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    Creating Simple Matrices and Blank Templates (A Planning Post)

    July 6, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    It’s possible that this title sounds really complicated, so just hang in there with me. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible. Creating blank templates is a step that has saved me hours and hours of planning time over the years. When I started using Nicole’s matrix idea, moving from the big, detailed matrix to a simple matrix to a blank template was the process I came up with that worked for me, and that’s what I’m sharing with you today.

    A whole bunch of videos that show how I move from a time matrix to individualized blank weekly templates for each child -- way cooler than it sounds.

    Do Preliminary Planning

    This will look different for each family, as well as for each curriculum. For me, “preliminary” means just that: I’m paving the way for when I sit down and schedule the year, but I’m not actually scheduling the year yet. (Still waiting for the books to arrive, plus I’m not ready to spend time on that.) But I want scheduling to be as easy as possible, so there are some things I can do to make that happen.

    Blank Average Day Chart

    First, I duplicate an old Average Day Chart spreadsheet and clear out the content so that it’s ready for me to fill in with the new year’s information. I go ahead and add in things that are non-negotiable — like breakfast, or my morning walk. I leave other things that I think will likely stay — such as our morning drill and snack time. I deleted everything else.

    I make my charts in Excel. I ♥ Excel. I really do.

    Next, I make a weekly chart template for each child. This actually takes a lot of work and is probably one of the more complicated things I do. This year is another extra-difficult year because I’m adding a student and I have to figure out how to make the time work, as well as decide what we’re going to do separately, what we’re going to do together, and where everything is going to go.

    So this is where I direct you to Sabbath Mood Homeschool’s entire series on Planning a CM Schedule. What she has there is very thorough and helpful. What I have here is an explanation of how I used Nicole’s ideas to create my own simplified matrix. Creating this simplified matrix is the groundwork for making my weekly chart templates.

    So that was how I move from complex to simple and from lots of detail to only what I need to know in order to create templates for our days and weeks.

    By the way: in the video, I said that Nicole only had a PDF up, and so I typed my own matrix. That is no longer true! In her post My Matrix she offers a link to a Google spreadsheet that you can use as a starting place.

    Creating Blank Weekly Templates

    This next step for me is where I get into what I call “pre-scheduling” — because I’m working with subjects like “history” and “literature” rather than specific books or chapter assignments.

    In each video, I try and talk a little bit about the why as well as the how, so even if you don’t have children in these specific years, they still might be helpful.

    I don’t know that all of you need to watch all four of the videos, however. That seems excessive to me. I would suggest watching the first one, because I explain a lot of stuff there that I assume in the other videos.

    Creating a Year 1 Template

    Some of you might want to know what “drill” is — I forgot to explain it in the video. Think of it as P.E., and you’re really close.

    Creating a Year 3 Template

    Okay, so while the Year 1 video was quite long, it enabled me to make this one really short, which is nice. If you have multiple students in one form, this short video will give you a quick way to make a blank template for each student in the same form.

    Creating a Year 5 Template

    This video was made far too early in the morning, so if my voice sounds sleepy, I apologize. I just couldn’t believe everyone was still asleep (I have a house brimming with larks) and so I took advantage of the time. Here I discuss a bit about why I combine my girls, even though they are in different forms. Etc.

    Creating a Year 8 Template

    This one will be helpful for those of you with children in the upper years.

    Coming Up Soon

    I think five videos in one post is quite enough! Goodness! In my next post — and I’m not sure when it will be exactly — I’ll do some final videos in which I explain how I move from blank weekly templates to really, filled-in-and-ready-to-go weekly schedules.

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  • Reply Ashley N Edwards November 5, 2022 at 12:03 pm

    I was wondering if the excel pages you are working on are available to purchase or get a blank copy? I’m not the best at creating and wanted to check. Thank you so much for your videos!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel November 5, 2022 at 1:20 pm

      I’m sorry! I’ve never done that, mainly because I really think they need to be more personalized than is possible with a digital template. Maybe sometime I should do a video on tips for using Excel!

  • Reply Mama Rachael August 15, 2021 at 9:15 pm

    I’m back as I’m trying to plan for having 2 students this next year (adding in a kindergarden year for the 5 yr old…. he needs a bit of structure!). But the videos are gone! Help!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 16, 2021 at 10:46 am

      For some reason, YouTube made all my old videos private AND I can’t see them to edit them all. But I figured out how to do it through this post, so I think I’ve fixed it. If you find other videos on other pages not working, let me know. Pretty sure it’ll all be the same issue…

      • Reply Mama Rachael August 16, 2021 at 1:01 pm

        I found your channel on youtube and the Y1 and Y8 videos are there. But not the others. I can see the videos for all but the Average Day here on this post.

        Thanks for working on it! I need this help!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel August 16, 2021 at 3:26 pm

          Oops. I think I just missed the first video. Should work now… Sorry about that!

          • Mama Rachael August 16, 2021 at 3:55 pm

            Yea! it all works now! I’ll be watching through them all this evening. 😀

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  • Reply June April 29, 2017 at 8:38 am

    Hi Brandy,

    Thank you for the videos. This is my second time I find myself on this post – last year when I only had one student (I only watched the videos but didn’t try) and this time when I am preparing for two students for the next school year (which I feel more of a need to give this a try with more than one student).

    My question is regarding breaks – bathroom breaks, water breaks, toddler interruptions, baby crying, etc. Do the times get pushed back or is bookwork over when the scheduled time is over?

    Thank you in advance 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 2, 2017 at 2:35 pm

      This will probably sound terrible, but I’ve worked really hard to help them become limited to our one mid-morning break, and, for the most part, it works. They use the restroom, refill water cups, or whatever else they need to do (eat) at that time. Any other bathrom visits, etc. are snatched during times when they’ve finished a bit early.

      With that said, I do NOT have toddlers, and haven’t for quite a while. I think with toddlers, it has to be a lot more fluid. So it depends. For me back then, if it was a small interruption, I just picked back up where we left off. But if it was huge — like half an hour, I just cut something to make it all fit into the day.

  • Reply Heather July 12, 2016 at 8:19 am

    The link to Nicole’s matrix idea has an extra p/ in it. Thanks for all you do!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 12, 2016 at 8:29 am

      Thanks, Heather! I didn’t realize she had moved to WordPress. I fixed it. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel O May 2, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Where did you get the number of days/ minutes to spend on each subject? Specifically for your AO Year 1?

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  • Reply HC... August 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

    I think once the children have a solid foundation, MEP in the upper years can be done quite enjoyably and independently. I started them off on another programme this year, but they prefer to be doing MEP, so I think I’ll switch back when the printer is up and running.

  • Reply HC... August 28, 2015 at 10:18 am

    OMG Brandy SIXTEEN!!!!! I dont know what to say…pat on the back.

    The honesty in your answers is very helpful, I know I’m just having to adjust to having more students this year.

    Despite the frazzle, I get so excited about what we get out of learning in this way. I love it.

  • Reply HC... August 26, 2015 at 12:51 am

    Also, do you have an average day chart for this year, so that I can see how you’re fitting in all those years?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 27, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      I haven’t posted one yet, mainly because I’m still experimenting. Right now, I still just have this huge space after drill time, and I just labeled the whole thing “juggling act” because that is exactly what it is. I haven’t gotten my groove quite yet, and I wasn’t sure how to plan it in advance this year, with so many students. It is going okay, but each day looks a bit different after drill time.

  • Reply HC... August 26, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Hi Brandy,

    I’m commenting after reading a few of your planning posts…

    Are the times allocated for your Y8 the times he reads and narrates?

    Do his narrations follow his readings immediately?

    How many of his readings are oral narrations?

    Do Y5 and Y3 read and narrate in that AO slot?

    How many narrations are you listening to in one day?

    Doesn’t your Y8 need any maths instruction?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 27, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      Are the times allocated for your Y8 the times he reads and narrates?

      Yes, or at least that is what we’re aiming for. I always make adjustments once I know how reasonable the schedule is. But I don’t add more time — I just figure out if I need to cut something in order to make it work. There is at least one assigned book that I think I’m going to have to make a free read instead so far…

      Do his narrations follow his readings immediately?

      Ideally, they would, but practically that doesn’t happen. Maybe one or two out of all of the assigned readings work out that way. I am trying to figure out how to juggle things so that he doesn’t have to wait very long, but I haven’t figured out how to be available for him immediately. Maybe when I have more independent students on my hands. The girls are getting there, but they still have quite a ways to go.

      How many of his readings are oral narrations?

      All of them but one. I only require one written narration per day.

      Do Y5 and Y3 read and narrate in that AO slot?


      How many narrations are you listening to in one day?

      Oh. my. word. SO MANY! 🙂 Today, I listened to sixteen!

      Doesn’t your Y8 need any maths instruction?

      Not much, which is completely the opposite of all of my other children. So far, it has gone better to have him read through the instructions in his math curriculum, and then come and ask me specific questions. I get specific questions almost every day, so I guess that counts as instruction, except that I never know what I’m going to teach until he asks. 😉 When I tried to do pre-planned, direct instruction, he was bored and irritated. This has worked much better. 🙂

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol August 1, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    I am just (finally!) watching this today, thank you so much for recording these videos! You’ve definitely given me some ideas about how to streamline and improve how I have been working with Nicole’s matrix and all she has put together.

    I also really enjoyed listening to you think out loud as you went through this. Thanks again!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 1, 2015 at 8:58 pm

      Aw. Thanks Amber! I’m glad it was helpful. 🙂

  • Reply Emily Bennett July 14, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Hi Brandy!

    This was so helpful! I was able to create my matrix after looking at your examples and Nicole’s. However, I would love to see how you go about plugging in the Ambleside Online curriculum into the matrix. Is there a post or video about that piece of the planning? Thank you so much.


    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 14, 2015 at 2:20 pm

      It’s coming up! I haven’t done that post yet. 🙂 Probably next week, if all goes as planned.

      • Reply Emily Bennett July 14, 2015 at 2:36 pm

        Oh good! I’m looking forward to it. Thanks!

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 14, 2015 at 2:43 pm

          You’re welcome. 🙂

          • Emily Bennett July 15, 2015 at 10:52 am

            Will you include a Form I (AO year 1 preferably) example when you do it? Pretty please!

          • Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 3:15 pm

            I will plan to! 🙂

  • Reply Hillary July 13, 2015 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve been planning Y2 (for the 2nd time) and Y4 this summer and have bumped into what I think is a difference in preferences that is not, probably, reconcilable. I wonder what you or other experienced CM parents think.

    On the one hand, we’re (in posts like Nicole’s on scheduling, which I read and even printed Excel sheets from) encouraged to combine as much as possible.

    On the other hand, some posts like this older one from your blog encourage us to have our children move toward independence… which it doesn’t seem like a regular schedule would necessarily do… because really the average day seems to me quite similar to workboxes… which are supposed to hamstring kids as they get older…

    Ugh. That sounds accusatory and I don’t mean it to be! I am not trying to play devil’s advocate, just asking whether it really is a difference among families – some do Shakespeare all together, others prefer (or feel strongly led?) to have their kids read Shakespeare at “their” level and so the little do Lamb’s Tales while the olders read the original, solo if that’s how the time chips fall.

    I also read your post on “independence is not isolation” but I still wonder where the room for growing independence comes when so much of a day is planned by the parent. As I have it scheduled now, my Y4 will choose his readings each day, but I have the reading time slots blocked out – two are solo, one is with me, and I’ve chosen which books we’ll read together.

    Is it just “independence in the midst of structure,” as when the parents choose the location for nature study but children choose what to draw?
    Or is it really a parental preference, deciding between greater independence or greater combined learning? Is that a false dichotomy?

    Probably this will all come out in the wash. But it’s sure got me on the mental spin cycle right now!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 13, 2015 at 8:05 pm

      You’re right, Hilary! I didn’t mention that this year, but in last year’s planning post I talked about how he was accustomed to planning his own schedule, and this was a change for him. In practice, he was still more “in charge” than it looks on paper. Once the structure was there, he was allowed to tweak as he wanted. The weekly schedule became more like a suggestion than a hard and fast rule. If he wanted to do a different reading as his first reading of the day, that was fine with me. What I tried to do was help him see the principle behind what I had built — a system that allowed me to listen to a narration at a certain time, that alternated subjects and types of activities, etc.

      I see what you are saying here, I think. Personally, I think that the more children I have that are able to read on their own, the more independence will be able to be built back into the days for everyone. We definitely had to go backwards in order to juggle four students in the house. I don’t know if I’d call this a preference — my son was good at juggling his own schedule, and I hated to do it. So it was more like facing reality.

      I think that is what planning often is: our ideals bumping up against reality and then we have to resolve that tension by making choices. I do think that in many ways independence is a spirit of responsibility that children can have rather than a certain set of specific freedoms or jobs. What I mean is, IF a matrix schedule like this results in a child who starts having an irresponsible attitude — if my oldest, for example, started seeming like he was using me as a crutch and not pursuing learning on his own as he read his books {assigned or not}, then I would make a change. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I could see how a matrix could possibly have that impact on some personality types. Maybe it depends upon how it is implemented? Not sure…

      One idea I had for next year was to have my son plug the first week of books into his own matrix as a way of teaching him a bit of how I plan and letting him have some choice in the matter. And that is something I really would consider to be independence in the midst of structure. I’m still the ultimate manager of the day, but I think it’s important to hand over as much as I can to whomever can handle it, if that makes sense.

      When it comes to combining, for me I don’t think it is parental preference exactly because I would prefer to do more combining than we actually do. I don’t know if I said this in any of the videos or not, but I really ask myself not just what *can* be combined, but what *should* be combined — what I mean is, what things can be combined and would I still doing right by these children, challenging them where they need challenge, giving them what they need, etc.? So, for example, my girls are in the exact same place in math, so combining them is easy. But so many other things haven’t been appropriate because one or the other wouldn’t be getting what she needs.

      I say this, but then again, the more people we are managing the more compromises we have to make. I could imagine that if I had a few more children, some of the things I don’t combine now would need to be combined because there would literally not be enough hours in the day to do otherwise!

      So now I’m rambling. I don’t know if this helped further the conversation or not!

      • Reply Hillary July 15, 2015 at 5:32 am

        Thanks for your reply. I think that did help me make some necessary mental adjustments. I hadn’t seen that post on a child moving, in effect, from more to less independent, and that is how I see our situation this year.

        Still, it’s been good for my Y4 to have some independence-as-participation, which in our case has been his having input on certain curricula. I’ve presented all-acceptable-to-me choices, and he has deliberated and chosen from among them. It was fun, and helpful, for me to hear his reasoning for the choices he made, and it will give him more of a stake in those subjects.

        I also appreciate your checkboxes for notebooks, requiring a certain number of entries each week. Again, seems to be an example of independence with accountability.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 15, 2015 at 3:13 pm

          One of my prayers is that I will always see *where* I can offer independence to them — that God will help me to see! It sounds like you are doing a great job! I can get into habits that keep me from seeing the opportunities, I think…

  • Reply Jeannie July 11, 2015 at 6:42 am

    I think I need to spend this entire week reading your blog.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 11, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Well, I will warn you now that it is almost ten years old. Enter at your own risk. 😉

      • Reply Jeannie July 11, 2015 at 6:38 pm

        I’ve spent most of the day here so far. I’m not sure if I have figured everything out yet, but I am getting there. I have a child that will be 7 in September, one that is 5-1/2 (6 in February), and a 3yo. The 5 yo tried to insist on “doing school” last year and I held her off a bit but I know she is going to not be held at bay any longer. Trying to wrap my head around how I am going to teach two when nothing can be done independently at this point.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 12, 2015 at 8:16 pm

          Insistent 5-year-olds have been the bane of my existence off and on for years. 😉

          I like Mystie’s ideas of incorporating checklists that include things for their age, but make them *feel* big because it’s on a list and they get to check a box, which is always awesome.

          Also, five is a great age for lots of nature study — if you check out the section in Home Education by Charlotte Mason, she has a ton of activities that can be done outside with preschoolers! 🙂

  • Reply Jenny July 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of Nicole’s series. I had read it last year, but was new to CM &AO, so I couldn’t take it all in. I look forward to reading it again after some experience. And really nice to see how another AO user does it. Very helpful to see the videos as you work in Excel.

    You noted on a previous planning post that you school 6 weeks on, 1 week off. Would love to hear more of your pros/cons and reasons why and any other insight on this, including whether the week off is completely off and how the kids fill their time.

    I’ve learned so much from your posts. Thank you!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 11, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      I will try to write about our 6/1 plan sometime, but I will tell you right now that I heard of the idea {called Sabbath Schooling by a number of people} from Mystie at Simply Convivial, and it was like a lightbulb went on in my brain. I looked at the calendar and realized that I was consistently losing steam at week 7, and so the whole second half of every term consisted of me trying to push through. I never did manage to do it — I just always felt a lot of stress, struggle, and tension for the whole second half. So, I tried a break week like what Mystie was doing, and lo and behold! A week off from school, a week to often catch up on other projects or just to relax or shift focus, was the cure for what ailed me. 🙂

      • Reply Jenny July 12, 2015 at 11:38 am

        Ooh, now you have me intrigued to hear more!! That sounds so attractive. Having a routine to the day has helped the kids to stay out of trouble (read: less fighting), so though it’s summer, we are doing some school stuff–more “fun” stuff that doesn’t feel like school–to keep our days going well. We live in MN, so summer truly is a time to be outside lots more, and we want to take advantage of that. I’m curious to hear more details, especially what the kids do on the sabbath week and if you have longer breaks in the summer.
        I’ll check out Mystie’s blog, too!

  • Reply Catie July 7, 2015 at 10:50 am

    I love the idea of making all of your weekly schedules ahead of time, but what do you when you get behind in something? Do you not print it all ahead of time?

    I’m loving these videos, Brandy!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 7, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Guess I should mention that at some point! 🙂 You’re right: I don’t print them right away; I just prepare them. So I set them up, but each Sunday I print just for the coming week. This way, I can move things around for appointments and activities or sickness or what we got behind on. I know that would overwhelm some people — to have to adjust each week — but for me it has worked really well and it still saves me a lot more time than if I was putting together each week from scratch.

      • Reply Catie July 7, 2015 at 11:05 am

        Thanks! 🙂 I really like the way you did this scheduling. (Or the way Nicole does it? 🙂 ) Anyhoo, the videos are very helpful. I will only have a Year 2 and Year 0 students starting in the fall but my Year 0 *really* wants to do school, so I’m working her into the schedule. Thanks for ALL YOU DO. 🙂

        I heart Excel, too. *sigh*

        • Reply Catie July 7, 2015 at 11:05 am

          Oh man. I need to cut back on the smiley face usage.

          • Brandy Vencel July 9, 2015 at 7:41 am

            I like those smiley faces, Catie. 🙂

          • Catie July 19, 2016 at 11:39 am

            Ok. So I’ve watched this video series about a THOUSAND times. 🙂 It really is so, so helpful!!

            And I think I emailed you that question about printing your schedules ahead of time! *doh!* Good thing I read the comments here! Again. Thanks for your graciousness with me!


  • Reply Amanda July 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Brandy, this is great! Would you mind sharing your excel spreadsheet matrix (Nicole’s, but in excel) for those of us who also love excel, so that we don’t redo the same work? Thanks!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 8, 2015 at 11:26 am

      I’m sorry it took me so long, Amanda. I wanted to ask Nicole how she felt about me sharing the spreadsheet, and it turns out it was an accident that she’d only offered a PDF before! So in her post My Matrix she now offers a link to a Google spreadsheet. Good news! 🙂

  • Reply Kati July 6, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    Hey, I noticed that when you were working on 5th grader’s history and when you copied it over to your weekly template you only transferred the 25 minute time once when it is suggested to have it twice. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but I thought if it wasn’t you would want to know. Thanks for all you do for the CM community!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 7, 2015 at 10:53 am

      Did I? Oops! Thank you. I hadn’t caught that! 🙂

  • Reply Claire July 6, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve just watched the year 1 video, and I wondered… I was under the impression that phonics was included in “reading”, particularly for year 1 of form 1… Also, I tend to include chores as part of my hours for handicraft and so only schedule our term handicraft about 20 mins twice a week- Do you have an opinion on that?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 7:49 pm

      That is a really good question! I would be really interested to know what Nicole thinks since she has done a lot of research in this area. Here is where I get confused: “reading” is listed for all of Form I, but surely the third graders aren’t still using their letter boxes and doing phonics lessons. And at the same time, on the programmes “tales” are listed, but on the Time Tables on the AO site, they are not listed — which made me think they were readings. But what you say makes sense — and reading seems to be the sort of thing you’d touch on each day.

      So I’m torn. Perhaps it is both, depending on the level the child is at?

      I really do think it is safe to consider chores as part of it. I have done a twice per week schedule before and it worked well. I say do what you can. 🙂

      • Reply Claire July 7, 2015 at 2:01 am

        This is what I remember (I think from Nicole, but it could have been a mishmash of sources) – “reading” includes reading instruction for those who need it *and* some history/tales readings, which may also be used for their reading practice when they are proficient enough. And those readings might spill over into the “children’s hour” (I guess depending on how much time the teaching instruction was taking and how slowly they were getting through the books if the child is reading some). And I think with older form 1 students there is a bit more reading to do (or there is in AO, anyway) so I guess they’re getting on with that while the younger ones are learning/ practicing reading. That’s how I understood it, anyway 🙂

        And the reason I raise it was basically that you (or your readers) might find you can drop one or two of your reading slots for your year 1 student because it’s covered in your phonics lessons. In the video you seemed a bit surprised that there were so many readings *plus* natural history and geography. I think this might be why. You might need them all for year 3 though.

        • Reply Tanya Stone July 7, 2015 at 7:47 am

          Here’s the link I found yesterday on the AO site: I searched because, like you, I remembered hearing or reading that about “reading” on the chart but wasn’t entirely sure. So I searched and found this.

          What is most helpful is to scroll down the page, after making notes of what Form numbers and letters (A and B) refer to. It’s confusing to me because it’s backwards, by my way of thinking, in that A refers to the older children in the form while B refers to the younger: Form IA means 7-8 yo while Form IB refers to 6 yo. Anyway, in Form I, A is using poetry and other books assigned for history and such, or an alternative is suggested. B, on the other hand, is learning to read based on Charlotte’s method in “Home Education”. For Form II, it says for both A and B, “Books set for Geography, History and Recitations should afford exercise in careful reading.” So it’s a practice in reading well from the books assigned. Then it gives separate extra books listed for both groups. That’s where I’ve made it more complicated. I love the McGuffey readers, particular the upper level books, because they give instruction in how to read orally. But I think adding more books to our schedule–instead of using that instruction time for reading practice from the books assigned TO them–is creating more chaos.

          So in conclusion, I think for the upper grades/levels, “Reading” time was meant particularly for the children to read out loud themselves, not to be read to, as it was for practice. It was instruction in reading both to read out loud properly and to identify any issues with phonics. This helps me a lot because even though my oldest reads independently, he’s still not super strong, and when he does read out loud I can hear certain words give him trouble.

          I hope that helps you as much as it helped me when I discovered it. 🙂

          • Brandy Vencel July 7, 2015 at 10:56 am

            Yes! I think the A B thing seems totally backwards as well!

            You remind me that I need to do more reading aloud with my third child…

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 7, 2015 at 10:55 am

          Thank you for bringing this up! This is my second year using the matrix, and my first time using it with a child who is still learning to read…it really does change the dynamic!

  • Reply Tanya Stone July 6, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    One question. You said you were going to include Grammar into Circle Time. How, exactly? Also, do you require only your school age children to take part in Circle Time? I’ve tried CT in the past but it always made things more stressful. I adapted it for a while as “Table Time”, with everyone at the table at the same time, not necessarily doing the same thing–two kids working on copywork, one on a map, one doing a hands on math or something. Then they all finish and, still at the table, we did a family reading or lesson or something. That’s sort of been abandoned for the last half of our year, but watching your videos I’m inspired to try CT again. Like another person commented, I always felt I was losing their attention and it was all me talking. Now that my older boys can read well enough, though, I like the idea of asking them to do some reading.
    Anyway, back to my original questions. LOL Who takes part in CT, and how do you do Grammar since not everyone is working on Grammar yet? I have a 3yo and a 5.5 yo.

    To go off topic a little bit, I’ll ask you another one, more of an opinion question. My 5.5 yo started teaching himself how to read last summer. He’s now more fluent than his 7.5 yo sister. I haven’t done formal school with him for two reasons–he’s not 6 yet, and he still is a 5.5 yo boy with the attention span and fine motor skills (or lack thereof) that go with that. This past year we did light continued phonics lessons (maybe 3 days a week), he did MEP Receptive with his 7.5 yo sister (I just didn’t require the motor skill things like tracing), and meanwhile he taught himself some geography with a Kindle game and did puzzles. But he also ran around insane and was loud, and as his younger sister has gotten more mobile and vocal they both became quite distracting. We finally have a house with a yard, but wouldn’t you know he’s paranoid about bees (we’ve only seen one or two at any given time) and will NOT play outside without an older sibling. Therefore he’s running around mad and driving me nuts. So I was just now considering starting him on Year 1. He’ll turn 6 in January so I’m thinking it’s a technicality. 😛 But it will also keep him out of trouble without me desperately allowing unlimited Kindle or computer game time. Anyway . . . thoughts?

    • Reply Tanya Stone July 6, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Ok, wow, I wish I could edit my comment. LOL I have 3yo and 5.5 yo IN ADDITION TO a 7.5, 9, and 10.5 yo. I was wondering about including those two youngest in Circle Time, that’s why I mentioned them. JEESH! LOL I need more coffee. 😛

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 3:54 pm


        Well, I don’t have as many children as you do, but for what it is worth, I tried to have my preschoolers sit through Bible time, just as practice and because I wanted them hearing Scripture each morning. At that time, I kept the readings really short for that purpose. After that, they were free to wander off as long as they could be quiet enough to not disrupt CT. In kindergarten, I had them start sitting through a little more — so basically our memory work time, which includes a lot of singing. So they aren’t there for the whole thing until they are in Y1, and even then sometimes I dismiss a couple and keep a couple — if there is something that I put into CT (such as grammar) that is only for a couple of them, I tack it to the end so that the others can move on with their days.

        I really do not know if doing grammar in CT is going to work, but I struggle SO MUCH with getting grammar done. So my new goal is to just try and diagram a sentence or two on our white board each day. And that’s it. We will see how this goes…

        • Reply Tanya Stone July 6, 2015 at 4:04 pm

          Ok, I kind of started doing the same thing then, I guess. I always require every child to sit through Bible time, for the added reason that it’s training for Sunday. Our church doesn’t do “children’s church”, though we have a training room, so I’m still working to keep my 3yo from making large disturbances. 🙂 The practice at home is helping. For the rest of it, it’s the “as long as they could keep quiet” bit that I’m working on. 😛

          So you would arrange your CT time, then, so each thing you do or subject you tackle would progressively allow the younger kids to wander off if they choose, or go do something else? Start with the “whole family” things then each new thing would allow one or two to break away? That makes sense.

          For us grammar is largely independent. I sometimes have to read with my student but as the year has progressed he’s gotten more independent, and all I have to do is introduce the section, tell him which activities to do (we use a book called “A Child’s Own English”, and it has various games or exercises for each topic), and then check his work later. But then we’re just starting out, I have no idea how it will get when it comes to diagramming. 😛 Next year he’ll be finishing that book then using “Simply Grammar” to fill in the blanks (COE doesn’t cover some topics that SG does). So I’m at least one year away from that sort of thing. 😀

          • Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 4:09 pm

            Yes — I do try and arrange my CT, even now, so that people can drop off as needed. Sometimes, for example, I’ll be doing Latin with my elementary students, and so it is my oldest that will go do something else, but the principle is still the same.

            I know what you mean about practice. I had the hardest time training my second child to sit in church, and then a friend of mine, who was older and wiser told me that she practiced with her children at home and I felt so dumb. Of course! Practice! Ha! That changed my whole life.

            Even now I feel like I am occasionally in a bit of a wrestling match with my 6yo, but as least it is a quiet wrestling match. 🙂

            By the way, I am probably not the best person to get grammar advice from. I am mostly winging it. 🙂

      • Reply Mystie July 6, 2015 at 9:25 pm

        Hi Tanya! I have a similar situation with a high-energy 5yo boy who taught himself to read and reads better than his 7.5yo sister. 🙂 Because he can read, I gave him his own checklist just like the other kids, but it has things like “run to the fence and back 3 times” and “read your little sister a book” and “play a game” on it. So he feels like he has interesting and important things to do just like everyone else, but they are things he should just be doing as a 5yo. 🙂 I have a picture of his checklist here:

        • Reply Tanya Stone July 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm

          Thank you, I’ll look at it. 🙂

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 7, 2015 at 10:53 am

          Oh my goodness, Mystie! That is such a great idea! 🙂

  • Reply Lisa V in BC July 6, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I’ve watched the first two videos and love how clear and easy you’ve made this look. I’ve been planning Ambleside for 7years now I think and have probably changed my planning method 10 times – several times in the middle of the school year! 😛

    I use Excel and what I’ve done the past few years is similar to what you’ve done, but your method is simpler to put together I think. So, thanks!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Hey! You’re welcome! I’m glad it helped.

      Nicole’s ideas about the matrix have really helped me, so I’m glad to pay it forward a bit. 🙂

  • Reply Our Time Budget & Flow Chart for Summer Term » Simply Convivial July 6, 2015 at 8:00 am

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  • Reply Heather M July 6, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Quick question: what do you do for snack? I think snack food in general is expensive and not high in nutrition so we tend to eat an earlier lunch (at 11), and then maybe in the afternoon they might have some raisins or a banana, but those aren’t exactly filling. I also like the idea of a longer block in the morning, leaving the afternoon more free for the kids.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 8:43 am

      We have a pretty standard set of snack options — there is always a basket of fruit from which they can choose, there is always cheese (they have to cut a slice off the block I get at Costco), and lately there is always a bag of roasted sunflower seeds from which they are free to grab a handful or two. Some of them choose to have a glass of milk during that time. Occasionally, they have access to a package of salami where they can grab a few, but that is only a couple times a month. It’s all very simple.

      • Reply Claire July 6, 2015 at 1:41 pm

        Celery sticks and home-made dip works well in our house. Plain yoghurt is good, too, or yogurt as dip.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 3:49 pm

          Good ideas Claire! And you reminded me that I always have a big bag of carrots in the refrigerator that they are free to grab from and eat…I had forgotten that.

      • Reply Toni July 6, 2015 at 8:15 pm

        Popcorn is a staple snack at our house. We use a Presto popper that pops regular popcorn kernels in the microwave in 2.5 minutes. You can use any oil, but I like to use unflavored coconut oil. I’ve been meaning to try it with flavored coconut oil for a lightly sweet flavor. Adding shredded cheese (Cheddar is goood, but I like mozzarella) adds flavor and protein. Sometimes I like to add dry peppermint flakes or brewer’s yeast. Just fine-grain popcorn salt is good, too. I skip the butter unless it’s movie night, and I reserve the buttered stuff for the adults – too much greasy mess with little ones.

  • Reply HC... July 6, 2015 at 1:20 am

    Hi Brandy,

    I find that circle time can get really sleep inducing for my children!! It feels like there’s more of my voice and less of theirs, and also, having four of them, some of them just relax and let others take care of the narration. How do you get over this?

    Also, What does your year 8 student write in his maths journal?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 6, 2015 at 7:02 am

      Whenever I do group narration, I use dice. I roll one or two of them depending upon how many students I’m working with. At our morning Circle Time, since I have four children, I roll once for even or odd — in my mind, one side of the table is even and the other odd — and then I roll again to choose between the children on that side. It’s completely random, so they all have to be prepared to narrate, and that helps a lot. Otherwise, yes, they would totally slack off and let my talkative child carry the whole thing! 🙂

      The math journal is for recording new rules and formulae, or an example problem of something he struggled with. The reason why I have math and science listed together is that many weeks he doesn’t do a math entry — he chooses at his discretion based upon what he wants to remember.

      Did you see Mystie’s video on Morning Time? It’s hosted over at Truth + Beauty + Goodness, and I noticed that she had her children reading aloud more than I usually do. I wonder if that would also help with sleepiness? Or intersperse songs with readings to mix it up?

      • Reply Lisa V in BC August 22, 2015 at 7:59 am

        When I tried to follow the link to the video, I got an error message – has the video been moved?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel August 24, 2015 at 4:47 pm

          Lisa, I just checked, and I was able to view all the videos on this post. Were you ever able to view them? If not, let me know and I will try to figure this out. 🙂

          • Lisa V in BC August 24, 2015 at 9:17 pm

            I should have been clearer – I was referring to Mystie’s video that was hosted on the Truth, Beauty and Goodness site and I do still get an error message when I follow the link

          • Brandy Vencel August 25, 2015 at 6:58 am

            Oh! I will let her know, then. Thanks! 🙂

          • Brandy Vencel August 25, 2015 at 7:00 am

            OH!! I see. She moved the page. Try this link:

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