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    New This School Year: Circle Time

    May 19, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    This coming school year will be our first year of legally required schooling. We’ve been “doing school” for years, of course. At the core of homeschooling is the idea of a lifestyle of learning. Some of us are more formal about it than others, but most of us try to make the most of the opportunities we’re given. This also goes for a lot of stay-at-home moms of young children, come to think of it.

    But this year, we have some state regulations that we will have to meet. Overall, I think California is fairly lenient. Especially when I compare it to a state like New York, where parents are writing reports and curriculum plans that have to be approved by the districts. The school districts here do not have power over our families.

    Of course, this is because we register as tiny, independent private schools.

    But there are requirements, of course. Some of them are really basic. For example, the instruction must be given in English. {If you are an immigrant family, this can be a huge hurdle to overcome if you want to homeschool legally in the state.} There is also a list of subjects that must be covered. The list isn’t strict. What I mean is, it doesn’t say exactly what must be taught when or how many hours must be devoted to each subject. The law simply says that these subjects must be covered.

    For grades one through six, the subjects are English {this would include speaking, reading, writing, grammar, and also literature}, math, social sciences {history, geography, economics, etc.–the history of our state must be covered at some point in these years}, science, health, and physical education. Physical education is the only subject with a time requirement: 200 minutes every 10 days. Some families find that putting their child in a sport fulfills this. Others choose to do the subject on their own. We will probably do both over the years.

    California, sadly, doesn’t see the importance of a broad education. There are no music requirements or art requirements. There is no mention of poetry. And, naturally, there is no religion.

    Circle Time will mainly be filling nonrequirements that we determine are necessary to a well-rounded education. I am still thinking through all that we could do during this half-hour to hour each day. By the way, if you are new to the concept of Circle Time, Kendra at Preschoolers and Peace has a great summary of how most folks work out the concept in their homes. I particularly loved her emphasis on how Circle Time allows the whole family–all the various ages–to spend time together. She makes sure the time is accessible to even the littlest, and that the little ones know that no matter how busy the day gets, Mommy wants them there.

    So what will we incorporate into our own Circle Time? This is what I have so far:

    Religious Instruction

    Big Truths for Little Kids:
    Teaching Your Children to Live for God

    Since we have moved away from Catechism for a time, this will be our replacement.


    Music instruction will take two forms. The first will be that we will learn actual songs. We are hoping {planning, wishing!} to move soon, and when we do, we will be moving a piano into our home for the first time. We’ll get it tuned, and begin to learn the hymns that are sung regularly in our church. Once we know those, we will progress to other hymns that are less familiar but that we love and think are worth know.

    Since we’ll be using Ambleside Online for the majority of our curriculum, we’ll also have a list of folksongs we can learn. Frankly, I think the kids will think that is so much fun!

    Did you know that song is a traditional method of passing on culture? This is a good reason to be choosing our songs wisely.

    Lastly, we’ll be doing Ambleside’s Composer Studies. I believe there are three different composers per year. During Circle Time, this means we might read a biography of the assigned composer, spend ten minutes or so listening to some of his work, and learn the names of the songs and instruments in the works we listen to.


    Here, I don’t mean doing art, though I try to offer the children opportunities to be creative. I mean appreciating art. Real art. The art made by geniuses.

    Ambleside will be helping us out here as well. Their list of artists for the year, along with selected works, is what we will go by. One of my plans is to show them a copy of a work, either on the computer, or in a print if I can find one. I want them to try to describe what they see to me, what they like about it, etc. Other times, I might have them tell me a story based on the piece they’re viewing.

    What I want is for them to capture that picture in their minds and then have beauty they can take with them as they go about their day.


    Lately, our dinner table has been less than acceptable. It’s not terrible or horrible, but it has been inappropriate. Doug Wilson’s Future Men discusses manners in regard to raising boys. I liked his emphasis that a well-mannered boy does not act like a girl. However, being a boy doesn’t mean being rude or gross.

    He wrote:

    [M]anners for boys should be a means of disciplining and directing strength, and not a means of denying it. This means that boys need to be taught that manners are a means of showing and receiving honor. Honor is a concept which boys instinctively understand and love, but they still have to be taught to direct it with wisdom.

    He goes on to say later that boys should “see manners as something which men teach boys to do, for the sake of honoring and protecting women, and for the sake of living graciously with them.”

    So who will be our authority on manners? We’ll start with our country’s first President, George Washington:

    George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

    Our son remembers that Washington found manners to be very important, so I think it’s a good place to start. We’ll probably study one manner per week {using daily reminders and/or practice}, covering only the manners that are pertinent to modern life.

    Our daughter A. seems to find being ladylike appealing over all, but I do think she struggles with allowing her brother to do things for her {like open the door}. So we will practice such things during Circle Time.

    Announcements and Business

    Circle Time can fill the Family Meeting needs on a daily basis. I would use it to assign new chores, correct indecent behavior, or announce how we’ll be doing things that day, that week, etc.


    When we used to do Catechism, we had a daily prayer time. We’ve gotten away with that. We’ll have to start it back up with Circle Time. We usually assigned ourselves one thing to pray for each day {family, nation, state, etc.}.

    Anything Else We Think Of!

    The beauty of Circle Time is that it can be whatever we want it to be. So as our needs change, so will Circle Time. The focus, though, will be on what is good, true, and beautiful. I want it to be a celebration, not a drudgery. I want it to be a happy place from which to start our average day {yes, it’ll be in the mornings for the most part}.

    Any Suggestions?

    Does anyone out there already do some version of Circle Time? What would you do differently? What would you add? Some of my best ideas come from people’s comments on these sorts of posts…

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