A couple of years ago I stumbled upon a new concept for this former junior high school teacher...Circle Time. Apparently in preschool and lower elementary classrooms across the nation the idea of bringing the entire class together for some group learning was born and quite a few homeschoolers have adapted this trend for home use. It's not always called Circle Time either. I've heard it called Morning Meeting, Rug Time (thanks Sid the Science Kid!), and Morning Board. While my junior high students would have looked at me like I was crazy if I asked them to sit on the floor around me while we reviewed calendars and money, my kids are the perfect age for this type of Circle Time activity. But I'm not planning on stopping there...I would like to continue Circle Time through all of our homeschooling career (however long that will be!), so I'm going to try to rewrite this post every school year to show what our new Circle Time will look like as the children grow older.
I'm not sure what it is about Circle Time but when we don't start our day with it everything just seems off for the rest of school. I try to gather all (even my two year old) of my children for Circle Time after breakfast is over. We meet around the table in the dining room where we also do our school work. My two year old participates quite a bit in Circle Time, but I let him come in and out of the room at his leisure. Here is our current Circle Time lineup:
1. We start every morning saying the Pledge of Allegience. Call me old-fashioned or nostalgic, but I like to start our day saying the Pledge of Allegience. For the first few weeks of school every year, I break down the words and try to explain them to my kids so they can understand exactly what we are saying.
(What is a pledge? It's like a promise.)
(What is allegience? It's like commitment.)
to the flag of the United States of America
(This flag is a symbol of our country. The stars represent each state so there are fifty of them. There are 13 stripes representing the thirteen original colonies.)
and to the republic,
(A republic is a form of government where the citizens choose other people to make and enforce laws on their behalf.)
for which it stands,
(To stand for something in this case means to take the place of. We can't carry the United States around to show people where we are from, but we can carry a flag.)
(A nation is another word for a country.)
(God is the ruler of all nations so every country is under God's supremacy.)
(It cannot be divided. Our country is united.)
(This means freedom.)
(This means our laws are fair.)
(Everyone qualifies for freedom and justice in our country.)
I know that these are very simplistic definitions for these terms and ideas, but my children are 4 and 8 this year so it works for now. I also know that some families do not feel that saying the Pledge is appropriate for religious or various other reasons, but we choose to do so.
Monkey became our official flag corps this year. He loves his job!
2. We do the activites on our Circle Time board. To make our board, I buy a piece of foam board from Wal-Mart for about $2. They are located by the posterboard. I use a lot of printables from other homeschool moms whose blogs I will link to as I talk about our board.
The front of our board looks like this:
- Place the date. The first thing we do when we start with our board is we put the date on the calendar. I tape my calendar (from a teacher supply store) to the foam board and let one of my daughters (they take turns) tape the number in the correct place. Then Magpie counts from one to whatever today's date is. Chipette has to skip count whatever number I choose for her. Right now we are really working on 11's and 12's.
- Write the date. Now we write the date using this printable. I just cut off the top part from "Today is" and up. I laminate just about everything I put on the board including this printable. This helps it hold up better and I can write on it with a white board marker.
I ask Chipette and Magpie, "What's the date today?" We just placed it on the calendar so this should be pretty easy. If they need more help, then I'll ask, "What month is it?" "What is the date? What number did you count to?" "What year is it?". Now we move to the next line where I write the date all in numbers. It helps to explain that the months are assigned a number based on where they fall in the year and that is the first number. Then the date is the second number, and the last number is the last two numbers in the year. After we fill this out we sing our song to remember the months of the year:
They beg to do this over and over!
- Choose the day. Magpie comes to the board next and helps me fill out this printable. I cut around the heavy black line which means that the cute sun is trash. I put velcro dots on each of the days and dots on the back of the yesterday, today, and tomorrow cards.
After we have determined today, yesterday, and tomorrow, we sing our "Days of the Week" song:
- Make the date. Chipette comes up to join us at the board where she makes the date out of coins to practice her money skills. I use this printable, which I laminate. I had some magnetic strips already so instead of making the pocket to hold the money, I placed two magnetic strips on the printable and then put three underneath to hold the money when it's not being used. I cut up two magnetic strips into small pieces to place on the back of the coins, so the whole set up looks like this now:
- Review Address/Phone/Emergency Information. While I have both the girls with me at the board, we do this next printable. Magpie has to recite our address; Chipette has to write it the way she would to address a letter. Magpie has to say our phone number; Chipette has to write it. Then we all say, "When there's an emergency what do you do? Dial 9-1-1. It's easy for you!"
- Days in School. This is probably my favorite thing that we do on the Circle Time board. Right now this is a one woman show...Chipette does this entire printable herself because Magpie hasn't learned place value or how to read yet. In the first section I tell her how many days and she has to find the proper numbers. In the second section she has to put that number into expanded form (65=60+5) and in the last section she has to find the number words. I just use regular tape to put them up.
- Map Time. This is something I recently added to Circle Time because I love geography and want my children to know where things are located in the world. Next year we are spending the entire year studying world geography, so I'm trying to get a jump start on a few things before this school year is over. Here is a picture of the completed map:
My girls aren't even close to being able to put it together this well yet, but this is our goal by the end of the year. Right now we are working on putting the continents in the relatively correct places on the blue paper with the correct label on the continents and oceans. Once they get that done, we will work on adding the equator, Tropic of Cancer, and Tropic of Capricorn to make it more precise. As we study each continent next year, I'm hoping to do this same type of activity with the countries on each continent. For example, use a large map of Africa and work on labeling the countries correctly. When we get to North America (easy to label the countries), I'll work on the states. To make this map I laminated a blue piece of paper. Then I printed out this map enlarged to 125% on green paper. I traced around the continent (left out islands) with a black Sharpie, then cut them out and laminated them as well. I quickly typed up the labels for the continents and oceans, printed them, and laminated them. The equator and tropic lines are just yarn taped across the map.
- Weather Tracker. This is my girls favorite thing to do on the morning board. Magpie chooses the appropriate weather picture for the day and tapes it up on the weather chart. Chipette is in charge of graphing our findings for the month using white board markers on the weather graph. They both take this job very seriously!
- We Choose Virtues. We discovered this program at the beginning of this school year and it has made character education so much fun in our home. I blogged about it here, so I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about the program. The way we use the cards is to work on one character trait each month (There are 12 of them so that works out perfectly!). During Circle Time we discuss who has displayed that character trait recently and who hasn't, then we recite the card's definition for that trait. Since I can never leave well enough alone, I couldn't just have us say it normally, so I have made up chants, songs, etc. for each of the cards' definitions which we memorize. These chants, songs, and such are not included in the program; they just come out of my own little mind, but the girls love it. Here are Chipette and Magpie performing our chant for patience:
And here is our cheer for obedience:
- Review Cards. The entire bottom section of our board on the back is devoted to memory work. I rotate things out of this section quite a bit so they are only held onto the board by a push pin. We have our current musical instrument we are studying (the clarinet), our current piece of American art (The Athenaeum) from our American artist study, types of sentences from Chipette's grammar book (definitons are on the back of the card), literary terms from poetry study (simile), and Magpie's current phonics sound (letter h). The Christmas card is on our morning board because that is the family that we are praying for during the current month. I outlined how the Christmas card thing works here.
I keep all of the little pieces that we use on our Circle Time board in this file folder for index cards:
I file all of the pieces for each printable behind different tabs, then the index card file folder is put in the Circle Time bin which I will talk about next.
3. We do the things in our Circle Time bin. The Circle Time bin is just a polka dot basket that I recently purchased from Target. It holds our Bible devotional book, poetry books, hymnal, plus the paintings and We Choose Virtue cards we've already learned this year so they are handy for review days.
Everyone now sits down around the table as we work through the last few things we have left to finish Circle Time.
- First, Devotional. Since I separate my children for most of their school work, I like for us to read a devotional together before we all go our different directions. They each have their own individual Bible studies through our Heart of Dakota curriculum that they do with me, but I wanted something quick, simple, but meaty. I was in a Christian bookstore one day a few years ago when I happened to stumble across this little gem:
This book was first published in 1957 so it's been around for a while. It has plenty of devotionals in it (around 200 if I counted correctly). Here is a view of the inside:
My favorite part of Little Visits with God is the sidebar on the right. It has discussion questions and a section out of the Bible for an adult or older child to read that goes along with the devotional:
Generally I read or Chipette reads the Bible passage, I read the devotional, and we all discuss the questions. This little book has led to some awesome discussions with my girls about Biblical things. It is part of a series, and I definitely plan on continuing with another volume when we finish this one.
- Second, Hymn. Our curriculum, Heart of Dakota, introduced me to a really cool book, Hymns for a Kid's Heart and a really cool concept, hymn study. Bigger Hearts for His Glory, Chipette's curriculum, has this book scheduled over the entire year. You slowly learn all of the verses (over the course of a few weeks) for different hymns while also learning the story behind the song.
Here is a picture of the story that goes along with the hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing:
I hadn't really understood the value of this approach until we were singing Holy, Holy, Holy in services one Sunday morning and Magpie looked over at me and whispered, "I know this song!" and then proceeded to belt out all of the verses. It was the first song we had studied and I didn't realize she had gotten so much out of it. Even when we finish Bigger Hearts for His Glory I will continue to learn hymns with the kids, even if it's just using our song book from church.
- Third, Art or Folk Song. Now we would do our art study or folk song. I linked above to the study I made to go along with the American history Chipette is studying. I still find it amazing how much Magpie has learned from doing all of this with us. I bet most of you don't know who John Singleton Copley is, but my four-year old does!
- Fourth, Poetry. During our poetry time, I read one or two poems from poetry books I have chosen for each girl. We don't really disect the poem, but merely read it to enjoy it. Magpie's current book is this one that I got from our public library:
And Chipette's book is a not to be missed classic which both of the girls have really enjoyed:
When we are finished with these, I will hit the poetry section of our library again to find some good ones.
4. We pray. This might be the last thing we do, but it is definitely the most important. I purposefully placed prayer last in our line up because I wanted God's blessing on our school day to be the last thought in our mind. This year I wanted to focus on intercessory prayer, which is why we are doing the Christmas card thing. I start the prayer by thanking God and asking Him to bless us as we learn, then Chipette and Magpie continue the prayer asking for blessings on our Christmas card folks. Next year I am going to add some ACTS into our prayer time: Adoration (9 weeks), Confession (9 weeks), Thanksgiving (9 weeks), and Supplication (9 weeks). I think it's important to teach our children how to pray. Even the apostles asked Jesus to teach them!
This is how Circle Time works in our homeschool. It sounds like a lot, but once you get in the rhythm of things, it only takes us about thirty minutes to make it through all of the above. It has been a true blessing and I can't wait to see how Circle Time changes as my children grow!