What is “Gathering?”
I started creating these simple Gathering placemats for our morning time. We call it Gathering simply because my invitation to begin our family’s special time is, “Gather ’round!”
Our Gathering was super simple in the beginning. It included Bible time, singing, and poetry. And honestly, that is all we had time for.
I knew there were so many more riches I wanted to share with my precious little learners.
BUT we never seemed to get around to the beautiful art I wanted to show my kids. Rarely, we got to create our own art together. We never had time to just have simple conversations about little things. And we didn’t spend time delighting in the little bits of our day…until we sat around the kitchen island at meal times and snack times.
As I noticed our family’s patterns and my children’s interests, I started to see we were having some of our best moments at this kitchen island. My kids and I would play silly word games, recite poetry, sing random songs, and talk about God. We were being nourished not just by the food we ate, but by the culture we were creating together.
I also noticed this thing my kids did without fail – they would read the backs of the cereal boxes and share the jokes or information with each other. They never got tired of reading the same information. Daily reading and asking each other the same knock-knock jokes!! They delighted in the knowing and in the telling. Though I got tired of hearing the same things, I realized they wanted to be reading during meal times. They were engaging with anything written or visually displayed because it appealed to them.
Finally it dawned on me:
“I have a captive audience!!”
This is where I will fit in all those riches I never have time to get to.
Here is where I will insert delight in learning together through simple and profound conversations.
This is the place we already laugh together, the place our hearts are already knit together.
Here is my opportunity.
How do I print them out?
The instructions are on the front page of each downloadable set of placemats. The idea is for these to be used as place mats, front and back. Print pages 1 and 2, front and back; pages 1 and 3 front and back; pages 1 and 4, front and back; and finally pages 1 and 5, front and back. I laminated them to make sure they last through the month. The front page is the same for all my students and the backs are all different. This way the kids can trade them as the month proceeds.
What do I do with them?
I take on a few items each Gathering time. Sometimes we talk about the art pieces. Sometimes we recite the poem or the Bible verse together. I put in some super simple boxes for my little ones because I have an age range from 8 to 2.
The kids are welcome to explore them on their own during our Gathering or throughout the day, but I don’t feel the need to get to everything every single day.
We pair these place mats with a Spotify playlist with the featured hymn (usually a vocal version and an instrumental version), a folk song, and some Classical music. Subscribers to my site get a link to the monthly playlist – just to make your family’s Gathering easier!
Each month I prepare a new set for my kids. New placemats, new playlist; refreshed excitement!
What inspires them?
I have an eclectic approach to our homeschool. We heavily lean on classical principles, but I like the Charlotte Mason approach to many things. I enjoy Ambleside Online’s resources and schedules and find they fit the rhythms of our year nicely. We are about to begin term 3 for my Year 2 girl and term 3 for my Year 1 girl. We also have little ones who are interested in our school day. I try to include things to delight them, as well. I do not always do three months of the artist AO recommends.
We are a Classical Conversations family, so some of the boxes are inspired by that. Meaning I will intend them to be extensions of the Foundations curriculum, not the specific memory work (other than skip counting). There are some boxes that will definitely help Foundations and Essentials family’s pound those memory pegs in.
Do your kids really like them? Aren’t they bored?
I introduced our Gathering placemats to my kids in May of this year and I was blown away at how much they enjoyed them! They would choose favorites and
fight learn to trade well with one another throughout the month. They would start to memorize poetry, Bible verses, and hymns without effort!
We did not take on all the information in the placemats on at one time. The luxury of a month of riches to savor became precious to us! We fell in love with this resource.
Every morning, my son (currently 3) requests that I sing the hymn for him. And he is noticing the things on the placemats so much that we worked on his first natural sight words out of Psalm 100! It blesses this Mama’s heart immeasurably!
I like these, but I use different memory work or different art, do you have something for me?
Yes! I am working on a template you can purchase in my shop. The template will come with a tutorial with simple tips for creating your custom Gathering placemats for your family.
Are there more?
Yes! I just completed the 2019-2020 school year and the subscriber-exclusive FREE Gathering placemats. I am currently working on a preschool version and Art and Artists versions for Classical Conversations Cycle 2.
Can you tell us more about the Charlotte Mason/AO inspiration?
The laid-back and modern version of Charlotte Mason we practice around here is reflected in our Gathering placemats. I do not view Miss Mason as anything other than an expert in her field. She has wonderful ideas for education which fit very nicely with the way I tend to teach. But she is not writing our curricula and she is not the teacher of my children.
Similarly, I LOVE the resources available through Ambleside Online – seriously its riches are VAST. The placemats follow what I would describe as loosely the Artist, Composer, and Hymn schedules for AO. I say loosely because the artists AO selects for each term are covered in our placemats, but I do add other pieces and other artists. But Ambleside Online has not offered to take over the teaching of my children, so when it comes down to it, I take what blesses us and leave the rest.
Can you tell us more about the Classical Conversations inspiration?
We LOVE Classical Conversations. It is phenomenal fit for our family. We are laid-back in our approach to CC, trying to maintain as close to “stick in the sand” learning as possible. The placemats will help families to easily review some of the memory work. It is not intended as a replacement for the Foundations guide – not by a long shot.
The Gathering placemats are not meant for a memory work review time. But I have found our kids glory in familiarity. When they see something they recognize from one context (say, the Foundations memory work) in a new context (e.g. books, our Gathering placemats, the news, etc.); they excitedly tell me. The joy in their eyes expresses beautifully the idea of memory pegs discussed so much in classical circles.