Educational Philosophy, Home Education

Grounded: The Physics of Circle Time

September 21, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

Pam once asked me what word I would use if I could only use one to describe Circle Time. My answer was “grounding” — and in true Pam fashion, she interrogated me about this word choice. 😉 I tried my best to think of another word, but in the end, I concluded that Circle Time really does keep me grounded. Today, I’m going to tell you why.

Grounded the Physics of Circle Time

Are you familiar with the concept of grounding? I mean in the sense of electricity or physics?

In working with electricity, there is always the risk of electric shock, right? Grounding is a way to prevent that — a wire is used to remove any leaky current and carry it harmlessly away (rather than through the person that comes into contact with the current). When you look at electric plugs, the ones that have three prongs are the grounded ones — the third prong is the grounding prong, and it is there for your protection.

In physics, grounding refers to the removal of electrons. Objects can have an excess charge to them — negative or positive, it makes no difference. Either way, the object is, in a sense, unstable — and to ground it means to bring its charge back into balance. Have you ever had static electricity build up on your body, and then you accidentally shocked someone? Whoever you shocked grounded you — you built up a negative charge and the shock happened when your excess electrons were transferred to that other person. The ground is the thing that is able to bring the object back into balance — it’s a sort of wellspring of electrons, and it can either receive or give electrons, depending upon what is necessary in order to bring the object back to a neutral charge.

Personally, even though the two descriptions are related (electricity being a branch of physics and all), I think grounding in the more general sense a la physics is a better of the two options — it’s exactly the type of metaphor that gets across why I love Circle Time so much.

Circle Time IS the Ground

That’s how it works in my home, at least.

We come to the table each morning, and we bring our charge with us.

Sometimes, one or more of us is negatively charged. Stuff has built up, and we’re carrying that stress with us. Circle Time is big enough to absorb all of that. The routine of prayer and recitation slowly collects those excess electrons, so to speak, and by the time we’ve gotten to the more academic and reading aloud portion, we’ve been brought back to a more peaceful state in our souls. More than once, I’ve felt myself repenting as we go along — I end up apologizing to my children midway. I’ve seen this in them, too.

Other times, one of us (often my exuberant youngest child) brings a positive charge to the table. Some of you might ask how this could possibly be a bad thing, but too much is too much, no matter how good. He needs to be brought back down to earth and put into a mood where he can listen and learn — he can be so cute when he is filled up with so much excitement, but the truth is he really can’t listen when he’s like that. Again, I think it’s the routine that has this effect — as he quiets himself for prayer, he begins to take in all the good things that are there for him.

Circle Time, just as it can take the burden from the negatively charged child, can also feed the positively charge child what he needs to help him mature and grow. In other words, it really is a ground — it can give or take as each person needs.

We Started with a Negative Charge

Our first “real” year of homeschooling was a little crazy. My oldest was six, and we were doing AmblesideOnline Year One. We started in early July because we had some busy times ahead of us. First, we moved. Then, I had a baby. After this, we tried to pick it back up and carry on with lessons. I was totally overwhelmed — trying to learn to homeschool, with a three-year-old, a one-year-old, and a newborn on my hands. I was having trouble recovering physically from my pregnancy, C-section (with accompanying hemorrhage), and severe anemia. Somehow, though, it all got done, squished in between naptimes, diaper changes, and feedings.

But I felt totally drained as we headed into May.

And then my husband got sick.

It’s a long, long story, but the short version is that he ended up on life-support, and his family even flew out to say goodbye. Thankfully, the Lord had other plans.

That summer, while I was running from home to hospital and back again — three, four trips each day — it was hard to know what to do exactly with these little children whose lives had been thrown into such chaos. In putting them to bed at night, we sang the hymns we’d learned during the school year (from the AmblesideOnline hymn rotation). It was then that I realized that we can’t wait until there are hard times to give our children the resources they need to get through it. No, it is during the normal, peaceful days that we learn the verses and the Scripture passages and the poems.

They have to already be there in order to be there when we need them.

Finally Getting Grounded

By mid-July, my husband was home from the hospital and recovering, and life was almost harder. He couldn’t do anything for himself, and his medication made him seem more like a fifth child than another adult in the house. Because he had suffered multiple grand mal seizures, he was also not allowed to drive — I had to taxi him everywhere, or find him a ride. We had a lot of help, but it was still so hard. How in the world am I supposed to plan school on top of all of this? I wondered.

I had been faithfully reading the blog of Cindy Rollins almost since its very beginning. That summer, when she mentioned Morning Time, I finally paid attention. I didn’t think of it as grounding then, but I recognized that the kinds of things she was encouraging readers to do during Morning Time were the exact kinds of things we had needed during our time of crisis. I needed our second year of homeschooling to be a year of recovery; I was completely empty. Morning Time contained all of the good things we needed to start filling ourselves back up.

I will be forever in debt to Cindy. (This is only one of a number of ways that she changed my life for the better.) And it was with great delight that I read this in her introduction to Pam’s Morning Time guide, Your Morning Basket:

Twenty-seven years ago Timothy (my oldest) and I repeated his Awana verse, sang a Bible song, read nursery rhymes, and read aloud all morning long just because it was so much fun. Then we got up the next day and did it again. We never did stop.

Cindy might not have invented Morning Time, but I do think she was the spark for many of us — and now so many families have a daily Morning Time (I call it Circle Time) because she told us how great it was.

Pam says that Morning Time has four basic components: ritual, reading, recitation, and relationship — and oh how I agree! Especially since she explains that really it’s this trinity of ritual, reading, and recitation that rests inside of relationship — because the whole thing is about relationship — with each other, as well as with God, and also the content covered in our time together.

It’s a beautiful, powerful thing, and the longer we do it, the more I am convinced that this is true.

If you’re feeling like your homeschool is way too charged, I highly recommend Circle Time as a way to ground your day.

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17 Comments

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  • Reply Brenda February 3, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Brandy, I am curious how your Circle Time has been affected by having a high schooler. I also have a sophomore, and I have found it is harder this year to maintain a morning time (we actually call it colloquium in our house) with all the components we used to have, and still give her time to manage the rest of her work without robbing her of the opportunity to have any free time. Now, part of the picture for her is that she is quite serious about piano and spends 2 hours a day practicing. So I wonder if I just need to accept that I can’t do all that I want in our colloquium anymore.
    Just wondering what your experience has been in this regard.
    Thanks!
    Brenda

    • Reply Brandy Vencel February 3, 2018 at 10:12 pm

      It’s so hard, isn’t it? This year, my high schooler only stays part of the time. About once a week, he stays longer for picture study or composer. But for the most part, he does Bible and memory work (including singing) and then takes off to do his own thing. I was sad to let him go, but I also don’t want him to resent CT because of it consuming too much time. The rest of our CT, I plan only with my other three in mind.

  • Reply Tania October 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Thank you for this post Brandy. I read it as soon as it came into my inbox and have been pondering it ever since. We have been doing circle time for about 2 years, focussing on bible, prayer, recitation, and poetry. I have primarily used this time to teach my children to pray by memorizing The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostle’s Creed, and the Ten Commandments, as Luther taught in “A Simple Way to Pray.” This years having been introduced by you to Cindy Rollins, and reading comments from you on your planning posts, I decided to include in our circle time other subject areas that we do together. Composer and artist study, and science for the younger two. I wasn’t sure how a longer circle time would go with a toddler on the loose, but it has been going great. We have never included singing in our circle time though. To be honest, I never really thought it was important. We sing at church and the girls are in children’s choir. Why did we need to sing at home? And then you said,

    “They have to already be there in order to be there when we need them.”

    This has really changed the way I think. Thank you for showing me why we do what we do. I now remind myself every morning before we begin the day that we don’t do this to tick of our Charlotte Mason checklist. We do this because they need it. I need it. And ultimately, it glorifies God.

  • Reply Karen in Ky September 26, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    This whole post is right on. Even down to finding Cindy’s morning time post (only I found it about a day and a half before she went offline!) and realizing that we aren’t alone in son morning time / circle time / basket-thingy desert. It was incredibly validating. Our time together has carried us through several rough spots. Thank tou for articulating this most beautiful gift if home education.

  • Reply Amber September 25, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Beautiful post, Brandy, thank you. I agree, it does ground us in our day and in our lives together. We have our morning time every weekday all year around. In the summer I shorten it, but we still start by praying together, discussing the day’s Bible readings, and reading a bit of something nourishing together. Going to church on Sunday fills a similar roll for us, but I notice the difference in our family life on Saturdays when we don’t have morning time together. I’ve often thought about doing an abridged morning time (like we do in the summer) on Saturdays, but I haven’t been brave enough to try it. I’ve also thought about having an evening time together too, with prayer, singing and perhaps some poetry. I did that during Advent last year and it was lovely, but I didn’t have the oomph to continue it as a regular thing. But I still think about it! Those intentional times together, bringing truth, goodness and beauty into our lives are absolutely invaluable.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 29, 2015 at 8:26 am

      I know what you mean about the evening time. All I have been able to pull off with consistency throughout much of the year is the obligatory bedtime story reading. But, like you, our Advent time is so precious that I wish I was able to do it year round. I console myself that *maybe* part of why it is so precious is *because* we don’t do it all the time — it is special for that particular season. Winter, I think, lends itself more to that because it is dark and cold and so the children come inside much earlier in the day.

  • Reply Dawn September 23, 2015 at 3:00 am

    What an amazing and oh so appropriate metaphor, Brandy. This is another of your home run posts, friend.

    I have long thought that your youngest son and my oldest are so very alike. Your description of the energy issue here strikes that chord with me once again. The joys of an exuberant and energetic child are not without their trials – can I get an Amen? 🙂

    I can’t remember what first led me to your blog, but I do know that I found Cindy Rollins through you and for that I am forever grateful. It was one of the highlights for the At Home retreat this summer for me to meet Cindy in real life (and I acted like a 9 yr old girl in the presence of her favorite boy band member – no exaggeration – there were witnesses!) and she is every bit as gracious, humble and wise as one imagines from her talks and blog posts.

    Thanks, Brandy, for continuing to help us all grown through your thoughtful and insightful posts here at Afterthoughts.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Oh, Amen, Dawn! 😉

      And also — how I *wish* I could meet Cindy in person. We’ve chatted via email, but that is as close as this fan girl has gotten. 🙂

  • Reply Sharron September 21, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Oh I love this!

  • Reply Pam September 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Oh I love this post. Most excellent. (In true Pam fashion? Ahem. I am just not sure what to make of that. 😉 )

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 21, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      Make of it only this: you are good at asking questions and not accepting someone’s first answer. That is why you are a good podcaster. 🙂

    • Reply Katie February 4, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      I would love to read the guide you’ve created, however I am having trouble purchasing it. Is this still available? TIA

      • Reply Brandy Vencel February 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm

        Your Morning Basket is still available, yes. Maybe one of my links was broken? Try this and let me know if it works. 🙂

  • Reply Anne White September 21, 2015 at 11:30 am

    “No, it is during the normal, peaceful days that we learn the verses and the Scripture passages and the poems.

    They have to already be there in order to be there when we need them.”

    We went through a similar family event, and this was very true for us as well.

  • Reply Ann-Marie September 21, 2015 at 11:27 am

    What a heartfelt and touching post!
    I was not aware of your struggles when you began to homeschool, Brandy, and am thankful that your husband was just fine in the end! What a trying and frightful time that must have been for you all!
    When I found your blog over four years ago, I was most intrigued by all of your Circle Time posts! They just spoke to my soul. It was the very first place I had read about Circle Time 🙂 Unfortunately I did not know that at the time I found you, I also was about to face a trying season! I was not able to implement CT as I wanted, but, kept coming back here from time to time while trying to stay afloat! By God’s grace, we are in a better place now and we have begun our second year of CT and we all love it SO much! It is the *best* part of our day and when we skip it, the day is not the same at all. It is truly a liturgy.
    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts 🙂

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