The How & Why of Our Classical Morning Time

Morning Time, or Circle Time at our house, is the very heart of our homeschool practices. Every morning we come together and recite beautiful words and beautiful truths together, centering our day and work on Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from the beginning.

We’ve been doing Circle Time from the time my oldest was 5, over 7 years ago. It’s evolved and grown over the years, but it’s remained the essential ingredient that has kept us focused on what’s truly important.

How We Make Morning Time Work

Even when we know that Circle Time, Morning Time, is the best part of our day, the temptations to skip it abound. Whenever I am in planning mode, I am always determined to emphasize Morning Time. But when a midweek school day begins, all the reasons why we probably shouldn’t sit down and do it crowd my mind.

The truth is, Morning Time takes a lot of presence of mind, and I usually resist giving my entire presence of mind to our school day – which is not good at all. It is another reason why Morning Time is a good practice for me. I repent of my preference to simply shuffle everyone off to work on their own, gird up the loins of my mind and my attitude, and determine to start the school day off on the right foot.

In Morning Time almost more than any other point in our school day, if Mama’s got a stinky or lethargic attitude, everyone’s got a stinky or lethargic attitude. So I must muster the same response I want to require of my children when I call them to Morning Time.

And that’s why coffee should be an indispensable part of the routine.

Here are three tricks I’ve found to help muster my own energy:

  1. Teach the children to come to the table in response to an alarm or bell. Make the calling everyone together simpler and not requiring shouting and calling and herding and cajoling. If I can simply shake a bell and people come get their binders, the hurdle to begin is easier (it’s easy to ring a bell, hard to go search out and round up five children).
  2. Have a policy of no technology checking during Circle Time, or even after breakfast. One thing that delays Morning Time is when I get on my computer when I should be directing children and getting us all going on our business of the day. If, after breakfast, I close the laptop, we’re about 1000% more likely to start school and Morning Time on time.
  3. Start with a piece that everyone enjoys. It’s easier to get going if you know the first thing you have to do is something that will be an “easy sell” to the children. Build up to the parts that require more of them, don’t start off with the most demanding pieces. Get them on board first with a fun chant, a song, a call-and-response, a greeting ritual, listening to a chapter from Proverbs or a Bible story – something that will bring a smile to each face first thing. That smile is the momentum that will help you all carry through the rest.

Why We Prioritize Morning Time

Way back when when my oldest was in preschool, I was reading Cindy Rollins’ blog and took her advice to heart and stepped out in faith that she was on to something. Her description of starting the day together singing and doing the beautiful things that are so easy set aside in favor of the workbooks resonated with me. It reminded me of the family devotions my own family did sporadically while I was growing up, and I knew that having that time set aside for learning hymns, catechism, and Scripture would bear fruit if we stuck with it through those daily little moments that don’t feel like much.

After seven years of starting at least half our school days with Morning Time, every year I only prioritize it more and more as I see it bear fruit, slowly but surely.

My favorite small fruit is the two-year-old singing our current hymn in her nap-time crib. But I know without this time set aside for what is true, good, and beautiful, we would not have learned the catechism, would not have so many hymns available in our minds to hum, would not have phrases of Scripture familiar on our tongues (even if we can’t recite them word-perfectly). It would be too easy – it even is still too easy – to default to doing the math page, assigning the reading, and calling that school. And perhaps that would be school, but it would not be a life.

Morning Time is the part of the day that builds our family culture and weaves us together as we meditate on truth and let it sink down into our bones through sheer, stubborn repetition.

Why I Call Our Morning Time ‘Classical’

No, you do not need to choose classical education to do a Morning Time. Morning Time is not specifically classical. It fits with any style of homeschooling and what you do during it can be customized to fit your own particular family culture. It is simply taking advantage of the chief good of homeschooling: pulling all the family together to learn alongside one another, multiple ages, good days and bad, building a network of shared family knowledge and experience.

My working definition of ‘classical,’ however, would probably encompass your Morning Time as classical even if you don’t want the label. I believe classical refers not ultimately to studying Latin (though we do) or having a literary core (which we do), but to the aim of what we are doing, which is virtue. Educators from Aristotle and Plato, on to Augustine and Anselm, even unto Luther, Kuyper, and Charlotte Mason, saw the entire point of education not to get a job or become a productive worker bee in the economy (that’s a modern Marxist paradigm), but to become a fully human person who both knows truth and practices truth. Virtue is the goal of education.

Morning Time is, at heart, a time to learn truth (through singing, Scripture, catechism, and other wise words) beautifully, pre-critically, in harmony with others, so that it seeps into our minds and bones and gradually works itself out in our affections, choices, and actions.

So your Morning Time is probably classical, too, even if you don’t consider yourself a classical homeschooler.

What Makes a Morning Time?

If you take a survey of homeschoolers who do Morning Time, you will find as many combinations of materials as families you survey – and that’s as it should be. There is no prescribed formula or set material.

What do you want worked into your homeschool days that isn’t happening? Try adding it to Morning Time. What songs do you wish your kids knew by heart? Sing those together daily and watch the sulky attitudes melt.

What makes up your own Morning Time will be a combination of your family tastes, your family needs, and your family’s season of life. Embrace the flexibility and always begin building new habits and routines slowly rather than trying to birth them fully mature.

Start with a baby Morning Time and let it grow and develop year by year.

You will not regret it.

To help you prepare for Morning Time next year if it’s new to you, I’ve also created this 3-page easy-start guide to Morning Time!

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13 Responses

  1. Allison Burr
    | Reply

    Mystie!! You are my hero for posting all of these fabulously amazing resources today! You have made my Morning Time prep easy-peasy for the next, oh, 15 years or so. Thank you for your gracious and generous heart!

  2. Julia
    | Reply

    We have been doing Morning Time for about 7 years now. I first heard about it from Cindy Rollins and have, through the years, strived to make it ours. One of the joys about MT is that the flexibility it offers allows it to fit in any season of life that you find yourself in. Our MT is much more relaxed than yours but it was fun to see how others do MT. Thanks so much for this post and the videos.

  3. Such a great post! I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing what resource/book you use for catechism.

  4. You know, after I posted my comment, I saw your post that you gave the link for. :) I was just thinking about maybe beginning to do some work on catechism. I’ll be checking out the links you gave on that post. Thanks!

  5. Lizzie Smith
    | Reply

    I thought it might be appropriate to share a short Morning Time story here.

    About a year ago I added Isaiah 53 to our memory work. It’s a long passage, and we just took our time, and skipped lots of mornings, and kept plodding on, and trying, because I believe this is worth it and will bear fruit, etc. So anyway, it took us over a year to really let it sink into our minds, and a month or two ago I finally moved it to the weekly review section.

    Well, last Sunday, it was getting towards the end of the church service, and the younger two were asleep and the older two were just getting bored and fidgety and restless, when lo and behold our pastor began to illustrate his point by reading some verses from… Isaiah 53. The children came alive. They knew those words! Their attention (rarely focused on the pastor during church) was absolutely caught. They sat up straight, nodded their acknowledgement to each other, quietly mouthed the words along with him, and in general actually were interested in the adult portion of church for the first time in a long time. All because of Morning Time. :)

  6. Allison Burr
    | Reply

    Lizzie, I love your story! My kids, too, take immense delight when they know or have memorized some passage of scripture that comes up during the sermon and/or during one of the pastoral prayers, or even during one of our songs (our church sings a lot of hymns). We always look at each other and wink, because we know those parts so well.

  7. Sara
    | Reply

    One of the hardest parts of morning time for me is rounding up the children. Using a bell is a great idea! Mom used to keep one to call us kids home for dinner, but I never thought of using one to signify the start of morning time. :-)

  8. amy
    | Reply

    I love that you made a video! We have always done morning time as well. For us it is during breakfast and it consists of memory work, read alouds, and (if I’m on top of it) classical music. I only have 2 kids, so it is not a huge to-do, it’s just what we do at breakfast =)

    Next year I will be doing a Scholé Group and I’ve been talking to the other moms about how we can have a “morning meeting” at the beginning of each day we get together. I am excited to see how that will play out with the group of kids!

    Thanks for the great post, Mystie!

  9. […] Mystie, at Simply Convivial, has wonderful tips for creating a working morning circle time in her post The How and Why of Our Morning Circle Time. […]

  10. Jennifer
    | Reply

    You are my morning time hero :). I’d love to know more about the Shurley jingles. I’m thinking of buying the grade 8 CD (since it should be the most comprehensive), but I can’t find samples anywhere online. Do you enjoy the songs and find them to be comprehensive grammar memory pegs?

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      Oops, I forgot to come reply here! Sorry about that. :) I bought the 7th grade Shurley CD at a used curriculum fair years ago and it’s in our playlist. I think they are useful chants and it’s good to have those definitions handy for recall when they do grammar later, regardless of what curriculum you use for that.

  11. dawn
    | Reply

    We always start with either the Doxology (MWF) or Gloria Patri (TR). We don’t sing the Gloria Patri at church, but I want the children to know it.

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