Saturday, September 27, 2014

Homeschooling :: Building Culture

If you've spent much time in the homeschooling world chances are you've probably encountered Charlotte Mason's famous saying,
Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. 
The idea of education being a way of life is, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of our home environment. One of my main goals as a home educator is to provide my children with an outlook on life that is full of wonder and awe at the beauty and bounty which God has provided for us. Last time I shared a bit about how this looks in our home with regards to the natural world around us, but today I am going to look at the wonder that comes from recognizing beauty that is not necessarily physical. In other words what I am concerned with here is the transmission of culture.

The acquisition of culture implies a developing of taste for, and an ability to judge, what is good and what is not. As a Christian what I am most concerned about passing on to my children is the ability to discern what things are True, Good and Beautiful. All things true, all things good, and all things beautiful point us to the person of Jesus Christ, whose life we Christians long to share.

And so it is important for me to be deliberate about the stories, music, art and traditions to which I expose my children. My husband and I must consider carefully what we allow to enter our home and what we choose to leave outside.

This deliberate choosing is not the same as fearfully sheltering our children from all the bad that is out there; rather it is a conscious effort to instill the good in their hearts so that there is no room for the bad. We cannot shelter them from everything all the time (nor should we), but we can do our best to ensure that when unwanted influences make an appearance there is no room for them to take hold.

There are a multitude of ways to accomplish this. Here I will only touch on one aspect of it which directly impacts our school days. We call it Morning Basket.

I first heard of the idea of a morning basket from Jen, who blogs at Wildflowers and Marbles. She describes beautifully how she pulls together beautiful and meaningful books, poems, art, histories, prayers and other things into an organized system which is intended to deliberately build the culture in her home and to expose her family to all things good, true and beautiful. You can read Jen's lovely posts about her Morning Basket here, here and here. Having been inspired by these posts here is what I have put together for our own Morning Basket time:

:: We always begin with prayer. We use the morning prayers laid out in the Children's Garden of the Theotokos, which include the Trisagion prayers as well as a hymn corresponding to the day of the week and ending with Rejoice, O Virgin.

:: We turn over the date on our wall calendar and then read the life of the saint(s) commemorated that day from The Prologue of Ohrid. (The link is to the Prologue online, but if you prefer to have a hard copy I encourage you to invest in the two volumes). 

:: We then read from the Bible. During Advent and Lent we have special readings that correspond with our Jesse Tree and our Path to Pascha, but during regular times we work our way through little by little. We have used both The Children's Bible Reader and A Sacred History for Children. We are currently using the Golden Children's Bible.

:: We use this time to do our memory work. We have memorized psalms and other passages from scripture as well as poems and even some Shakespeare. I keep our memory work in a binder organized based on this system. We memorize all these things as a family rather than having individual memory work. The youngest kids absorb a great deal from just listening to the older ones and we have some interesting and thoughtful discussions that spin off of our collective memory work.

:: I have recently begun to use this time together to introduce and sometimes practice handicrafts. We are currently learning how to sew and I have some fun ideas for upcoming crafts as well. My purpose here is to equip them so that they can create and build things on their own and take joy in working with their hands. The ability to make things opens up a whole range of possibilities in one's life.

:: We read stories together. The possibilities here are endless. We read and narrate Aesop's fables, and we spent last year enjoying The Arabian Nights. Sometimes we enjoy short stories from The Book of Virtues.  We also enjoy reading Shakespeare plays. (Up to this point I have only read children's versions, but they have asked me to read "the real thing", so we have begun!)

:: We read history books, nature study books, and we work on geography.

:: We paint during this time and we also practice drawing. I do this along with the kids and they enjoy watching me as well as working on their own drawings.

:: We also use this time to do picture study and composer study. We focus on one artist and one composer per term and we read about their lives and take time to look at and listen to some of their most famous works.

(The last five items listed are not done every single day. I rotate those subjects throughout the week and we usually end up hitting each of them at least once in a week.)

As each year comes around I look at what we have done, what has worked and what I would like to change. I plan it out as carefully as I can, but I also do my best to remain flexible and adjust as we are in the midst of it all if I need to. Some days are idyllic, other days are very rough. But we press on.

One of the most inspiring things I've read that has encouraged me to prioritize this time in our days is Cindy Rollins' series of posts on Morning Time. As a mother who has been through homeschooling in all its stages and seasons her perspective is invaluable and very inspiring. Please do take the time to read what she has written if this topic interests you at all. (Start here and look at the archives to the right of the page to find each of the 31 days).

There is so much that can be said about this family culture building. I'm afraid I've barely even touched the surface and I'll probably never really be able to do it justice. Nevertheless, even though my words are inadequate, this part of our day is forming and shaping our lives in profound ways and education in this home is truly becoming an atmosphere, a discipline and a life. 


  1. What a great outline! Thanks for laying out your Morning Basket. I'd love to hear more about the handicrafts and artists/composer studies. Also, I'd like to know the process you go through when choosing what media comes into the home and what doesn't (as well as suggestions!). Thanks again for sharing your wealth of knowledge!

    1. I don't know that I'd call choosing media a process really. Not sure what other word to use though. Basically we just do our best to evaluate books, movies, music, etc. on an individual basis. Typically I find that older tends to be better, but that's not always the case - there are older things that aren't that valuable and there are plenty of newer things that are very well worth having. The primary questions I ask myself when we find a new book/movie/music or what have you are

      ::Is this something that I would want to keep in our family and be able to pass down to our grandchildren?

      ::Is it something that encourages us to think about things in a deep way and can point us to Truth?

      ::Is it something that we will come back to again and again over the years or is it a one time deal?

      ::Is it worth having for its own sake and not necessarily for a temporary purpose of filling a spot in some curriculum or other?

      For handicrafts I have been asking myself whether or not the ones I want us to learn will cultivate skills that can be used at any point in our lives or if they are just a one time deal? We recently went to JoAnne Fabrics and the girls wanted every little paint-the-horse-or-ballerina kit they laid eyes on. I don't like to do something once and then end up with a useless (and typically not very pretty) something-or-other to display. I would rather have their work be meaningful and require a bit more effort. It's not that I think one time projects are bad - we do plenty of them, but for the purpose of learning I want to focus on lasting skills.

      Artist and composer studies we don't sweat much. I choose one artist and one composer per term (so that makes 3 of each per year) and I find prints of the paintings and recordings of their music. We read a children's version of their life (Mike Venezia's books are GREAT for this - as well as Opal Wheeler), and then we just concentrate on enjoying the music and looking at the art. I have two picture frames for art prints that I change out with each new print that we study. We look at each one, talk about it, have them describe it to me and then we hang it up. It's not very in depth and it's not fancy. :)

      I hope that helps a little.

  2. God bless you! The mornings at your house sound like a taste of heaven.

    1. They are heavenly, in a sense. We do have our fair share of bickering, whining and complaining most days. But life is like that isn't it? The good comes through persevering in a godly way (when I can manage it!) through the ugly bits.


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