The entire time I have been doing homeschool, a morning time routine seemed a natural way to work through our day, getting devotion, prayer, memory work, and the like into the mix. Something informal for the little ones to be able to naturally start to join in as they were ready. I found myself sitting in the same place every morning (the hearth in our living room) and telling the kids, “Gather ’round.”
Not all of them would come, but I had the quorum I needed…usually. The little ones would wander in and out throughout our “Gathering.” They would hear a song they wanted to enjoy with us and come running. They would wander back to their toys when the music died down, toddling back in for their turn to sit on Mama’s lap for reading.
It was really loose.
We started settling into a routine of morning time a while back. It was a natural outcome of the rhythms of our day. But getting a routine right took some adjusting. And sticking to it became even harder as seasons in our lives changed. Thankfully, I feel like we have really found our homeschool groove in the past 6 months. Scheduling seems to be easier. Getting through the day without major tantrums is a blessing in itself. And staying the course when diaper changes or nap times interrupt our day has become de rigueur.
I started evaluating the things in our Gathering time that “stuck.” The things the kids would beg for. Or mention throughout the day. And I started adjusting. Technical difficulties (mine) switched our Spotify playlist playing from the wireless speaker in the living room to the smart speaker in the kitchen. And suddenly we had migrated to the kitchen for our Gathering. Also, we were gathering at the beginning of the day more likely than not.
Slowly, our kitchen counter became the place where we gathered – the place where I had all four children in some semblance of rapt attention. I would put on our Spotify playlist. I would read aloud to the kids. We would do our Gathering where we naturally were.
But there was something missing.
A Gathering Idea
Our kids are the kids who still read the cereal box every.single.morning. They ask each other the same questions from the box – every day. And the cereal box only changes when we have a new cereal. Also, my kids LOVE place mats! My parents bought a number of these for Christmas a few years ago and they have received much attention from all the kids!! We don’t have anything else for them to look at – so their attention is total. Thus, I began to have a notion of creating my own “attention drawing, read every morning, worthwhile thing.”
And then one day, an idea:
a placemat for the kids with our Gathering information on it.
It took MONTHS for me to come up with a layout I liked. MONTHS.
I finally settled on the layout and content and took the leap in May 2019. On April 30th, I printed out four Gathering place mats and laminated them. I cleaned off the kitchen counter and placed them at each spot, ready and waiting for the kids the next day.
My work was rewarded with the same rapt interest my kids gave the cereal boxes and the store-bought place mats! They read them every day. They trade them with one another. Every once in a while, they fight over them! I am over the moon about all those responses – except the fighting.
A Gathering for You
I shared a picture of my Gathering place mats on social media and got a decent reception. And I shared them in some other places and got an even better reception. So, I thought you might want to check them out for yourself and use them in your homeschool morning time. I am in the process of creating more for the summer and next school year. And I am considering a way to be able to share them with you on a regular basis. UPDATE! Gathering placemats for the entire 2019-2020 school year are NOW AVAILABLE!! Seriously, I am so excited about how much better these are than the first month!
If you do print these out and use them in your school day, will you please let me know what you think? I would love to have feedback from other parents who are blessed by them.
One last resource for you that fits in with some of the art pieces in this set: Classic Myths to Read Aloud by William E. Russell. I am currently reading my girls the 3 part story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. I am capturing their interest not only in the art work of John William Waterhouse, but also their fascination with Greek and Roman mythology from our studies this past year and a recent field trip.
UPDATE: You can now get a copy of our season-free Gathering placemats to try with your family when you subscribe to our blog! Just scroll down past this picture and fill out the form.
How do I print them out?
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 you 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 7 to 1. 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 hymn (usually a vocal version and an instrumental version), a folk song, and some Classical music. They change each month.
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 2 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. The summer term is a bit more relaxed than the rest of our year. And I will 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).