful than when we found it.  Like I said before, it’s not about demanding perfection, but about inspiring them for the rest of their day.

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History

My plan has always been to read the Story of the World on rotation during history time because it’s just so well done.  (It comes in 4 volumes, and we do one a year on rotation.  I linked to Volume 1.) The activity book has some great projects in there too which occasionally I’ll prepare for this time.  In reality, my kids prefer the audiobooks for this series, and we listen to it on our long car driving days.  Doing this, we go through the book for the year about 4 times.

So, for the history portion of morning hour, I read aloud to them from a different story book or biography.  Last year we read through the Magna Charta which talked about the history leading up to the Magna Charta, and the history directly following.  This year we have started with Poor Richard which is fun biography on Benjamin Franklin.

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Geography

Sometimes we’ll look at a map related to the history we just read.  This historical atlas is great fun for that.  Sometimes we use the maps given in the activity guide for Story of the World.  Sometimes we work on drawing a map using this series.  (We have drawn the United States, and we are currently working on drawing Europe.)

Diligence

This portion is where we work on subjects that we need to get done together, and are more technical.  Silje is excused for this portion, because she is past all these things, and is working on her own version of these topics at our co-op.  We review our Classical Conversations memory work.  This year we are also doing Sing Song Latin together.  Sometimes we work on grammar or spelling.  I have our school laptop ready for this portion as we watch a bit of the latin video, or play the memory work CD.

I used to avoid doing this type of technical work during morning hour.  I’m not inspired by the technical aspect of things.  I have since learned that some of my kids are absolutely inspired by technical things.  I’ve learned that my sons love grammar work because it’s the “building blocks” of language.  Doing something they are great at doing is a great way to start the day.  Not only that, but technical things are more concrete than “tell me what you think” about an art piece.  Adding a technical aspect has brought balance.

Starting Out

I don’t know about you, but my kids are squirrel-y.  We started off small.  Morning hour started out as no more than 20 minutes.  We started doing our Bible reading, and then either history or art.  Once we could do that well, we started doing Bible, history and art.  Then I started adding Bible memory work to Bible reading, and geography to history.  One we did those well, we added diligence to the end.  It now takes us a full hour to complete.

Feel free to add or delete whatever you like.  Last year we added some Shakespeare in place of history for awhile.  Sometimes we were wild and crazy and did Shakespeare and history, but skipped spelling and memory work.  You don’t have to study all the things everyday.  You can loop subjects like that.

Leave morning hour with everyone knowing what they have to do next.  We have our morning “tea time” at 10am.  So if it’s just 15 minutes until then, I’ll give them some free time.  If it’s a good morning, and we started on time, they may have 30 minutes to work on their instrument practice, reading, or math.  Don’t just let them scatter.  End the hour with an outline of the plan for the day, so they know what is expected of the

them what things they can do for fun when their work is done.  I don’t know why, but my kids need to review all this information everyday.  It’s like they forget they’re doing school that day otherwise.

Remember, it’s not about crossing a lot off the list (even though you cross a ton off the list during this hour).  It’s not about pushing them hard or exasperating everyone.  Morning hour is not about drudgery.

It’s about inspiring them for the day, lavishing on encouragement and pointing them in the right direction of curiosity, observation, and history, which teaches that they work not just for themselves, but that they are a part of a bigger story.

Seriously, morning hour is the best thing to hit our homeschool.

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To use the 4 day morning hour planning chart that I use, you can find it ready to print HERE.

If you prefer a 5 day morning hour planning chart, you can use this one HERE.

Meal Planning Made Simple

img_64191Have you ever seen a small child at a restaurant, completely overwhelmed at the 4 choices on the children’s menu in front of her?  She just can’t make up her mind, and then her mom leans over and says, “You can choose the macaroni and cheese or the French toast.”  The child picks French toast.  The decision stress is gone.

Sometimes deciding what to do is the hardest part of a job.  

That’s what I realized about meal planning.  It’s not that cooking is hard.  It’s just that if I don’t intentionally make a plan, I will often stare inside the fridge at 5:45 every night, wondering what in the world we are going to eat.  I’ve got frozen meat in the freezer, some cans of stuff in the pantry, some spectacular cookbooks on the shelf that I actually read just for fun.  So…what’s for dinner?

I usually have no idea.  

One of these days I’m going to tell you all about how lovely a bullet journal is.  I’m only a few months into the system, and I’m just figuring out what works well before I write about it.  It’s really fantastic.  I have a page on my bullet journal laying out my new system for meal planning, at least for the evening meal.  I’ve been using this meal system for a few weeks, and while it wasn’t instantly working, as I slowly grew into it, it’s become my best friend and an enormous sanity saver.

I reference my meal planning pages often, and I have them tabbed and marked.  I attempt to do this planning every weekend, so I can get my shopping lists ready for the week.  On the top of my page, I have our weekly evening schedule.  When planning meals I’ll also grab my calendar to see if there will be any other disruptions to supper or variances to that week that I should accommodate.  I basically put anything on here that will interfere with making supper.  Either it’s an activity that makes supper late, or just an activity that happens right when I should be preparing supper, I have that right in front of me to keep in mind.

On the bottom of the page, I have listed some sort of category for each day of the week.

Monday

Monday is crock pot day.  I’ll tell you a little secret.  Meat is the most expensive item on my grocery list.  Want to know another secret?  Deli meat is usually the most expensive meat you buy per pound, and it’s full of all sorts of additives.  I buy deli meat less than once a year.  It’s usually on vacation in a pinch or something.  Except summer sausage.  For some reason my family loves summer sausage, so I’ll buy that for something quick for lunch.

Monday is a set up day for the week.  My focus has to be getting my kids back into routine.  I don’t have time to do anything fancy.  I want my full attention on setting up the routine of the week.  So the Monday category is meat in the crock pot.  I will cook a beef roast, or a whole chicken, or some pork for shredding.  I can mix it up from week to week.

Monday nights, we will eat some meat, probably some easy baked potatoes in the oven, and a steamed vegetable.  Every Monday.  The only decision I have to make is what kind of meat do we want Monday night, and that same meat is what we going to have on sandwiches for some lunches during that week.

Tuesday

Tuesdays are our crazy activity day.  There’s no way I can cook anything during the day this day, or even set something up and do some chopping.  The theme for Tuesdays is: tacos.  Taco Tuesday.  Tacos are a crazy fast meal for when we get home on Tuesdays.  The only thing I have to do in the morning is set out some meat to thaw.

Sometimes, if I’m really on top of it, I will cook up and season a bunch of meat at once, and freeze it like that, so I just have to warm up the meat mix.  I’ve also learned I can stretch that expensive beef by mixing it with rice and/or refried beans and/or black beans.  I usually line up in a 9×13 pan a bunch of tacos, fill them with the meat mixture and some cheese, and stick them in the oven to let the cheese melt for about 3-5 minutes.  Then the kids each grab a taco that has meat and cheese in it.  Then they put lettuce, more cheese, salsa, sour cream, tomatoes, or whatever else we have on hand to taste.

We haven’t found any taco shells that my son with food allergies can have, but we have found corn chips he can have, so he will often just make a nachos-version of what we are having on tacos, with most of the same ingredients out.

Sometimes I just make everyone nachos on Taco Tuesday.  We could do fish tacos one day with fish sticks, or change up the salsas. Sometimes we’ll add beans and other times we’ll add rice.  I can be creative when I know that the category is tacos or basically anything Mexican.

Wednesday

This is the lovely day when we can be home.  This is a great day to make a meal from scratch.  This is the day that I try out new Pinterest recipes, or search through my cookbooks the weekend before for something I meant to try.  Salmon is a great meal on this day, just to get some healthy fish in.  But once or twice a month I try to plan to make a nice casserole from scratch, or a nice soup or stew.  Those are all 3 things that freeze nicely, and I’ll make 3 of whatever it is instead of 1.  That way I get a couple of ready-made home-cooked goodness in the freezer, ready to go.  My kids can’t seem to handle me doing all day freezer meal cooking anymore.  But I can manage to make a handful of 1 thing from time to time, and it saves a ton of time.  So Wednesdays’ category is fish, (which is not a freezer meal, but yummy when I’m there to cook it and watch it) or some kind of meal that is made in bulk for eating 1 portion, and freezing the rest.

Unless the kids are awful on Wednesday, or I’m feeling sick, or I get pulled away from cooking that day for some reason and I get nothing done.  Then it’s “baked potato bar supper.”

Thursday

This is another day for us when supper will be late because of activities.  This is my freezer meal day.  I will pull out a freezer meal (casserole, soup, runzas, calzones, etc.) that I have made on a previous week, and have it waiting for us in the oven for when we get home.  If I haven’t been on top of freezer cooking the from scratch meals, then I will have a bought freezer meal in the oven like a frozen lasagna or pot pies.

Friday

The category for Friday meals is rice-based.  Fried rice is a favorite of my kids.  Basically, I cook up rice, and then in a electric frypan I stick some oil and fry up the rice, some leftover meat (if I have no leftover meat, a pound of ground beef browned) and leftover vegetables, or just some frozen ones.  This is really great fried up with soy sauce too, but then my food allergy son couldn’t eat it, so we just put the soy sauce on the table for those to add who what it.  Or I could do a stir fry.  Or I could do my kids MOST favorite meal, and that’s chili and rice. (I linked our chili recipe, although I use canned tomato sauce instead of tomato soup, and gluten free flour so our whole family can eat it without cooking any separate.)  I make up a big pot of chili, and a big pot of rice.  (Chili freezes well too.)  This is how my husband grew up eating chili.  I still like my chili in a bowl with cheese, but my kids like to put a pile of rice on their plate and heap a bunch of chili on top of it.  The rice stretches the meal budget-wise so that’s fine by me too.  So Friday is our rice-meal days.

Saturday

I just have to pick some sort of pasta meal for Saturdays.  Most of us eat wheat noodles, and David eats rice noodles.  Whether it’s spaghetti, ravioli, or baked ziti, I write down a pasta meal that sounds yummy that week.  Depending on the vegetable content of the sauce chosen, I’ll sometimes make vegetables on the side too.

Sunday

I give myself as much of a break on Sundays as possible.  We bring home pizza after church and eat on paper plates.  For supper that night, I make a big batch of popcorn and we watch a family movie.  Done.  It’s not a lot, but it’s a tradition I grew up with and don’t mind passing down.

There’s something about not having to look into the abyss of all the possibilities of what to cook, and narrow it down to categories to make choosing easier.  Having a plan saves hours of time, and tons of money as I don’t pick up expensive food on the way home because I know that otherwise we will eat at 10pm.

Most of all, I like how giving each day a category eliminates or at least reduces my decision stress.  Decision stress is totally a thing.  Believe me.

Protecting the White Space

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The first days of homeschooling feel empty. I remember feeling like a failure when my daughter went through our daily curriculum in less than 2 hours. I often said, “That can’t be all.” Most homeschoolers will tell you that those early elementary years have very short days, but once they get to the upper grades, they will spend more of the day on schoolwork. We ended up filling our days by taking walks, playing outside, reading lots of stories, and having tea parties. We followed our curiosities and worked on projects that sounded fun.

However, like any vacuum, activities and responsibilities soon filled up our days to overflowing. Eventually, I found myself saying, “Yes, but when will we do school? We have to fit math in here somewhere.” Right now, that same 1st grader from when we started homeschooling is in 7th grade and not only does she volunteer at the library, she is in a sport, plays 2 instruments, is part of a challenging co-op, and does church youth activities. Our days are full to the brim.

She’s not my only child either. If we’re not careful, our desire to let the kids deepen their interests and our plan to respect their individual gifts can become an overwhelming assault on our family’s downtime. Our lazy days get robbed, our moments curled up with a book just for fun, and evenings playing a family game can become a far-off dream.
The question can quickly turn from, “What can we do with all this free time?” to, “How can I prevent school going to 5pm every day, and our toddlers spending 4 hours a day in their carseats as we trek our minivan all over town all evening?”

The longer I teach, the more I see a need for white space in my kids’ lives. It’s necessary not only for our sanity, but in order to enable depth in their comprehension. When we just rush through the day, checking subjects off a list, my kids’ learning is like a rock skipped across the surface of a lake. The information never sinks deep.

I’m honored to be contributing to The Unlikely Homeschool again today.  Head on over to read the rest of the post there today.

6 Ways to Get your Kids to Do Their Work

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It is literally the hardest part of homeschooling.  Sometimes you have a child who just loves schoolwork like it’s chocolate.  They are delighted to sit at a desk, sharpen those pencils, and neatly write out their assignments.  They are eager and say, “Yes, Mommy.” or “Yes, Ma’am.”  They like things to look as school-ish as possible.

Then there’s the kids who look up at you, after you give them a fun and enthusiastic introduction to their assignment and they say: “No.  I don’t want to do that.”  They stare up at you with daring eyes that say: “Make me.”

Ever been there?  Ever have that child?

I have been there more times than I can count.  I have blamed it on curriculum and changed a billion times.  I’ve tried every method in the book.  Here’s what works.

1) Pray.

Pray for wisdom for both yourself and your child.  Remember, the Holy Spirit has access to your child’s heart that far exceeds your reach.  Pray for the right words, the right attitude, and a prepared heart.  Pray for eyes to see every situation as an opportunity to teach what needs to be learned that day, (whether or not it’s on the lesson plan).

2) Rule out learning problems.

I have learned that 90% of the time, when one of my kids says something is dumb, or I’m being mean, there’s a problem they are facing that I can’t see.  “The issue is not the issue” is a phrase I learned at a camp where I used to work.  It’s usually dyslexia is rearing it’s head, or they can’t see the page and need glasses, or they just plain forgot how to do it and don’t want to get into trouble and will misdirect.  Learning disabilities often look like laziness, because the kids don’t always know that the problem they are facing has solutions if you just knew about it.  But they get ashamed and will hide it.  Give them the benefit of the doubt and rule this out.  Doing this also helps you grow as a teacher, as you research left-brained vs. right-brained learning techniques, or exercises you can do together to get over humps in learning.

Edited to add:

Also take into account the maturity of your child.  I think among my circles, the most frustrated moms in this area are attempting to get 4 year olds to spend 5 hours in school to “get them ready.”  School is something fun and optional in our house until about age 7.  That’s the way Finland does it, it’s the way that some of the best minds in education recommend.  So in the early years we focus on quality play and character building.  With this system, some of my kids were reading chapter books before age 7, and some started reading just then, but built some pretty stellar Lego creations in the meantime, and started math 3 years ahead of their peers.  Please, please, please don’t force a little 5 year old to sit at a desk all day long, and when it falls apart say that homeschooling isn’t for you.  Let the kids play, and take into account the amount of work the maturity of your child can handle.  Maturity is one of those things that cannot be forced.

3) Think outside the box.

Do math in the treehouse, and jumping jacks during spelling.  Hold contests, set timers, be silly.  Sitting and writing all day is about the most boring way to learn, and unless your child is that unique one that is wired that way, don’t do it.  There are a million games out there, a million ways to learn and do things, don’t restrict yourself to the most boring, and consider that good teaching.  It’s not doing anyone any favors.

4) Let consequences fall.

This is my personal least favorite, and yet, I find myself back here over and over again.  Let’s say that you started your day with prayer and you’ve worked through the learning issues.  You bought the kid glasses.  You have a fun lesson planned, and the child looks up and you and says, “No.”

It’s times like this that I want to send my child to public school, just to show them that they MUST do school, and all the other kids HAVE TO do school, and while they can do it in a box or with a fox, or in the house with a mouse, they will do school one way or the other.  I have not yet done that, but I’m not ruling it out.

However, this isn’t something you are doing wrong.  This is your child’s choice.  He or she is making a bad choice.  Choices have consequences.  One of the common things our kids miss is the morning snack time.  If their morning work isn’t done by 10am, then they don’t get their snack.  Turning in your work is your meal ticket.  The same goes for lunch.  Sounds mean, but if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  If your afternoon work isn’t done, you have to stay in your room until it’s done while the rest of the family gets to go outside and play.  Family movie night?  That stinks.  Your work isn’t done, so you’ll have to be in your room while the rest of us who did our work enjoy the movie and eat popcorn downstairs.

Nothing gets me worked up as a mother, and flares my temper more than my child feeling entitled to all that is around him/her.  

I plan lots of fun things.  I want us as a family to work hard and play hard.  But when you don’t work, you don’t get the reward.  Plain and simple.  School is their job, just like teaching is mine.

I have found that the child will quickly shift blame to me when this happens, as though I’m just being mean.  The more in control I am with my emotions, the more I can get the message through that they have bad consequences from their bad choices.  The more you remove bad consequences, the more entitled they will feel.  Let the punishment fit the crime as often as possible.

This is hard because it will effect the whole family.  Sometimes the family has to stay home from a field trip because one child is making a bad choice.  Sometimes you miss out on date night because one child is acting up.  Sometimes you miss out on your down time because they finally come to their senses when you finally sit down with a cup of tea.

The fact is, it’s not just a bad choice, it’s sin.  Sin hurts other people.  Their sin is hurting you, and others, and as a family, we have to pray for a forgiving spirit.  You can try to contain that hurt as much as possible, but the fact remains: sin hurts others and yourself.  It never just hurts yourself.  When your child sees that, it will make a lasting impact as well.

5) Grab a leadership partner, outside the home.

Our kids’ Tae Kwon Do instructor is amazing.  I have sent her desperate texts more than once, and she has spoken with my kids more than once.  Other parents have a Sunday School teacher, or baseball coach or piano tutor that their child really respects.  When you and your spouse are pulling out your hair, wondering if you are actually crazy, and why can’t you get through to this kid, grab another adult that your child respects to chime in.  Whether it’s a psychologist or pastor, let them know that work is not optional is a universal concept, not just one in your home.  Concepts like respect should be consistent in all of your child’s activities.  When your child sees that work is not only necessary to get the perks in your home, but it will start effecting their baseball, their dance, or their gymnastics, they often snap out of it.

6) Weep with those who weep.

While movie nights and participation in sports is conditional in our home, love is not.  It’s so important that my kids know that my love for them is unconditional.  However, they will try to convince me that love means that I will do whatever they want and make their life easy and perfect.  That’s not love.  We must teach them the definition of love from a Biblical perspective, not a feel-good (feelings) perspective.  When my child is crying because he/she doesn’t want to do something, I will come beside them and hug them, saying I know it’s hard.  When they have to stay home from something because they couldn’t get their work done on time because they refused to do it for 3 hours, I will cry with them.

I remember what it felt like to realize that I failed a test, or I didn’t get my homework done in time.  It’s this pit in your stomach, and you feel awful.  When what you did sinks in and the shame is overwhelming, it’s amazing to have someone next to you, with their arms around you saying “This stinks.  But I will walk it with you.”

This is will make blaming you for their choices nearly impossible.  It solidifies in their mind the fact that their choices produce good or bad consequences.  It also solidifies that you will love them and be there for them through thick and thin.  You will be there with them in the movie nights, and you will be there with them when they are grounded in their room.

Once, a child of mine was sent to their room after mouthing off to us after they realized that their misuse of time would prevent them from going to a birthday party.  There were many tears.  I brought them up their supper on a tray, with a little flower on it.  I brought them their food, and said at the door, “I thought you might be hungry.  I know this is a huge disappointment.    I’ll be available downstairs to help you finish so that tomorrow can be a fresh day without you being behind.  I hate it when I realize that my laziness has cost me something too.  I know what you’re going through.”

Weep with them.  Comfort them.  That’s completely different than removing all consequences.  It’s walking through consequences with them, and takes them completely off guard.

Walking through it with them will cost you something.  It will hurt sometimes.  Let’s not forget that love = sacrifice, and laying your life down for another takes many forms.  However, this love and compassion is one of the most powerful forces on earth.

No education would be complete without it.