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.

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.

Family Day

There are somethings that are important, and yet they never make it to the calendar.  I want my kids to know where they come from, know why certain traditions are important, and understand that their lives are part of a bigger picture than just them as an individual.

Enter: Family Day.

It’s an idea I grabbed from The Life-Giving Home book.  The idea is to take one day a year as a family and reflect on your family history, share stories, pour over photo albums and scrapbooks, and end the day with taking your own family pictures.

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Ours didn’t go quite according to plan, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.

I scheduled our family pictures, but due to the fact that my kids are covered in mosquito bites at the moment, I decided to delay.  Our photographer was dealing with some sick kids too, so it all worked out.

But I decided to press forward anyway.

Then Knut said that he couldn’t get out of farm work that day, but I decided to press on anyway.  In hindsight, I should have delayed for the weekend, since the photographer was the main appointment on why I had picked that day.  But at that point, I had already arranged to meet with various grandparents, and I didn’t want to rearrange all of that.

The day started out with a big showdown between Knut and one of the kids.  This kid was having a meltdown, and Knut was desperately trying to hold him/her together so I could have this big day I had planned.  I finally told him to just go to work, and let this child figure out that they were missing out.  We just started without.  About an hour later, the child joined us as was fine the rest of the day.

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So while that was going down in the kitchen, the other kids and I were up in my bedroom, where I have a little cabinet filled with all the family trinkets, awards, albums, etc.  I just brought out all the scrapbooks and photo albums and the kids spread them out all over the bedroom, and were asking questions.  I was answering the questions with stories, and the kids were getting more and more delighted.  The giggles and laughter are what brought the cranky child back to us (after their morning chore was finally completed).

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We did face-time with my mom down in Arizona, and she shared stories of when she was growing up in Japan as a missionary kid.  She talked about the 12 hour train rides alone to her boarding school in Tokyo, and how lonely she got.  She told some funny stories too.  When they were recently up here, she was nearly non-stop storytelling.  My kids love a good family story.

After that we drove over to Knut’s parents house, where my mother-in-law had surprised us with a gorgeous tea-party laid, and told the kids about the time she broke her wrists as a preschooler, and how they would dress up their kitties.  After our snack we went to another table, where there were photo albums and she told us story after story about the people that she remembered in them.

We went home after that, had some lunch, and had our quiet time.

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After quiet time, we headed out to Knut’s paternal grandfather who is now 100 years old.  His mind is still as sharp as a whip, though he can’t see much anymore.  The kids gathered around him, and he shook all of their hands with a big smile on his face.  The kids asked him questions.  We learned one of his chores growing up was helping his dad milk their 12 cows.

Silje has been learning to play the violin.  This last year she grew into a full sized violin, and as Knut and I have been debating whether or not we should rent one, or if it would be smarter to buy her one, a cousin of Knut’s offer to let Silje use the old family violin (that officially belongs to him) until we decide.  He was excited to have the instrument be used again instead of in storage, as instruments are made to be played.  This family violin is a bit beat up, but still gorgeous.  It belonged to the father of this 100 year old grandpa that we were visiting.

So we asked him where his dad bought the violin.  Did he bring it over from Norway?  He said that his dad purchased the violin in Minneapolis…for $15.  When we got home and told Knut that, he wondered out loud how big of a splurge that must have been.  He wondered what that would be compared to the price of a plow back then.  Next time we go into visit Bestefar, we’ll have to ask him how much a plow would have cost back around the time the violin was bought to get a better idea of the extravagance of such a purchase.

Bestefar, (that’s what Knut calls him.  The kids call him “Oldefar” which he prefers they do.  It’s Norwegian for “oldest grandfather” or “great-grandfather”) well he got to hold Bjorn for a few minutes, and spoke to him in Norwegian for a bit.  Since family members who speak Norwegian better than me weren’t there, I had to ask him for a translation.  Basically he was telling little Bjorn that he had gotten so big since last time, and he thought that he was going to grow into a big, strong man like his father.

After that we went to visit Knut’s grandmother on his mom’s side this time.  She lives in a different nursing home.  We were so blessed that she was very alert and able to talk that day.  Many times when we visit her, she’s so confused that she can’t speak, or she will start the first few words of a sentence, and then get lost, and when she realizes she’s lost, she gets frustrated or sad.  Sometimes she doesn’t talk back at all.

When we showed up, she was alert, and greeted the kids.  She was able to answer so many questions that they had.  I haven’t seen her this good in months, so I felt like that afternoon was just a special blessing from God for our special day.

I was able to draw some family trees for the kids, so they could learn who their cousins were and who their second-cousins were, and how to tell the difference on the family tree.  I was going to do more with them, but I was getting tired near the end of the day.

It wasn’t a physical tired, though I know I have reason for that.  I wasn’t expecting family day to be so emotionally exhausting.  

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It didn’t occur to me that looking at pictures of people I have loved who have died, and holding tender gifts from family members I haven’t seen in many years, though they are still alive, thinking about my nieces and nephews who I haven’t seen in over a year, living so far from my family who were just here visiting me.

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It was all emotionally exhausting.  I cried more than once.  Once in front of the kids because it just spilled out.  2 all out cry-fests when they were resting.  When you grow up in a broken home, or when people you love have passed away, even recalling the good stories can bring tears.

And yet, I don’t regret it.  

Family day was one of the best things I think I have done as a mother, and I hope to make this a yearly tradition.  There were so many stories we didn’t get to.  I feel like we just scratched the surface of all I wanted to do.  Talking about loved ones who are gone, sharing both the good stories and the bad, so there’s a balance to their perception, was so rewarding.  So deeply hard, but so rewarding.

I can’t wait to do this again next year.  Hopefully with time, I will be able to pull off a Family Day without crying.  It was probably a good thing I rescheduled the family pictures that night!