Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Morning Basket

One thing that I have done quite differently this year in our homeschool is the addition of the morning basket.   I attended the homeschool convention in Orlando, FL this year and went to every Charlotte Mason seminar I could.  I also attended an on-line summer class this year through Classical Academic Press called "Bringing schole´ to your School and Homeschool" with Dr. Christopher Perrin.  It really shifted my perspective on the kind of education I want my children to have (or child in my case since I only have one left in homeschool!)   Dr. Perrin challenged us all to share and teach others what we have learned so I'm doing that via my blog!

Here is a peek at my morning basket!! You know that feeling that you get after you have been homeschooling for a while and you start wondering if your kids are really getting everything you imagined they would get when you decided to homeschool?  You start to just really focus on the basic subjects to make sure you are covering all your bases as far as reading, writing and arithmetic.  All those dreamy enrichment activities that you had fantasized about how your homeschooling would look start to fall through the cracks due to just trying to survive the homeschool day.  You know, the subjects like memory work, art appreciation, music appreciation, the study of musical composers, etc. etc. etc....

Let me introduce you to the Morning Basket.  We are only three weeks into school now and it has quickly become the highlight of our day.   I have learned about this time tested homeschool method from several wonderful homeschoolers who have gone before me!  Some wonderful websites to visit to learn more about them include one of my favorite bloggers - Wildflowers and Marbles.  (If you have multiple children at many ages - her blog is the one to visit to find out how to do the morning basket well!)  Have a listen to this wonderful podcast about Morning Baskets here at this blog of one of my fellow classmates!  Another wonderful resource is the Circe Institute - they have so many wonderful things in their free audio library that I would recommend every single one! But the one titled The Long Haul: On Morning Time is the one that made me decide to begin our own special Morning Basket time.

So what exactly is a morning basket time?  For us - it is our time each morning where we spend about an hour together that grounds our day with what I would call enrichment activities.  Being a classical educator I have long been a huge fan of memory work.  Now we have a place to put it.   It is also the time we focus on picture study, narration, nature journaling, the study of famous artists, art appreciation, music appreciation, introduction to Shakespeare, hymn study, character building, read alouds, and more.   This little chair in a corner of our homeschool room is where it happens - see the basket right on the floor?

For the first time in my homeschooling years I finally feel like I am truly giving my child a rich, full, well rounded classical education.  I always knew I had the important bases covered, but now I know that I am feeding her mind.   One of Charlotte Mason's more famous quotes is "To use the mind is by no means the same thing as to feed it".    Filling our homeschool days with things that simply "use" the mind is not a rich and fulfilling education.  Instead we need to be giving them a homeschool diet rich in materials that "feed" the mind.  We do this by giving them rich living books instead of dry text books, reading to them and memorizing poetry with good noble thoughts, spending time in God's creation, carefully studying great works of art, literature and poetry, listening intently to beautiful pieces of music, committing to memory scripture and catechisms, excellent poetry, and life-giving truths, working on developing character habits, providing short stories with role models with good morals and noble character, and introducing great principles instead of spoon-fed ideas.   Instead of these mind feeding activities, we sometimes tend to simply "use" their minds by filling their days with workbooks, spelling drills, fill-in-the-blanks - those things which we tend to want to "check the box - we finished it" type of activities.  These things don't feed their growing insatiable quest for true wisdom and knowledge.

We are careful to choose the majority of our curriculum that incorporates much of these rich mind-feeding ideas into them, but being intentional and training these ideas during morning basket time is the focus of our morning time together.

I spent so much time this summer researching and gathering supplies to be used for MB time.  I was surprised at how much I already had, because I had all those wonderful ideas to do these things but never figured out a workable structured way to introduce them all.   I mentioned in a prior post about Schole´ how there is always so much wonderful rich curriculum I want to add in to our homeschool day, however I wanted to be careful not to add too much.  This is an excellent way to enrich but not to overwhelm.   I have a basic weekly schedule that we follow each day for MB time (this is an entirely separate schedule from our main curriculum which I will be sharing soon).

This is just a skeleton of the schedule I follow because I want to be sure to cover all the excellent tools we have but not to overload on any certain day.  We even close our morning basket time together each day by singing The Doxology to lend a bit of a liturgical aspect to our time together.  (Then our three dogs know that means it's time for their morning walk!).    There is just something so soothing about a structured routine and order to our days, isn't there? 

Here are some of our books and resources we use to study art appreciation.  I highly recommend the Picture Study Portfolios.  You can choose the artist you want to study and then you  have everything you need in one packet for a successful picture study!  These include a portrait of the artist, the timeline which shows where the artist fits in history, a biography, eight full color works, prompts to encourage narration, questions to ask your child as she studies the pictures and recommended additional books.  It just doesn't get much easier than that!  Of course adding in some living books about each artist you study is a wonderful way to enrich the experience with each artist. 

Memory time is our favorite.  Young children love to and have an incredible capacity to memorize.  I can still remember poems that I memorized as a child but I can't tell you what happened yesterday! Hiding that which is true, good and beautiful in the hearts of our children is something that they can depend on and draw from for the rest of their lives.  Fill their hearts and minds with rich and beautiful things.   There are some wonderful free resources on this website which is where I found our scripture memory cards. 

Studying (more like introducing) Shakespeare is new to us this year.  I have heard time and again how introducing Shakespeare at a young age can reap great rewards when children get to high school and college.   The book Stories from Shakespeare  is the perfect book to introduce each of Shakespeare's works to give a good overview of the story before investigating the actual work.  My Boo couldn't get enough of this book at the homeschool convention when I bought it, and already had it read cover to cover before we left the convention.  I think that is what comes from having two older sisters who already have developed a great love of the classics.  She wanted to find out what all the hype was about! HA!!  

When we read Bible passages together sometimes, Boo will express a frustration in not being able to understand the way scriptures are worded in the Bible.  Reading Shakespeare can give us that same bit of frustration - but what a great exercise in understanding rich vocabulary and stretching our minds to understand the rhetoric of the great thinkers that came before us.

Studying beautiful pieces of music and the composers who wrote them is delightful.  The Classical Kids Collection is a very fun way to learn the stories of the composers lives and how they went about creating their music.  It's fun and engaging and really helps you remember what you have learned!  I only have two of the CD's pictured here because I loan out the others often to friends - that's how well loved they are.   Music Study with the Masters is another CM product that makes music study so simple - very similar to the picture study portfolios, everything you need to cultivate your children's taste for good music in just a few minutes each week is included.   Again, you can choose which artist to study. 

Every Friday, the majority of our morning basket time is consumed with nature study.  We take plenty of restful time to be outside studying intently God's incredible creation.  We pack a bag with our books, art supplies and enjoy using our Journaling - A Year in Nature handbook to prompt us on what to look for, sketch, and write about.  I think these notebooks will become a treasure to us after we have an entire years collection in them.  We each have our own Nature Notebooks.  I can't believe how much we have already learned this year about nature - the names of plants, bushes and trees in our own yard even because we never took the time to intentionally study and enjoy them.

Our read-aloud time happens during morning basket too - though it often spills over into snack time because we just can't put a good book down!  Make sure your kids have something to do while they listen - it's easier for you (and them!) if they can happily engage in a painting, building legos, using play-dough or anything to engage their hands while their minds are actively listening.  Snacking ALWAYS works! 
Some of our read alouds for the year. 

After your child is old enough to start enjoying the rich chapter books, don't neglect to continue to read wonderful picture books as well!  I'm constantly checking out new pictures books from the library that may coincide with what we are learning, the time of year, or any thing that may pertain to our lives right now.  We enjoyed some fun "First Day of School" type of picture books this month. 

One of MY favorite parts of our MB time is our focus and study on Character Habits.  I say habits because any kind of character training must first become a habit if we want it to become a part of their personality and character.  Changing hearts and actions is very hard work - but isn't this just about the most important part of any child's education?  Laying Down the Rails is an excellent resource if you want to really dive deep into any moral or character training in a simple yet effective way. Charlotte Mason said, "Sow a habit, reap a character". 

Here is just a small sampling of the table of contents from Laying Down the Rails for Children.  It is a great resource that makes training children's character formation so fun! Each character includes several scriptures, great living classic stories, beautiful poems, inspiring quotes and fun activities to teach their hearts towards good character.  "Just as a train's direction is established by its track, good habits set the direction of our children's lives for smooth running, now and into adulthood." 

My little Boo's favorite book in our MB is "Keepers at Home".  I have had this book for years and we are just now finally enjoying it because we finally found a place for it.   It is simply a handbook for young ladies and touches on everything from etiquette to soap making, from cooking to hospitality and everything in between! Guiding a young girl into a woman of Christ is the theme here.  I've been so surprised at how interested she is in learning about budgeting, ironing, patriotism and community service! This little guide touches on all of life in a very practical way.  It's a great tool for training in areas you may not have otherwise thought of. 

So that is a brief overview of our favorite part of our homeschool day.  I'm so so glad I finally figured out how to richen not only our homeschool education, but also our relationship as mother and daughter.  These have become precious precious times together discussing everything from free will versus predestination - to dog training and Latin declensions.  Being intentional about training hearts gives way to wonderful conversations that simply astound me.  Singing great hymns or praise songs together, just the two of us is so sweet it often brings tears to my eyes.  (Until the bird starts singing along and we crack up at how ridiculous we sound sometimes!)  As homeschool moms we often can feel so very inept, but if we hand over all of our efforts to the ONE who has called us to this noble and humbling position as homeschoolers - he blesses our efforts ten fold!  If you have ever considered something like a morning basket, or just want to enrich your homeschool - this is an excellent way to do it!