Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Schooling with Littles :: Our Morning Basket

Like I mentioned last time, I'm working through a little series on Schooling with Littles.  Yesterday, I posted an overview of our daily schedule.

Our schooling routine basically has three blocks: Morning Basket, Naptime School, and Independent Work. Today I want to talk about Morning Basket, our version of Circle Time. I've written about it in bits and pieces over the past couple years, but the Morning Basket is what I call our family work.  Although it starts in the morning, it usually continues into the afternoon.  And it's not actually kept in a basket--more like a half-shelf on the bookcase by the dining table.  But I borrowed the name years ago from the always-inspiring Jen, when my oldest two were preschoolers and it actually was done in the morning, out of a basket.

I'm only teaching one grade formally (my two oldest are in second grade, and my next won't start kindergarten until fall), so ours is quite simple to put together; I don't have to juggle a large age range yet. My goal during this learning time is to hit some of my second graders' scheduled assignments while involving the littles as well.

Some of our Morning Basket stays the same year in and out. Some of it changes by term. And some is month-to-month, as the liturgical calendar changes or as we switch out learned memory work for new selections. So it's in constant flux, but the rhythm remains the same.

Since we do this work while the littles are alongside, I have a few requirements before I schedule an activity for the Morning Basket:
:: it must be able to be done with a little background noise from the toddlers
:: it shouldn't require lots of sitting-still or hands-off time (and if I can do it with a baby on my lap, even better!)
:: it should be naturally interesting to my little ones
:: it shouldn't involve narrations (I don't like for my children to be interrupted while they're narrating)
:: it must be able to be paused at a moment's notice

That last one is important. We begin our Morning Basket work during breakfast (pro tip: read while they're eating!), get as far as we can, and finish up the rest in the afternoon. Some days baby is happy with breakfast in her high chair and we get through it all without interruption. Most days I stop halfway, send the kids outside to play, and then I finish up later on while the littlest is napping.

Here's a snapshot of our Morning Basket plans for this month:

Religion (daily)
:: Seasonal Reading - February is traditionally the month of the Holy Family, so we're focusing on the litany of St. Joseph.  At the end of the month, we'll start our Lenten readings--more on that as the season approaches.
:: Feast Day Reading - from our two-volume set of Saints for Young People for Every Day of the Year, which helpfully follows the traditional calendar (as we do)
:: Scheduled Reading - one page weekly from Robert Hugh Benson's Old Testament Rhymes (our other scheduled religion readings are more involved, so I save them for later on in the day, but these are short so we can do them all together)

Calendar Work in English and Italian (daily)

Memory Work (daily) - includes review of that day's items from our memory "notebook" as well as our current selections:
:: Hymn - "Pange Lingua Gloriosi"
:: Folk Song - "California, Here I Come" and "I Love You, California"
:: Bible - the Nunc Dimittis and the Magnificat
:: Poetry - Christina Rossetti's "Rushes in a Watery Place," "Hurt No Living Thing," "Fly Away Fly Away," and "What Do the Stars Do"

Italian (daily) - We cover new concepts, games, and conversation later in the day, but we do our Italian memory work with the littles:
:: Rhymes - "Batti, batti le manine," "Questo e l'occhio bello," and "Capra capretta" from Filastrocche Italiane
:: Songs - "Testa, spalle, ginocchie, i piedi" and "Sei papere" from Teach Me Everyday Italian
:: Series - "I Get Ready to Go."

Poetry (daily)
One or more poems from Christina Rossetti's Fly Away Fly Away Over the Sea

Art Study (weekly)
Albrecht Durer's"Self Portrait in a Fur Coat" and "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

Music Study (weekly)
Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and "Symphony No. 9"

And bonus: my next daughter will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and I think the Morning Basket work (which she already joins us for) plus a bit of math and reading practice now and then will make for a perfectly lovely kindergarten year.

Next week, I'll talk a bit about Naptime School.  (ETA: Here it is!)


  1. Lovely Celeste, you are totally on the right track with your littles et al!

    1. Thank you so much, Meredith! That means a lot coming from you. :)

  2. Love this. I am new to CM education and discovered the joy of "circle time" as we call it, in January. Oh how it has changed our days! I do have a question though, how do you pick your folk songs?

    1. Hi Barb, right now I am not following the AO rotation, as there are so many patriotic and simple folk songs I think we should hit first. (This is mostly just because I'm in the first run through with the oldest children in the family; by the time my littles are school-aged, they'll already know all these songs just by listening to big brothers and sisters singing them all the time!) So we have been working our way through the songs in several compilation books, like The Glorious American Songbook (which I'm hoping to review here next week, actually!). We've also included family favorites that have become cultural icons, like Do Re Mi. :) When they're a bit older, we will all move over to AO's meatier selections. Hope that helps!

  3. How do you learn the songs? Do you have background music or do you just sing by yourself and eventually the children join in? I've just started a 'Morning Basket' (mine are 3, almost 2 and 5 months!) and it's a bit overwhelming!

    1. I usually find a YouTube version I enjoy and play it for the kids daily. The older ones follow along with the lyrics that I print out for their binders. Once they're familiar with the tune, they join in, and once they're able to sing from memory, we move on to a new song.

      With the ages of your children, I would just play the songs as background music or for fun listening. There will be plenty of time for more formal music-learning later on--in the meantime, just enjoy some wonderful songs together! :)

  4. I have two questions for you, if I may. First, how do you get little ones with a lot of energy (think hand stands on the couch kind of energy) to settle for any amount of time? Second, where do you find your Italian learning things? I'm trying to implement Russian, but I'm having a hard time rounding up good and useful teaching tools.
    Thanks for the lovely post! We're trying to make this a daily habit, and it's been a struggle. I get so frustrated. Lord, have mercy.

    1. Hi there!

      For the high-energy little ones: what ages are you talking about? My kids that are under school age *don't* really settle for any length of time. Hence the schoolwork for the older kids during naps and meals! ;) Our Morning Basket literally takes maybe 15 minutes in the morning while we try to shove as much breakfast in my toddler's mouth as he'll take to keep in quiet! LOL And the afternoon time, including memory work, is usually done with littles running about or eating lunch.

      My 1yo son is on the go pretty much all the time and can barely sit in his high chair for breakfast. My 3yo and 4yos are girls, and they will sit with books or to draw at the table--typical girl development. My 5yo son, who is in kindergarten, has lots and lots of free play time each day. All the younger ones (and usually the older ones too) go outside every morning right after breakfast for a couple hours of running around. That helps make naps run smoothly and lets my sons get some energy out before we sit down to school. They are also responsible for quite a few chores, which I think helps settle them too. ;) My first grader and fourth graders ARE good at giving full attention and sitting down to their schoolwork, though I do still implement short lessons and alternate subjects to keep the mind (and body) fresh. I think that is something they have grown into over the past few years of CM-style learning, though.

      As for Italian materials: I use a variety of activities and books from all sorts of places, basically whatever I can find. My overall method has been to gather whatever I find and then sort through it myself to impose some kind of thematic/grammatical structure on it rather than relying on a program to do that part for me (simply because there isn't one available). So I have some songbooks/CDs from Amazon, printables from language-learning sites online, games and activities I have made up myself, series I wrote and checked with native speakers, poems from some nursery rhyme books I have, lists of words from a couple children's Italian dictionaries, etc. -- and then I organized all that information into workable units that can scaffold the kids' learning. Does that make sense?

      I have written a little about how I find and use resources before:

      That post is in sore need of an update because I have more materials to share and we've done so much since then...it's on my list of things to write, but it's a tricky one to even describe and the language plans themselves are in no shape to share. (If they were, I would happily post them!) But I hope that gives you some ideas? Let me know if you have further questions and I'll do my best to answer.

      Praying for you as you develop the habits! (And please pray for me too! :))

  5. Hi Celeste!

    I've been following you for a while but just started digging into your blog in more depth now and coming away so enriched! Thank you for sharing all of your wisdom, knowledge and experience. It truly is a blessing! I had a question about one of the religious books you use, Benson's Old Testament rhymes: are its theological principles broad enough for Protestant families to use? It looks lovely :)

    1. Yes, the only thing I saw that might be an issue was a one-line mention of Macabees, which is a book not contained in the Protestant Bible. But it is just that mention and the rest would be fine for a broader audience. Hope that helps!