While I spent years in an early childhood classroom, we are brand new to homeschooling. This is both exhilarating and a bit terrifying. My background has been working in the Reggio way, and that still strongly influences my educational philosophy. Einstein’s famous quote “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know” comes to mind as a new homeschooler. There are so many philosophies and ways of homeschooling out there, it can be a challenge to figure out what’s right for your family. I have always had the intention of our homeschool being full of play and wonder with a goal of fostering a love of learning, so that was my starting place.
I pictured us participating in group outings and co-ops, and day trips to museums and parks. This has of course looked different than I envisioned, but we have still been able to incorporate parts of this vision. Over the summer and fall we took trips to the beach and to the mountains, read books, and played freely. My 6-year-old daughter was enamored with the idea of “school”, and I also felt like we needed to create a flow to our days. I was wary of imposing a schedule that would be too rigid and too easy to fail at, and then I stumbled onto the Charlotte Mason idea of morning time/morning basket.
Our Morning Cart
When we started morning time, the kids and I would snuggle up in my bed and we’d read whatever caught our fancy. I assembled what we’ve come to call our “morning cart” with different types of books–nature, story/picture books, biographies, etc. I added in card games like Go Fish and Uno, and some simple math activities like a set of dice that we roll and add together. Sometimes the kids will sit super still and listen during our read-alouds, and other times, their hands need something to do. The morning cart has a handful of sensory bottles, a small set of wooden magnetic blocks, beeswax modeling clay, a couple small clipboards with pencils, wiki stix, and all kinds of picture cards to look through.
The morning cart has evolved to hold most of the books and materials we might need during our week. I change out the books on the top shelf based on what I have planned for the week, and generally the bottom shelf holds the library books we have checked out. The middle shelf has cards and activities, and also holds math and writing materials like our 100 board. I also keep an indestructible world scrunch map on the cart so it’s handy to look up locations based on our reading or conversation.
Our Morning Routine
After about a month when the routine of morning time felt established, I started lesson planning and creating a more intentional balance of reading and activities. This isn’t rigid. I like having a plan, but if the kids aren’t into it, I toss it out and move on to something else. We developed a morning time routine: good morning song, calendar, weather, poetry, gratitude, read-alouds, etc.
Our good morning song is something my children used to sing at school at the start of their group meeting time, so it both brings back happy memories and also follows an already established routine for them. We take a look at our paper calendar each morning and figure out what the date and day of the week is (side note: for 2021 I got one with pictures of the national parks, so at the start of each new month, we read about the featured park in our National Parks book). We add that to our beautiful perpetual calendar, and then we sing “What’s the Weather?” (a totally silly made up song to the tune of “Oh My Darling Clementine”). The kids will run over to the sliding glass door and we talk about what the weather looks like (which usually includes them sticking their hand, head or whole body outside to tell what the temperature feels like). We adjust the weather and moon on the perpetual calendar, and then we read our poem for the day, usually taken from Sing a Song of Seasons which has a dated poem for every day of the year. I adore it.
Recently I added in talking about what we are grateful for that day, and I write it down in my planner (which conveniently has a spot for daily gratitude). After that, we move on to whatever read-alouds I have planned for the day, again, allowing for a book that one of the children brought with them or ditching one that they’re not into. I should add that my 3-year-old doesn’t usually stay put for all of morning time. I encourage him to participate through our daily gratitude, and I make an effort to include books that I think he will be interested in near the beginning.
When we felt relatively established with our morning routine, I added in table time after morning time. This basically divides our day into the things that are more comfortably done propped up on pillows (read-alouds mostly), and then things that are better done at a table (games that involve a board, writing, art, etc.). The kids usually get themselves a snack in between morning time and table time which gives mama time to take a sip of coffee and pull together materials.
We don’t get to all the things every day. Again, I like having a framework for the days the kids are really receptive, but it’s not set in stone. On a daily basis, we generally do our morning routine, read-alouds (stories, often nature-based, biographies, nonfiction/science/nature books, etc.), attempt some kind of math activity (a game, a patterning activity, cooking, etc.), and some kind of writing/letter recognition/phonics something or other (writing a letter to a friend, our read/build/write board, writing and illustrating a poem). We try for a weekly entry in my daughter’s gratitude journal where she writes something she’s grateful for and why, and then draws a picture of it. At the start of each month, the kids draw their self-portraits, which has been another special tradition carried over from their school. I try to have a special poetry teatime at least monthly (I’d really like this to be a weekly occurrence, but we just aren’t there right now).
Whether we get to all the things on the lesson plan or not, children are constantly learning. It’s important to me that they have tons of uninterrupted time to play. There are plenty of days when they become deeply immersed in their play, and rather than drag them away from that, I just let them be. We’ll get to what was on the plan tomorrow or the next day or never, and that’s just fine.
The other major component of our routine is spending lots of time outside. There are days where that just doesn’t happen, especially in the winter, but those are pretty rare. As the weather has warmed, we have increased our time outside, even transferring our entire school routine onto a blanket outside. I am dreaming of creating a space outside that will allow us to spend our days in the fresh air while still maintaining some of our morning and table time routines.
One of the brilliant parts of homeschooling is the ability to adopt what works for your family, and also to totally change course if something isn’t working. Right now, this routine has given us a flexible framework to follow without imposing rigidity. As we continue to learn and grow together, this may end up looking different, but I am incredibly grateful to have the freedom to change course in response to what my children need.