Morning Time Primer: Ages and Stages

Morning Time—Our Daily Feast was the number one best educational practice for bringing scholé to our homeschool. Our long-term commitment to a daily shared time together for reading, memory work, and contemplation. Beyond the pattern of our weekly work and rest, Morning Time along with a few other practices, contributed to scholé in our own homeschool, even before I was aware that scholé was a thing we should be seeking.  This is Part Three in a series; read Part One here and Part Two here. As always, keep in mind that I have twenty-five plus years in the rearview mirror. There were many times I did not live up to my own ideals, or follow my own advice. There are certainly more than a few things I would change in a do-over, but there are also some things I think we got right most of the time. These Morning Time practices are among the latter.

 

As I look back at our Morning Times from the perspective of years, Tennyson’s brook comes to mind. There were times when it briskly moved along, chattering over several hours a day, bubbling into happy eddies full of books read and memory work completed. There were other times when it meandered as we just enjoyed reading aloud without much else in terms of purposeful academics. And then there were those times when trees and rocks cause sharp bends and detours, with fewer days a week or less daily time devoted to it. This final epoch of our homeschooling years has flowed more smoothly and quietly, carrying us into waters deep and wide with more time for classic works of literature and theology.

The temper of our Morning Time brook has been quite dependent on the ages and stages of the students in our home. Those brisk days were most prevalent when all of my children were of school age (i.e. not as many babies); the meandering days often came in the summer or in times when we had more outside activities; the detours often came with morning sickness, nursing babies, or particularly active toddlers. The deeper and wider days have come in the last few years as my last students at home complete their high school years, freeing us to tailor our Morning Times to more mature pursuits.

In each of these seasons, the focus, length, and content of our Morning Times have been different, depending on the greatest needs of the greatest number. Yes, this means that in some ways my younger children’s educations have been the richer; but then, the older ones had other compensations, beginning with much younger, less tired, more energetic parents. In the end, we must trust in our Sovereign God’s perfect providence in the ordering and timing of the children He gave, which in turn will impact the experiences of each one. Perhaps that is another facet of scholé: trusting that man proposes, but God disposes, even in our children’s educations.

With those things in mind, I want to offer a few suggestions and guidelines for structuring your Morning Time with the different ages and stages you might have at home.

PRESCHOOLERS THROUGH EARLY ELEMENTARY

This is the ideal time to begin a Morning Time routine. Charlotte Mason’s precepts concerning the habit of attention should be guiding principles, in balance with the principle of short lessons. If all your children are below school age, your Morning Time may well begin with only 5-10 minutes at a time—perhaps a short prayer, a stanza of a hymn, and a catechism question in one session; a nursery rhyme or poetry recitation in another; a picture book or two in a third. Keeping these times short will make it possible to teach and require increasing habits of attention. Try to tie these short sessions to a particular time in the day to form a routine: breakfast, just before lunch, just before naps, just before bedtime (yep, Morning Time really should be called Our Daily Feast). Those last two can be a motivator for children who are reluctant to move from picture books to chapter books: “You can stay up a few minutes longer than your younger siblings to read this book with me . . . “ Children thrive on such routines, and you will find it easier to be consistent if it’s “what we always do.”

You will want to gradually increase the length of time and number of activities you include in each session. But remember to keep your expectations realistic. Young children need to run outside, explore, and even (maybe especially!) learn to play alone at times. Of course, they need to learn to sit still and listen at times also. Your Morning Times will double as practice for Sunday worship, and vice versa. All of this will be so much easier if you limit your child’s screen time. If you must use electronic diversion—and we certainly did—try to keep it minimally “flashy.” Shows like Mr. Rogers, Baby Einstein, and Calvert School’s Melody Lane were great options for our littles.

If you have older students, your established routine of Morning Time will provide structure for your preschoolers, but you will need to make accommodations for your little ones as well. For your three-year-old, perhaps you require complete attention during the first five minutes of your read-aloud time, and then you allow crayons or quiet Lego play for the balance. For one of my most active boys, a run around the outside of the house every fifteen or twenty minutes—ready, set, go, as fast as you can!—was an absolute necessity throughout his early elementary years.

ELEMENTARY THROUGH JUNIOR HIGH

These are Morning Time’s golden years. When my four younger students fell into this age range, our Morning Times most resembled the aforesaid brisk chattering brook. Here you should group your students for every subject or part of a subject that you possibly can. In general, I aimed my read-alouds at the older students of this age range, with the idea that

We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can. ~ Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education

Sometimes if there were things that I wanted to gear directly to the younger students, we added a short Afternoon Time to the mix—particularly attractive to children who were ready to give up naps (nap time was sacred in our home through kindergarten and even into elementary school!) Or sometimes we did the opposite, and reserved the Afternoon Time for older students while littles napped. Every year really did look a little different; sometimes we even changed our routine mid-year (or mid-month, truth be told).

Short lessons continued to guide our practice; but moving toward longer spans of attention was also an aim. Morning Times become a rich feast of memory work, Picture Study, Composer Study, history, literature, poetry, and geography, often lasting as long as two hours with strategic planning of the order of our activities. It might look something like this:

  • Prayer, hymn, Bible reading, catechism recitation with everyone sitting; this lasted about 15 minutes and usually everyone who could read did a part
  • Latin chant for about 5 minutes, standing and moving
  • Poetry reading and memorization, recitation of individual selections by each child for about 15 minutes with everyone sitting, but the child who was reciting
  • Read-aloud history with narration for at least 30-45 minutes with everyone sitting or (keeping it real) sprawling on the floor, or upside down on the sofa; a map book in hand made this geography time as well, and elementary students usually had sketchbooks in hand for drawings related to our reading
  • Brief break for moving, stretching, or bathroom needs
    Phonogram review for 5 minutes with everyone standing and an older child leading
  • Read-aloud literature with or without narration for about 30 -45 minutes with everyone sitting, etc. (see history reading); again, elementary students usually had sketchbooks in hand for drawings related to our reading
  • Timeline recitation for about 3 minutes to finish; today, I would add to this hand motions and movement!

Picture Study or Composer Study might be added to the mix on a given day. I know it may sound like 30-45 minutes of reading aloud is a long time, but somehow it never seemed so. The closing of the book was almost always met with a chorus of just-one-more-chapter! If I had students this age now, I might tweak the location a little, and have at least part of our Morning Time at the dining room table. Cozy casual times in the family room are among our most precious shared memories, though, so I think the bulk of it would stay right there.

Of course, when we had several elementary students plus several preschoolers, this looked quite different—breaks and seventh-inning stretches were inserted, playpens and room times were instituted, and nearby quiet activities for preschoolers were added; yes, even the above-mentioned videos were judiciously included in our day. On desperate days, I pulled a chair up to the nearby kitchen sink and allowed very messy water play which charmed preschoolers for very long periods of time. I even recall a time or two when everyone assembled in the hall just outside of a bathroom for Morning Time while toddlers had an extended bath playtime. Bottom line: we found a way to keep going!

When students are around late elementary to junior high age, I recommend that you try to have a print copy for each student of at least a few of the things you read aloud. Each child had a memory work binder, but in a do-over, I would also look for inexpensive copies of the books I was reading aloud so my students could read along. This is helpful both as they see the words on the page (and learn how to pronounce them correctly!) and because they need practice in reading aloud.

HIGH SCHOOL

Morning Time can still be a vital part of your high schooler’s day, even if it has to be a bit shorter at times because of the demands of other classes. At the very least, our high schoolers always did the beginning of Morning Time with us, which usually would include bible, a hymn, and poetry. When they began their Great Books classes in 9th grade, they needed to spend a good bit more time working independently. On the whole, this was a good plan. However, now that I have had the opportunity to do more with my youngest students through high school, this is an area I would have advised my younger self to tweak. It has been such a joy to read Homer, Virgil, and now Dante with my last two that I wish I had done more of that kind of thing with the older ones, even if we could only squeeze in a page or two per day. I would have had upper elementary through junior high students listen in as well.

Someday, dear mom of little ones, you will arrive in the season where you can tailor your Morning Time schedule to your high school students—I promise, it comes faster than you will believe. I am relishing such a time right now. Our reading revolves around our studies at Providence Prep. For almost all of the reading, my son and I take turns. I do most of it, but I do require him to read at least a part of each; this means we both have a copy of each work. Our daily time now includes:

  • Bible reading and prayer (we need to add a hymn back in; we’ve missed that lately)
  • Catechism memory work
  • Theology reading – currently, the chapter(s) for our Westminster Confession of Faith class which we read daily for a total of four times during the week
  • Poetry reading – one poem a week from the term’s poet; we also read this daily for a total of four times during the week
  • Elements of Style – assigned reading for the week from Poetics & Progym III
  • The Divine Comedy – one to two cantos per day

We’re also filling in here and there with The Wind in the Willows, and several plays from Shakespeare: Hamlet and All’s Well That Ends Well. We are just about done with Dante; we’ll be moving on to The Great Divorce to finish out the year.

Next up in this series: thoughts on how history, geography, and literature studies below high school can be grouped and accomplished via Morning Time.

A Natural Monarch by Asher Brown Durand, 1853

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