When we started homeschooling, I had three children ages 4 and under. We bought a boxed curriculum that year, one of those terribly stuffy, all-in-one deals that delivered a classroom kindergarten experience right to our front door, pencils and all. We all hated it— even my husband, who had been its biggest proponent when we had started researching our options. The fact is, a home isn’t a classroom and therefore, classroom management just isn’t a skill a homeschooling mother needs. Oh, she needs plenty of other skills. (Like delicately balancing the personalities of a whole family full of people who live and work together all the time.) But homes and brick and mortar schools are totally different beasts, and what works in one really doesn’t work well in others.
The bigger trick for a homeschooling mother, though, is realizing that works in one season just doesn’t work in another. Unlike the modern classroom teacher, who can count on 25 new students with birthdays within a year of one another marching into her room each fall, the homeschooling mother starts fresh with the same students… now one year older. And still spaced out just exactly the way they were the year prior! So while Momma may have gotten first grade down pat for Child A, teaching that same grade two years down the road (when she’s now doing 3rd grade and kindergarten at the same time) may require some tweaks.
In my case, it required something altogether different.
My first “group” of students (which is how I think of my older kids) had one elementary experience. Because of the dynamics that exist in our family currently, my second “group” is getting another… and it’s about as far removed from school-in-a-box as you can get.
Frustrations with trying to fit our reality into a pre-written curriculum led me to do some deep seeking of the Lord and His will for our family in this season. See, after we had shaken off the doldrums of the first curriculum kit, we had embraced Sonlight, a company I still heartily endorse. My first group and I spent so much of those early years curled on the couch with tea and hot chocolate, reading amazing literature with the sound of sifting Legos as the backdrop. We’d get comfortable for long stretches, and enjoy chapter after chapter, sometimes forgetting to put dinner on in time for Daddy to come home. It was a fabulous way to learn, and made for the kind of memories that, I believe, knit the four of us together in a way that has been a blessing in our recent years of upheaval.
So of course, I turned to Sonlight when it was time to start learning with my next group. It was something of a false start; we floundered right off the bat, because the range of development meant that there was no way to “hit the middle” as I had before without really denying those who were farther ahead and utterly overwhelming the ones coming up behind. Also, the length of the readings were completely out of step with what my kids could handle. And, unlike my first crew, who absolutely thrived on having multiple story threads woven throughout a single day, this group blinked at me with confusion when we did any bouncing around at all. Still, I tried again a year later. I loved Sonlight, and I couldn’t imagine it not working for us. But when our second attempt began looking a little threadbare, I realized that I was the same Momma, yes, but I was teaching different kids. What worked with the first set was just not panning out the second time around.
I was completely out of my element, but not without hope. Some fantastic resources were at my fingertips thanks to a vibrant community of homeschoolers on the internet. A few months of praying, watching how my family worked, and reading, and I latched on to the idea popularly known as “Morning Basket.” What I saw made perfect sense for the assembled little people in front of me. It was flexible. It had no daily checklist. It incorporated multiple learning styles. It was creative. It touched on the elements that I felt most led to include in our learning. And it allowed us to all learn and grow together.
A total win.
And it has continued to be so. We’re a little over two years in to what we call Circle Time, and it has become everything good that I remember about learning with my first group of kids. It feeds our souls, it nourishes creative play, and it ignites curiosity. It also accomplishes all of this without frustrating me, or exasperating them. Best of all, because the concept is so very basic, it expands as we move forward. Last year’s basket was full only of things I was reading aloud. This year, Birdie’s Little House chapter books (affiliate link) are tucked inside, as is John Mark’s current reading selection. Next year… who knows?
As I shifted our approach, I got countless questions. Somehow, people noticed that we were enjoying school more, that my kids were suddenly excited to be learning again, and clued in to what we were doing. I explained our change in direction countless times, and fielded quite a few requests for a “starter sample”— something to give young families a taste of what Circle Time was, or what it could be to them. This is the end result:
Circle Time: Five Weeks of gentle lessons for Christian Homeschooling is a primer for families who, like us, are enamored with the idea of gathering everyone together for short, common lessons in the morning, but aren’t quite sure how to put the pieces together on their own just yet. I’ve planned just over a month for you, with seven main areas of study covered. Following this guide gives you daily bites of great hymns, Bible reading, grammar, math activities, and more. It’s written for families with one child, or a dozen to enjoy a sweet drink of togetherness before moving on with whatever the day holds. I’ve included printables, read-aloud suggestions, and a resource list that will make designing your next five weeks simple and fun.
Circle Time is written to be open and go, but flexible, taking into account that life (and littles!) are more important than keeping pace with any method or educational ideology. It’s based loosely on the work of Charlotte Mason, but mostly on the grace of God, who gives us these little souls to nurture for such a short, sweet season.
Circle Time is available for $2.99 on Amazon. I hope it blesses those who seek to gently instruct their children for the glory of the Lord!