If you are bouncing around the internet looking for homeschooling ideas, or if you are a seasoned homeschooler familiar with pillars like Pam Barnhill, Cindy Rollins, or Sarah Mackenzie, “Morning Time” may mean more to you than simply the hours lumped between the ring of the alarm clock & the growling bellies of the lunch hour. Interestingly, when I first read “Mere Motherhood” by Cindy Rollins a couple years ago, I remember finding almost everything in there familiar and comforting rather than startling or groundbreaking. I think that is one of the things I love most about stumbling upon resources online or through friends: I often find that what I am already doing with my kids at home is actually something that people are promoting, theorizing, even monetizing. It’s like I don’t have to second guess myself and my home education methods, but rather find that people are cheering me on and gathering others onto a similar journey. It is extremely comforting and even gratifying. I am not alone. We are doing well. And this thing called home education is not only fruitful in the long haul, but even in the daily grind.
So what is Morning Time? My friend Cindy Rollins would say that it is a time for everyone in the home to gather together and focus on learning true, good, beautiful things that order our loves and remind us that things which can easily be shuffled to the side are actually of greatest prominence. It is a liturgy for beautifying our minds and souls. It reminds us that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. To read more about what Cindy says, I urge you to read her Handbook to Morning Time (click here for her free PDF), or let me know if you want a bound copy – I happen to know she has some copies in her garage, and I would happily help hook you up with one of those (as long as supply lasts).
Just as our home education is not identical to the home education of anyone else we know, neither is our Morning Time routine. The liturgy we follow in our home reflects the loves, passions, and pursuits of the people who live here. It is the basic backbone of the education we long for & ultimately chase. Cindy says that the practice in her home is made up of several elements: morning meeting, composer study, artist study, prayer time, hymn singing, Bible reading and memorization, Shakespeare and Plutarch, poetry reading and memorization, a quick conversational grammar lesson, and reading aloud. When I spoke with Cindy last week (either over a leisurely cup of coffee while it snowed outside, or later while I drove her to the airport – I forget exactly when), she told me that Morning Time with her family (she educated her eight sons and one daughter over a period of thirty years) would often last for more than two hours. I was so heartened by that! Because I often find that the Morning Time routine in my own home lasts that long, and I had wondered if that were completely abnormal and overkill. But we love it… so I am loathe to cut it short, unless it is a day where we have places to go. Like Wednesdays, when we have piano lessons, ballet lessons, a library run, and other errands to accomplish while we are all the way in town. (Yes, we live in the country… so any time we drive to town over 45 minutes away, we pack it all in: and yes again, it definitely involves audiobooks on the regular.)
So what does Morning Time look like in my home? I have four sons and one daughter, currently ranging in age from 17 months to 12 1/2 years. Morning Time is not often polished and predictable, but I can honestly say it is both ordered and adored.
We gather. Often at the kitchen table, often at the couches by the fire, occasionally on the back patio or the front lawn (seasonally dependent, of course). I have our current Morning Time books and resources compiled in a wheeled metal cart for easy utilization, although a “morning basket” has been popular & efficient for moguls like Pam Barnhill and Dawn Garrett. I just found that we outgrew a basket too quickly… so a cart with wheels serves us best.
The Doxology is sung, and we sing with gusto. In harmony. With open hands raised to our Father in heaven. It is a favorite moment of every day. A beloved practice.
We tend to then start with Scripture. We read a Psalm, a Proverb, and another selection from whatever book we are currently reading through. At this moment, it is 1 Samuel. We read through the Pentateuch earlier this year, and have been revisiting it again as we study ancient history with our local homeschool co op. So I thought the kids would like a New Testament letter from Paul or something, but they requested Samuel. So that’s where we are reading currently. The children all take turns reading aloud together, but it helps if each child has a Bible of their own on their lap so their eyes can follow along and help keep their attention focused. We are learning the habit of attention, and that’s one reason I start with Scripture. Eventually, kids get squirrelly, so we want to give highest attention to that which we find most important.
We don’t do too much of a formal study at this point. We have used study books in the past, or used formal discussion questions. My kids are very curious and conversational by nature, so we most often simply talk about what stands out to us, how we can learn from what we have read, what challenges us, or what we love about it.
The kids and I also then each do a little Scripture copywork in our journals. Sometimes the selection I choose is the same for each of us: sometimes it is shorter for the kindergartener and longer for the older kids, and an entire chapter for myself. It generally takes 5-8 minutes, I think. I love to have music playing quietly while we do this.
Then we move on with more singing. Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Our favorite resources are the Cantus Christi hymnal from Canon Press, the Cantica Sanctorum also from Canon Press, Then Sings My Soul, the Hosanna student hymnal, and Jamie Soles songs. I happen to have a degree in music, and my kids have followed in the footsteps of their parents with love of singing to the Lord as well as a practiced habit of growing this skill. They’ve got talent. But even if they thought they couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, singing would still be paramount in our family life, our educational pursuits, and our liturgy of Morning Time. It is a cornerstone for us.
We participate in HappyHymnody‘s monthly hymn, and love memorizing along with friends all over the place. We also choose a monthly Psalm, and share it at SacredPsalmody. Then I lead music at our homeschool co op each week, so we practice those songs during Morning Time at home. And the kids like to request good old favorites in rotation. They especially love to sing in four part harmony, and often choose things with difficult, contrasting lines.
We then have prayer – sometimes it involves us all taking turns, sometimes it is one of us leading in using an Every Moment Holy liturgy, sometimes it is based on a psalm, sometimes it is me praying over my children even feeling like I’m about to lose it at the end of my wits. We have a little jar of popsicle sticks on which we have written all kinds of prayer requests and prompts, and the children love to draw sticks from that for prayer time. This can last anywhere from two to ten minutes.
We usually sing the Gloria Patri at this point. Again in harmony, quite loud, with hands raised and open.
We work through each child’s catechism, doing about five minutes per child. They try to listen to one another and practice the skill of listening, the art of attention, the habit of encouragement. But it’s tricky sometimes, because by this point we’ve lost the toddler and the kindergartner has gotten squirrelly, and even the big kids start getting giggly. In my family, we start each child with a Small Child’s Catechism, and once they have mastered all fifty of those Q&A, they move on to learning the Westminster Shorter for Children. After they can recite all 145 of those answers (which takes a solid fifteen minutes in succession), they begin with the New City catechism. I am not sure yet what we will learn after that… my two oldest kids and I are not yet through that one! We continue working and growing together in faith and practice.
Then we continue to work on memory, usually reciting & adding to a Scripture memory. Last year we memorized the entirety of Psalm 103. This year we are working on Proverbs 2. It is so difficult for me to memorize such long portions without having it set to music! I am seeking to learn and grow.
Then each child has a turn to recite one or two poems. Sometimes we simply read poetry to one another (Sing a Song of Seasons, Favorite Poems Old and New, 100 Best Poems, Poetry for Young People), always we recite for one another. Practicing speaking in front of others, and growing in the art of elocution, is hugely important to us.
At this point we will review any memory work from co op, Sunday school, or other resource as well.
When we are currently doing an art study, composer study, or Shakespeare study, we will include it now. Last year, we focused on geography (loving the Mapping the World with Art resource!), and loved including Geography Songs here as well. This year, we are doing ancient history, so often review readings, videos, poetry, or timeline for that.
We close our Morning Time then with reading aloud and art. Sometimes art is very specific, sometimes it is free for the children to choose. They do complicated dot to dot or sticker art sometimes. They use how-to-draw books and fill lots of sketchbooks with exquisite drawings. Occasionally they watercolor or use colored pencils in a variety of coloring books.
We tend to get most of our reading recommendations from my friends Sarah and Betsy at ReadAloud Revival and Redeemed Reader. I can vouch for both resources. We have relied on their reviews and lists of suggestions for years, and have probably only had three duds ever. If you had any idea how many books the kids and I go through on a regular basis (more than fifty large books, and absolutely countless hundreds of picture books), you would realize how excellent a ratio that is. We have five library cards and a few audiobook accounts… and a quite large home library in walls lined in bookcases upstairs in our schoolroom, built-in cases in the family room, and shelves for each child in their bedrooms for easiest storage & access. We are proud bibliophiles, and have the collection to prove it.
On an average day, I think I spend 1-3 hours reading aloud to my children. But it varies that vastly, depending on whether we are out and about, or how much co op homework we have, or what the weather is like. When I was on bedrest or during the worst of the covid-19 lockdowns, it was at least 3 hours a day… and we loved it to pieces. Those are our favorite days.
And I think that is what I am circling back round to now: the fact that Morning Time is our favorite thing. If we don’t do anything else to redeem a day, Morning Time (even in a shortened, bare bones version) brings beauty, form, liturgy, truth, and goodness to our day. It forces us to practice habits of recitation, attention, listening, learning, spiritual graces, practical skill. It brings joy to our home. It knits our family culture.
I would love to share more Morning Time snippets here on the blog. And I would love to read about your own experiences and explore your favorite resources as well. Please share!
11.16.20 Morning Time Selections
1 Samuel 26
A Walking Song by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Weight of Wonder by Ben Palpant
We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Creation by Joseph Carlson
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Bud of Joy by Amy Carmichael
Yellow by Olive Dove
David by Joseph Carlson
Radiant by Richard Hannula
Pages of History, Vol. 1 by Bruce Etter
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers