Monday, May 23, 2016

Morning Meeting {Homeschool Circle Time}

Morning meeting was one of our favorite school routines this semester. We've always started our day with morning worship, and that didn't change when we started homeschooling. I really felt like our family needed another part in our routine though - a time we could check the calendar, talk about our day and week, practice good school manners, and maybe learn something new and fun. So we started what we call morning meeting. It's the same concept a lot of preschools and early elementary classes use, sometimes people call it circle time, rug time, etc. 

Sitting on the 'rug' waiting for the teacher...
Now - I love themes, decorating, organizing, making things all... school-ish. But I knew we needed something simple and flexible or we wouldn't be able to maintain it. My goal was not to recreate the classroom, but to have fun and learn. So I stayed off Pinterest for this one, and forced myself to think in small chunks - and to not plan ahead! One thing I know about myself, if I have time to plan ahead, I over-complicate things. 

So here were my goals in planning and starting this:
1. a meeting time to talk about our day and week
2. a time to practice "school rules" such as sitting still, not talking while the adult is talking, raising your hand and waiting to be called on*
3. work on calendar skills for James, because he was very interested in learning about time
4. work on character traits, citizenship skills, and patriotism
5. learn something fun - little chunks of somewhat important stuff that needed just a little review each day to sink in, but didn't really have any big part in our daily routine

Some tips on what helped our family make this fun and easy to keep up with, since we have a toddler, a preschooler, and a 'big' kid:

1. Keep it short and simple. It would not have been pleasant or conducive to learning if we had tried to include a full blown Kinder or first grade circle time routine, with a long calendar time, songs, weather, counting, themes and letters each day. So instead we did a short calendar time, and I would pick one or two other things to focus on each week or so. Our whole morning meeting usually lasted 5-10 minutes. 

2. Follow the same routine each day. Ours went like this - sit on the rug, criss-cross-applesauce, spoons in your bowls. Call up the leader for that day and hand them the marker. Have them tell us the date and day of the week as they mark it off. If the toddler was in a good mood, ask questions such as what day was yesterday, tomorrow, etc. Leader does activity such as adding to the days of the year count, passing out money to look at, telling the fruit of the Spirit - whatever we worked on that week. Leader sits down while I talk about the theme briefly, then stands to lead us in Pledge of Allegiance. 

The leader marking off the day on the calendar. This was while we were learning coin values, so next he would lead us in saying a little chant about the coin of the week, then pass out a nickel to each student to look at for a minute.
3. Have clear expectations. I really wanted this to be a time where they learned to be respectful of other learners and teachers, so we enforced 'classroom rules'. Now I can just say "Classroom rules, guys" under other circumstances too, and they know it's time to follow those rules. Ours were sit criss-cross-applesauce, spoons in your bowls (feet and hands to yourself - it's hard to learn if people are bumping you!), don't talk when other people (especially the adult!) are talking, raise your hand and wait to be called on before you talk or answer a question, participate, and listen with your eyes, heart and ears. 

4. Keep it fresh by having a part of your routine that changes every week or so, like a theme. This does not have to be elaborate or complicated. In fact, we only spent about 3-5 minutes a day on this part, and I did almost no advance prep... maybe 10 minutes or less total for each theme? 

One of our themes was fruit of the Spirit, so we would tell what fruit we were working on, and see who had earned their initials on our chart the day before. 
5. End with a fun song. The last part of every meeting was standing to say the Pledge, then moving to the living room to 'get our wiggles out' with a fun song. The first one we learned was the days of the week, then when they mastered that we did months of the year, then later in the year the continents song. Most days we just did the one we were learning right then, but if they wanted to I usually let them sing them all. 

Leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance
6. Move on. The next part of our day was always the same too, so there wasn't a chaotic, wild, kids running everywhere yelling and taking forever to calm down after our hyper song. Cadence went straight to math & science on the computer, ReC to get a snack from her box, and the little's could either watch Cadence or play outside. Or on errand days they would line up at the entryway right away. The rest of our day was not so structured, but if we didn't follow this first part, everyone usually wound up in trouble! 

After a week or two establishing the routine we added one more part - counting the days of the year. We counted that day in money, then added one straw to our jar, then wrote it in tens and ones and as a whole number. It took about 4 minutes, and this way Cadence and James both learned to count money, take apart numbers, and put them back together.  They already knew how to count by tens, but this showed them how to apply it to real numbers. ReC also did it, and learned to count objects to ten, and that you can bundle up sets of numbers. Plus, it was really fun! 
Fun side project with Tony - our family Responsibili-tree. Everyone put some of their responsibilities on leaves and they talked about how responsibilities affect others.
*Our homeschool day is pretty informal. I don't make the kids - even Cadence - do a lot of sitting still, and we don't follow a super strict schedule. We don't do public school at home - it would never work for our family, especially right now! She works at her desk sometimes, and sometimes she works with a clipboard on the couch, or we all gather at the table for a project that needs more space, or we snuggle on the couch to talk about a new concept or read, or we go outside to work on something, she brings her laptop or where I'm putting the toddler down for a nap to get some help, or... you get the point. I don't really feel like it's important for them to sit still all day, but I DO feel like it's important for them to learn to be polite, respectful students. They need to know how to act in a classroom setting, because we all end up in a classroom sometimes - school, Sunday School, extracurricular classes, co-ops, zoo trips, college, training, orientations, church... the list is endless. And they need to know how to learn in those settings without interrupting others or being a distraction! We also line up to do things, and walk in a nice neat line, because let's face it - life is easier when your children are lined up instead of scattering like squirrels. Seriously.

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