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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    The Last Circle Time

    April 10, 2020 by Brandy Vencel

    My oldest son never expected to be on lockdown for the final third of his senior year, unable to go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone. He never expected to wonder if we’d be allowed to have a graduation celebration. He never expected to contemplate whether his college would open in the fall. He never expected to invent a Plan B, a gap year in which he worked a lot of hours (in case he isn’t allowed to do what he dreams of doing).

    He certainly didn’t expect us, as supposedly free citizens of the republic, to use the word “allowed” so much, but I digress.

    None of us expected to be here, did we? When I planned our spring Circle Time after Christmas, I thought I’d planned for the rest of the year. But when this whole quarantine thing started, we really struggled. I kept doing what I called “fighting for normalcy” — which turned Circle Time into something everyone dreaded. (Consider how disheartening it must be when your mother continues to read aloud a book on social skills when socializing is forbidden.)

    Yesterday morning during our read aloud, this sentence jumped off the page at me:

    [T]he melancholy mad elephants, like the Hard Fact men, abated nothing of their set routine, whatever happened.

    Charles Dickens, Hard Times

    The thing about Dickens’ “Hard Fact men” is that they are Lewis’ men without chests. They have memorized lots of facts while losing their souls. They have cold calculation in place of warm hearts. Men like this see no reason to adjust their plans just because someone is having a hard time. Hard times do not cause them to wonder at the state of the world because nothing causes them to wonder at all.

    I saw myself in the mirror dimly. Yes, carrying on a routine can be good for children, especially small children. But my children are not small and they’re struggling with all of this as much as anyone.

    So I went back to the drawing board and created what I assume is our last set of plans for the school year. The finality is not lost on me: next year I will only have three students instead of four. My homeschool has reached the tipping point and we are now on the decline.

    I decided Circle Time needed to be shorter. I needed to cut things that didn’t make sense right now and add things that did. It’s not all that different from before, but it’s more what it needs to be for now.

    Here are my plans:

    Note: My oldest only stays for the first four rows. I do the final two with the other children (9th, 7th, and 5th grades).

    Here are my resources:

    How a Loop Schedule Works

    The nice thing about loop schedules is that you are never behind. You are always exactly where you mean to be, so you pretty much feel like Gandalf as long as you’re consistent.

    Following a loop schedule is pretty simple, once you get the hang of it. I use Post It Arrows to keep track of where I am. I have one pointing at which day I am on, another pointing at where I am in Loop 1, and a third pointing to where I am in Loop 2. As long as I remember to move the arrows when I’m done, I’ll always be ready to do the next thing.

    On Finishing Well

    It was easy for me to assume that “finishing well” — something I long to do every year, of course, but especially this year as a gift to my senior — meant doing exactly what I planned when times were normal. Dickens, with his little word sword, corrected me. Finishing well can include adjusting well. We’re changing plans in order to finish well. And that’s as it should be.

    Have you changed some plans lately?

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  • Reply Becca May 9, 2020 at 11:15 am

    Your astronomy resources caught my eye. How do you utlize them?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel May 12, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      We don’t do anything fancy. I read aloud. They narrate. We all make an entry in our astronomy notebooks (well, when that makes sense, which is most lessons, but not all). And that’s it. Well, except trying to use what we’ve learned at night sometimes. 🙂

    • Reply Becca May 12, 2020 at 12:20 pm

      How did it compare to Signs and Seasons? We are going to use your notebooking idea/notenooks & gel pens. I’m just trying to choose between S&S and H.A. Rey’s book. Do you have a preference between them?

      • Reply Brandy Vencel May 12, 2020 at 3:52 pm

        Rey’s book is a lot simpler than Signs and Seasons. I did S&S years ago with my oldest and REALLY liked it, but with that said, if I had it to do all over again, I’d do both, but in reverse order. I’d do S&S first, in elementary and/or junior high, and then S&S in high school.

  • Reply Ann-Marie April 13, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    This is so bittersweet for me to read, Brandy!
    I first found your blog about seven years ago and the first post I read was about Circle Time. Actually you are the one who brought all of the goodness of it into our home! I love what you said in this post and wholeheartedly agree about scaling back a bit right now. We’ve been trying to continue on, in spite of it all, as we are not where we need to be right now due to extenuating circumstances. I’ve taken a few weeks to mull this over in my mind and have made peace with “being behind.” I think that as long as we continue each day and just try to do our best and offer it all to God, then we aren’t really behind.
    Thanks for the glimpse into your last CT plans 🙂 Love them as much as the first!

  • Reply Wendy Roseberry April 12, 2020 at 10:30 am

    I do believe this is my most favorite post of all you have written. Thank you for your transparency and humility.

  • Reply Melissa April 12, 2020 at 8:17 am

    Yes, our senior definitely struggled with all the unknowns and all the plans that came to a halt. Throw into the mix the birth of our baby girl and an emergency c-section and we are almost in crisis mode! We need to get back to our morning time routines to regroup after a hard month and your post helps tremendously! I’m hoping I can put a good plan together now that I’m close to being on the mend!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:35 am

      An emergency C! I’ll be praying for you! I had all C-sections, but the emergency ones were the most difficult.

  • Reply Kendall April 11, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    We’ve kept things pretty much the same. My second oldest is a senior so I know what you mean about the last Circle Time with them. I will be down to only two next year. Then the following year my son will graduate. I’ll only have one at home soon. We finished up Sweep by Auxier for our read aloud. Now we are going back and reading The House at Pooh Corner and loving it even more. I think the humor was over their heads when they were little. We are hoping to fly to the States in June to get my second oldest set up at university in California. We’ll see if that will even be possible. I’m thankful the Lord is on the throne and our times are in His hands.

    Thank you for sharing your plans. Enjoy your last term with your son.

    • Reply Melissa April 12, 2020 at 8:19 am

      We are in CA. What university? My senior is heading to East Coast for school and we are hoping it all works out for her too!

      • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:34 am

        He’s headed to New College Franklin in Tennessee! I think if TN gets off lockdown, it won’t matter whether we are still on it here … maybe? Is that what you are thinking for your daughter?

      • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:42 am

        Oh. Ha! I was looking at this comment on the back end and just realized you were asking Kendall and not me. Ha.

      • Reply Kendall April 13, 2020 at 8:42 am

        My daughter will be attending California Baptist University in Riverside. My oldest daughter is in her third year at CBU. It will be comforting to know they’re together.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:45 am

          That’s neat they’ll be together!

          The lady who cuts my hair (hair dresser, I guess?) has two children at Cal Baptist! Small world. 🙂

          • Kendall April 14, 2020 at 6:45 am

            Cal Baptist has been a great fit for my oldest. The faculty really cares about the students and mentors them. My daughter is a nursing major and has had a wonderful experience. This was her first time living in the States full time. We are missionaries and only visit on furlough every few years. CBU has an excellent TCK (third culture kid) program and an excellent nursing program.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:43 am

      I hope you are able to fly here in June! Hopefully, things will be better by then. It’s been so strange here; we hardly see any flights overhead, though presumably there are some. (We’re in CA, too.)

      Reading Pooh sounds delightful! ♥

      • Reply Kendall April 14, 2020 at 6:52 am

        We’re hoping they start allowing flights again. Definitely strange times for most of the world right now. Enjoy your “lasts” with your son.

  • Reply Valerie April 11, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    I was wondering why you have a loop for memory work. Is it because you don’t do all those things each day? Do you have a time limit you keep? The memory loop sounds short to me, but my kids are younger and so there memory work is probably shorter, maybe??

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:36 am

      I *did* do it everyday for years, but when my oldest hit high school, he needed to leave the table at an earlier time (Latin class) and then at the same time our poems and Scriptures were MUCH longer than before. So it was a combination of things that cause the change, but it’s been working for us for a few years now. 🙂

  • Reply Susannah Maddox April 11, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Hi, this is helpful for me thinking about the next several weeks of school. Can you tell me what progymnasmata is? I’ve not familiar with the term though I do like fables.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:39 am

      The progym is an ancient way to teach writing and rhetoric. The early stages are just fun variations. So I’ll read a fable and then have them do a variation instead of a plain oral narration. This might mean they write it in backwards sequencing (end to beginning) or tell the story from a different perspective or change dialog into narrative (or vice versa), etc. When my oldest was younger, I had a curriculum, but I felt like I had to dig through it to get at the core (lots of busywork, if I remember correctly), so once I learned the variations, I just explain and assign them without a curriculum. I wrote a bit about it when I was doing it with my oldest. If you type “progym” into the search bar, you can probably find the posts if you are interested in thinking about it more. 🙂

  • Reply NicoleW April 11, 2020 at 3:59 pm

    I really enjoyed this. Before all this we had a major medical event for my son in early December, with a very slow recovery, and I tried to continue normal when we started back in January. It went about as well as one would think. I had to reinvent our entire school plans that time, and I’ve had to change a lot for one student again and again since. Then all this happened. ? Our school looks nothing like it did before Thanksgiving or what I planned, but that’s okay. I would not have been doing right by my family to keep trying what we were doing. We have 6 weeks left and we are going to make it. I told my friend I didn’t feel like we are finishing strong but I do think it was finishing well for what we needed. Also, my kids are young so I have a lot of time to fix things.?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 13, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Ah, I’m sorry, Nicole! I think this whole lockdown is extra hard when you’ve already had other difficult things to face. Hang in there! I think finishing well means being appropriate. You sound like you’re doing a very good job! ♥

  • Reply Paola Collazo April 11, 2020 at 9:33 am


  • Reply Bethany April 11, 2020 at 6:50 am

    I’d like to hear more about Rex Barks… looks interesting. Are you glad you did some MJT and KISS first, and this is more advanced? Or is it more of a lateral shift and just mixing it up?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 11, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      I DO think it helps that they did the other stuff first, but at the same time it IS more of a lateral shift, yes. I feel like some of my kids aren’t wrapping their minds around prepositional phrases very well, and Rex Barks seems to explain it differently (as “anything a squirrel can do to a tree”) — I’m hoping the imaginative approach will help the ones who are struggling. And then also I felt like mixing it up in general would help shake some of them out of their slump.

  • Reply Gugu Dlamini April 11, 2020 at 5:10 am

    Hi Brandy,

    I must firstly say I love your articles . I have cut a lot of media readings but I had to keep your articles.

    I too was holding on for dear life to our routine because I wanted to keep this normal and we have just started to have a good routine going and my kids are young. I was literally afraid to let things go.

    Until my husband said we should take a break for Holy Week.

    Your article has made me think. I probably will go back to a routine next week but I pray it will be one that is alive to the needs of the moment.

    Congratulations for your son’s impending graduation! Well done to the whole family.??????

    We wish him all the best.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 11, 2020 at 12:29 pm

      Gugu! I love how you put that: “alive to the needs of the moment.” That is so beautiful.

  • Reply Jackie B April 10, 2020 at 7:08 pm

    WOw! thanks for sharing. I appreciate the depth and the practicals.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 11, 2020 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks, Jackie! I’m glad it was helpful. 3

  • Reply Sarah April 10, 2020 at 6:51 am

    Are you reading Weston Price’s book cover to cover aloud with your kids (it’s long!)? How are they liking it?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 10, 2020 at 5:55 pm

      We are! So far they think it’s very interesting and I think they are beginning to understand why I do the things I do in the kitchen. 🙂

  • Reply Jen @ Bookish Family April 10, 2020 at 5:20 am

    Yes, we’ve certainly changed some things. . . but not school plans so much. With younger children (9 and under) it has made more sense for us to finish out our 180 days the way I had planned . . . even though (in PA) we are no longer required to do them or required to do our normal portfolio and evaluation as required under our homeschool law. Without access to our physical library, we have altered our read alouds, and we are watching something every day together (movies! Amazing Race!) and playing more games. I had thoughtfully planned a feast of ideas for them this term, so we are enjoying them as a helpful distraction from the oddness of our current situation. And reading Anne of Green Gables aloud for the first time (via Overdrive/Libby) helps 😉

  • Reply Heather C April 10, 2020 at 3:52 am

    We’ve actually kept our school routines the same as always – even my teens seem to need that sense of normalcy in the midst of this craziness. We’ve replaced co-op with a walk at the park (we’re still “allowed” to do that), and they’re doing karate and youth group via Zoom. I’ve found that when we change things too much during times that are already stressful, it just adds to the stress here. Maybe it’s a personality thing? We have a lot of XXXJ’s in our house. 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel April 10, 2020 at 5:59 pm

      It could totally be personality! It could also be I overplanned? That’s possible, too!

      I will say that my most extreme J is my one who keeps plowing through everything, no matter what, so I think you might be on to something!

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