YMB #63 Transitioning to Morning Time with Older Kids: A Conversation with Cindy West
What happens to your morning time as your kids get older? Does it change or do we stop requiring them to attend? Can your teen outgrow Morning Time? These are the questions that Cindy West from Our Journey Westward joins me to answer today.
In this episode of the podcast we talk about how the tone of Morning Time changes as your kids get older, how to get their buy in with what you are doing, and what a Morning Time with older kids can look like. Enjoy!
Thanks for sharing this Morning Time podcast:
Links and resources from today’s show:
- SPONSOR: Better Homeschool Mornings
- Cindy’s Website, Our Journey Westward
- NaturExplorers Series
- HSP 042 Cindy West: Training the Brain
- YMB #11 All About Nature Study: A Conversation with Cindy West
- YMB #61: Heather Woodie Morning Time with Teens
- Morning Time Plans
- 100 of the Best Picture Books for Middle School
- Six of Our Very Favorite Picture Book Authors
- 24 Wonderful Picture Books for Nature Study
- 100+ Science Picture Books to Help You Homeschool
- Using Picture Books to Teach Writing Styles
- Using Picture Books to Teach Voice in Writing
- Picture Books to Teach Grammar
- Multiplying Math Keyboard
- Mad Libs
Full Podcast Transcript
Pam: [00:03] Cindy West has homeschooled her three children for 18 years. Her 22 and 19 year olds are in college now, but she and her 12 year old are still having tons of fun together. They follow an eclectic style, but identify most with the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. Cindy is the author of the popular Nature Explorer series, which can be found on her website at ourjourneywestward.com. Nature explorer books are a unique blend of in-depth science and living literature that bring families closer to nature. Cindy, welcome to the podcast.
Pam: [01:06] I am so excited because No Sweat Nature Study is my kind of nature study, right there. Well, I wanted to have you on today because I thought you were uniquely suited to talk about this particular thing that we’re going to be talking about. This idea that as our kids grow out of the elementary ages, we kind of have to shift our expectations as homeschool moms for anything in our homeschool for morning time, you know, things of that nature. The way we’ve been doing something with our elementary kids is not necessarily the way we need to do things with our middle school kids. And so I think, as moms, sometimes it’s hard to see this when we’re in the thick of it. So just start a little bit by telling me about how it was as your kids got a little older, did you wake up one day and realize, “Whoa, wait a second. These kids have gotten bigger, I need to change things up a little bit.”
Cindy: [02:12] That is a really great question. So I would say for me it was a little bit more of a natural progression. So each summer as I reevaluated what we would be doing for the upcoming school year, just like curriculum grew for us, so did morning time. I probably should tell you that in the thick of homeschooling, I had two older kids who were three and a half years apart, which made them three years apart in school, and then a younger one who is six and a half years younger than the youngest older kid. So, I almost had this group of two older kids, and then the little guy who just was either joining in before he was school-age or kind of a completely different, need-based group, I guess. That’s not a great way to put that, but while he joined us, no matter what we were doing, it was very typical that I was doing things with the older kids and then some specific things with him as well. Does that make sense?
Pam: [03:25] Yeah. So when you were doing morning time, there was probably a pretty good chance that a lot of what you were doing was kind of above his level and he was just kind of following along and getting what he could and then later you might do a little something for him.
Cindy: [03:38] Absolutely. That’s, yeah, exactly. And so as I was, you know, like I said, through the summer, I would just think about, “What am I going to do for morning time now?” And it was just this gentle growth of now they’re ready for this, now they’re ready for this. And I really did, even though they were three and a half or three years in school apart, those older kids, I really did keep them almost always completely together in what we did.
Pam: [04:07] Okay. So, but this was a very conscious thought process that you were going through as you sat down and planned out your school year, it was like, “Okay, we’re here and now we kind of need to push it along a little bit to the next level. I need to raise the bar.” And I hate to use raise the bar because I think morning time can be quality and excellent for a five-year-old. So it’s not like it’s going to be a better morning time, but it’s a different, it’s a different morning time because if you don’t quote-unquote raise that bar and hold their interests, then, you know, they feel like it’s kind of babyish, right?
Cindy: [04:49] Right. For instance, if we just talk about Bible memory which is one of the things we’ve always included, it went from simple verses, to more difficult verses, to small chunks, to either entire chapters or parts of chapters that we were memorizing so that, you know, when you’re talking about raising the bar, we’re still doing so many of the things that are similar. We’re just taking them and bumping them up a notch in their level.
Pam: [05:20] Okay. Yeah, that is such a good example. I absolutely love that because you’re not going to do necessarily entire passages, long passages or chapters with younger kids, but it’s perfectly appropriate for older kids.
Pam: [05:38] What is the value for those kids who are just starting to, let’s call it age out for lack of a better word, some of those typical morning time activities and you know, picture books are so much fun to use in morning time and they reach a certain age where their attitude changes towards picture books, whether it needs to or not. I mean there’s a, we could make an argument for using picture books with older kids. What do you think is some of their greatest needs that we can still meet with morning time?
Cindy: [06:11] Okay. So I heard a couple of questions in there, really. I’m going to try to remember them both. The first, what I think the value of keeping older kids in morning time is, for me, for our family, it was a time of we all get together, we all kind of get on the same page, we worship together, we read the word together and we do some start to our day together. And that was very, very valuable. It’s almost like, the way that we built our daily family culture and homeschooling. And so that is a huge, huge value. And during that time, you know, like I’ve said many times so far, that was a bible time for us among many other things, which we can certainly talk about. But when you’re doing “bible-y” kinds of things with kids, you know, it really opens up really great discussions or questions or somebody says, you know, I just struggled with this problem. And so you’ve got this family behind you in talking about that kind of thing. So the value is, whether you’re doing Bible study or not doing Bible study during that time, the value is, you’re really connecting everybody on this point that, “Hey, we’re a family and we want to start our day well together. And I understand that you, my sweet oldest one are aging out of some of this and that’s totally okay. But what I would like you to do is join us on the front end for some of the things that are going to be acceptable to everybody.” And that, you know, like we would tell, we would often tell people who have big kids and then toddlers, we would say, “Alright, start everybody off and then let the toddlers wander off.” Well, it’s kind of the same flip-flopped. Do what you can with everybody and then let the big kids wander off when things don’t necessarily fit them.
Pam: [09:02] Yeah. So, one of the things I wanted to ask you about were those picture books. Because, you know, when you look at the morning time plans, like the ones we have available on our website and that we’ve used so many of your products in, when moms ask me about those plans and what ages are they good for, you know, we tell people, everybody wants a number. And so we tell people, “Okay, they’re great for kindergarten through sixth grade.” But what I’ve started telling moms are, well look, you know, you’re listening to Bach and Beethoven, you’re reading this, you know, The Charge of the Light Brigade and this wonderful Tennyson poetry or Emily Dickinson poetry. You’re looking at this beautiful artwork. I mean this is good for grownups right here. But I think the place where the kids get hung up and by kids, I mean the older kids especially, are the fact that we put picture books in there for everything. And so, you know, that’s what I tell the Mommas is, “You know, other than these picture books here, these plans are, are really good for somebody from six to 106.” So did you use picture books with your older kids and how did they react to them?
Cindy: [10:26] Well, I can’t believe, I forgot that you asked me about picture books because that’s actually one of my very favorite topics to talk about of all times. But, so I might be a little biased because I do use picture books with older kids all the time. Even if I’m teaching high schoolers at Church and there’s something pertinent that I want to tie into what we’re teaching, they are listening to a picture book; me reading aloud a picture book to them and they actually love it, usually. But, so with homeschool, I mean with morning time picture books have almost always followed us through and I would say, until my big kids actually got to be really big kids, and that was high school when one was a senior and one was a freshman. They were honestly, besides that Bible time, pretty much aged out completely of what our typical morning time had been. I say pretty much, there were always exceptions to that, but if we were doing something that was reading, it was typically something that had a lot more, depth to it that, that likely went along with the subject that we were studying. But picture books. Oh, go ahead.
Pam: [11:42] Well, I was just going to say, I mean I love picture books. I learned so much from picture books and I think, I think the problem is, you and I, we’re just beyond cool. I mean we, you know, we don’t care if it’s cool. We don’t care if it’s cool or not, you know, to read the picture books. We just, we just enjoy the picture books for what they are. But I do think kids go through that stage where, and if you’re a momma out there and you haven’t given a lot of thought to looking at a picture book lately, go do it, and be beyond cool. Because I mean there’s, they’re just so good and you can learn so much from them if you get your hands on a good quality book. And Jessica adds so many good quality books to our morning time plans.
Cindy: [12:26] Well, and the difference is, you’ve got picture books that are meant for little people and then you have good quality picture books. And so what I would say, you know, when you’re talking about your plans are really just incorporating picture books into morning time in general is choose books that are worthy of older kids. And, you know, that’s, that’s really not that hard to do. Jessica, like you said, is picking good books, especially as you guys start creating some things for older kids. I have tons of lists of books that are appropriate for, picture books that are appropriate for middle schoolers and even high schoolers on my website. So, you know, the value to me in picture books is that they can do some really good learning fast and you don’t have to spend three weeks reading a chapter book. And I think chapter books are very, very great things to add into morning time as well. But a picture book, let’s say you wanted to, you know that, that 14 year old who is learning to drive some new hormones is having a hard time with a certain character quality. You pull out a good picture book, even something as simple as let’s say, The Little Red Hen and you’re just like, “You guys, we’re all gonna read this together today. I know it seems Babyish, but I’ve got a point to this.” And you read it and then you start talking about, okay, let’s, let’s think about character qualities. So what’s a character quality that was really awesome in this book and one that was maybe really stinky. And, so picture books for me are, and were a great way for me to gently guide those hormonal teenagers into understanding the clear picture of how their behavior has been kind of stinky without me having to say, listen, your behavior’s been kind of stinky. And those picture books could teach it for me.
Pam: [14:19] Yeah. And so before we move on to some alternate suggestions, because we have some moms out there who are going to say, “Excuse me, this is great but, you know, this never gonna work with my kids.” I think it’s easier when there are younger children in the house. You know, and then have the teenager read the picture book. Have them be the one that reads to everybody. But, but you know, Center for Lit, with their, Adam Andrews and Missy Andrews with their Teaching the Classics program. I mean, they use picture books every year to introduce like, the elements of the story to high schoolers before they dive off and read things like Dickens and Shakespeare and all of that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I think, I think there’s a place for them, but if they’re starting to feel like they’re too cool for this stuff, how do we respect their feelings?
Cindy: [15:20] That’s where chapter books are going to come in, but you know what, we don’t necessarily have to be reading aloud during morning time and that’s the beauty of morning time. You do what you want that works for the particular group that you have at the time, whether you’re doing ages that are, you know, 10 years span or a much smaller span or you even break it into two different spans to meet both groups. I definitely have always tried to respect my kids’ wishes. Now, you know, you don’t always get what you want, but if you’ve got a good case for why you don’t want to be part of the picture book reading time again, that’s where I might say, “Hey, we’ll do that at the end. Thanks for joining us for the rest of this, see you later.” Or what about if I do picture books at the beginning with the younger ones, then we all get together for the other morning time activities. The younger ones go off and then we sit and we do a chapter of a chapter book together. There are lots of different ways that you could kind of respect their feelings that, that some of the things that you’re doing, you know, we’re using picture books, but this could really be any activity that seems babyish to them. There’s lots of different ways to organize it. But respecting their feelings is going to mean that they respect morning time more because mutual respect is, you know, it’s a good thing.
Pam: [16:50] Yeah. And I just wanted to point out, a lot of times we use picture books in the morning time to convey information. So like if we’re looking at a painting by Van Gogh, we might also read a picture book about Van Gogh to learn a little bit about his life and how it affected his artistic style or this painting or something of that nature. And if you’ve got a kid who feels like they’re too cool for the picture book, you can find a lot of this stuff, same information, usually in a short YouTube video. As my kids have gotten older, they love, you know, we just find a good, appropriate YouTube video that I can use with them or simply by doing a little research on an appropriate website with just nonfiction reading. So to them it seems a little more palatable to get the information that way than it was. All I’m trying to do is convey this information. You know, it doesn’t, picture books are a great way to do it, especially when they’re little, but it doesn’t have to be done that way. So we could use these alternatives as well.
Cindy: [18:08] Well, you know, like I mentioned earlier, I really feel like that whole family culture that we were able to create when all three of my kids were homeschooling was just a precious time. You know, we were at church just yesterday and the preacher mentioned teenagers and their awful hormones and how, you know, they just give parents so much trouble. And I thought, you know, I didn’t, of course there were hormonal problems and there were this, that, and the other, but I really, really attribute homeschooling in general, but that culture of morning time that was just so sweet and so precious and we weren’t just doing character based kinds of things and deep discussions. It was a lot of other things. But we were building this relationship that was so close knit that we were able to handle some of those typical teenager problems. You know what I mean?
Cindy: [19:12] I think that’s part of the value in it. You’re, you’re just building such close relationships with your kids. And of course, you know, we talk all the time about morning time being this great moment to add truth, beauty and goodness into your homeschool that you might otherwise skip. So just in general to continue to incorporate older kids, if you could talk to them and say, “Hey, listen, there are certain things we need to get done in a day and morning time allows us to do that more efficiently. So I need you to be okay with morning time so that you can move on to the other things you need to do faster. And we get our school day finished earlier.” Um, you say words like that and they’re on board.
Pam: [19:59] Yeah, yeah. They want to see some of the efficiency in it. Because they do often get into that mindset and I wanted to point out, so, you know, my kids are now 14, 12 and nine and so we’re very much, all of mine are moving lockstep together. But they’re very much getting into that age group or even the nine year old is kind of too cool for school and our morning time is not all like sunshine, roses and Kumbaya. It’s more like, sarcasm and jokes and you know, those little inside jokes and you know, they very much have my personality and so we’re playing off of each other. Our family culture, we have these wonderful things in there that we share, but it’s not, you know, always tea time with our pinkies up. You know, we’re, we’re being goofy, we’re, you know, doing our inside jokes. There’s a fine veneer of sarcasm that just covers everything that we’re doing. We’re enjoying the heck out of each other in our own way.
New Speaker: [21:15] Well, I don’t remember if it was the last time you and I talked, but we talked about brain training once and that was a time that I specifically built in fun, game-like activities that woke my kid’s brains up in the morning and actually still do that. Eli and I still do that on a daily basis. And it’s because I wanted to really, really infuse some fun and some laughter and just a happy start, joyful start to our school day among all the other benefits that games that wake up your brain do for us. But yeah, I mean that was the whole purpose. I didn’t want it to be all Kumbaya either. And a lot of times when the Kumbaya was going south, putting a game or something fun, I know that you use Madlibs sometimes, we do as well, doing something fun that get’s everybody goofy and laughing is a really good way to especially help those older kids know, “alright, this isn’t all horrible.”
Pam: [22:18] Yeah. I was actually talking to some moms this past weekend and they were starting morning time. And so I think too, this is almost, I won’t say a completely different challenge, but it is different related to what we’re talking about. If you’re a mom who’s starting morning time for the very first time or you’re thinking about doing morning time and you’re thinking, oh, this sounds great, but I have like this 10 or 11 year old boy and that’s my oldest right there and the little ones are going to follow him, you know. You so very much have got to, right out of the gate, pick something that is going to hook that kid and it might not be him singing and it’s probably not going to be Shakespeare. You’ve got to find the thing that’s going to get that 10 year old ringleader on board with what it is you’re doing pretty quickly or else the whole thing’s going to go south. And it might not be the thing that you want to do first. So I think morning time is just kind of, it’s so beneficial for families because it’s, you know, it really emphasizes the give and take that comes with being in a family. And I told that mom, I’m like, pick, you know, we always tell people start small and build slow with morning time. Start with one thing. And then add one other thing and then add one other thing. And I said, put one thing in for each of your kids first before you put in the first thing that you want to do.
Cindy: [23:52] That is great advice. And not only are you getting everybody kind of hooked with their own thing, you’re also planning a specific, I can’t think of the word I’m looking for. You’re doing things that are multi-age so that you’re not necessarily completely gearing it towards your older or your younger. You’re making sure that everybody’s got something that they enjoy that’s on their level and it becomes this wonderful mix of activities. And I want to say really quickly while we’re on that, so you can have the exact same activity and it can be really, really good for all the ages involved. And so I’ll give an example of a geography game. So we’ve got one called quick picks geography, it’s world geography. It’s a game. It’s recognizing, I think it’s different countries and their continents. Actually, it’s been a little while since we played it, but a five-year-old can play this game as can that 15 year old and the 15 year old is going to get just as much review, kind of practice in a fun format that the five-year-old will get in learning to recognize these different countries and the 15 year old will have to then learn, all right, how do I play this with a five-year-old so that I don’t just always win. And so you have, you know, not only are we practicing geography skills, we’re also practicing people skills. You could do that with anything like times tables. Your fourth grader, third grader is trying to memorize the multiplication tables. Well, why can’t your 14 year old who should have had those memorized many years ago practice with you once every week or two? You know, if everybody else is practicing the multiplication tables, you turn that into a fun flash card game when everybody’s involved. And that, I don’t remember what I just said, fourteen year old, is also refreshing multiplication skills. And who of us couldn’t stand to do that once in awhile?
Pam: [26:01] Yeah, I could, especially those sixes and sevens. Well, and you know, Sarah Mackenzie talks about, there is no better thing that teaches a teenager dying to self then helping to care for a younger child. And this is one of the things that we’re teaching in our homeschool. So I think, you know, we want to build like you said, that character in our homes. And so by bringing them along, by letting them know that one of their roles in morning time is, you know, to be the partner who’s playing the games with the younger kids and being a model for the younger kids, showing the younger kids, hey look, older brother, older sister really has their multiplication facts down. You know, so being that example and everything, I think it helps with those kinds of things.
Cindy: [26:56] You were talking a little bit earlier about artists study for instance. And if you were studying a particular artist, you might pull a picture book out and you would think, you know, ah, this older child doesn’t really want to do this picture book. That’s a great time to go, “Hey listen, I know you’re not going to want to read this picture book, so I’m going to put you in charge. You’re going to teach us about this artist that we’re going to see tomorrow. You can choose to read this picture book to us or you can go find a video for us or you can…” You know, put them in charge a little bit of some of that learning that they are going to be really down on. And then all the sudden they get to be the dole-er of information and they’re getting the information too, it’s just, they might not realize it.
Pam: [27:37] Very much so. And I think we just don’t allow the kids to check out. I mean, make them your partner in some of this to keep them from checking out and becoming less a part of the entire family. I know at this point in their development, they are seeking to identify who they are separate from the family unit and that’s so huge in what they’re doing at this time. So what about building, if you’re going to have them in morning time, you’re going to have them participate in morning time, this is very important, this is our family culture. We want you here. Is there some give and take in other parts of the day, do you think for them to separate a little bit?
Cindy: [28:24] Oh, for sure. And I was actually going to say, it became really, really important to me when they didn’t have to join into all of the morning time anymore, you know they joined into bits and pieces of it and then, and I did more age appropriate for the younger, that I had a very special time that I just spent with them too. And it actually became more important that they had their special time than even when they were little because that was, that was the time we could just dig deep. Sometimes it was reading a chapter book, sometimes it was going through a devotional together. Sometimes it was just playing a game with them. So part of that give and take is mom or teacher, whoever happens to be the teacher saying it’s going to be a little bit harder for me, but I am going to make sure that, you know, if morning time is the culture, but they’re ready to move on, that I’m also doing something special with them. And then on the flip side of that, I always sat down with them as they were eighth and above and said, “Hey, what would you like your school day to look like?” And so we have this conversation of what part do you think that you want to take in our family morning time, what do you, what do you foresee school looking like with these particular subjects that you need to take? And so I got them on board helping to plan their own schedule, which made them not only better independent learners, but all-in on the family because they had agreed to certain things, you know?
Cindy: [30:18] But you know, we always would reevaluate too because you know, just like you could pick a curriculum that’s not necessarily the bee’s knees once you get into it, you can also pick a schedule that’s not necessarily perfect. And so we would always reevaluate. And when I started to see stinky attitudes or just complete boredom, it was not a big deal to tweak what we were doing.
Pam: [30:42] Okay, well, let’s talk about that for just a second because you know, you’ve mentioned stinky attitudes a number of times. So if you’re doing everything you can as a mom, you know, so a few of the tips that we’ve given so far is, put something in there that they’re going to enjoy. Make sure you have something in there that everybody’s going to enjoy. Arrange the morning time in such a way that the teens do part of it for that family culture and then move on. Or enlist the teens in having them help you with the teaching or being the one who reads the book and make sure that they understand that their involvement in morning time is, it’s part of what you expect as a family, as part of the character. So we’ve given all these great tips, I’ve just kinda summarized them for you, but you wake up one morning and there’s that stinky attitude. You’ve done all of this stuff, but you’re face to face with this teenager today who is just, for whatever reason, because I think it’s so important to point out our kids are going to have bad days just like we’re going to have bad days. It doesn’t mean that, you know, it doesn’t mean we’re going to have bad days forever and ever, amen. But it’s going to happen from time to time. What do you do when you’re sitting across from that really bad attitude on any given morning?
Cindy: [31:57] Well, you know, at a certain point you evaluate whether morning time has run its course with that person and not because of their stinky attitude. But the stinky attitude is a symptom. And so, you know, I would say, for instance, by the time both of my older kids, by the time they were juniors, they had jobs that sometimes they were working really late at night. And for us, morning time was this morning culture and we got up and that’s how we started our day. And so it just sort of at that point became time that I thought, okay, they have officially moved on to different things and it’s okay, it’s okay. But you know, roll back a few years, there are definitely going to be days that are stinky attitudes. At those moments, that’s when later in the day I would have a conversation with that particular child and say, “Hey, what’s up? Are you not enjoying this anymore? Like, what’s the problem?” And just have a real conversation and you might find out that they hate it. They think it’s stupid. And you can say, “Okay, well what, what would you like to do to fix it? You know, what, what could we do?” And that could be a million different things that they give you and you’re just going to have to decide what is my give and take. So in my particular family, I would probably say, “You know what, it’s not a big deal. If you’re kind of done with this, and you don’t see a way that we can tweak morning time to really fit you in anymore that is not a big deal. I’m going to go ahead and do morning time with the younger kids or who, you know, whatever the grouping is, and you and I, I still want to have that moment of connection with you.” Well, first off, they’re not going to miss out on Bible time. Unless they’ve completely aged out. But otherwise, I really want to have a connection point with you. And it might not even be every day. Would you be okay with us doing this certain thing a few times a week or once a week? You know, as they aged, it’s easier to see what you’ve done in morning time you should have probably done by the time that they’re teenagers anyway. So it’s not like you’re going to totally lose them on all the things you were trying to accomplish at that point.
Pam: [34:20] Right. And I love your thing, you know, it might not be every day. Just because you’ve done morning time every day or most days in your homeschool that doesn’t, you know, being able to connect with that teen a few different times a week is better than not connecting with them at all. So, yeah.
Cindy: [34:38] Yeah. And I would say for us, a lot of times that looked like a special devotional or something, a deep book that we were reading together that was just for me and that child because, you know, we can’t read this with the others. It’s just, it’s just too much for them. And then all of a sudden you’re like, “Haha, I’m getting to do something that’s too much for everybody else, with mom, by myself”. And it took more time on my part. It definitely did, but it was worth it kind of time because again, what are we talking about? Ten or 20 extra minutes? Worth it in your day?
Pam: [35:14] Yeah. In the lifetime of, you know, kids who are eventually going to be leaving your home as, you know, I sit here with my fourteen year old thinking, I’ve got four years left, how did this happen? Which, you know, she’s not going to fall off the earth at 18 but still, it feels that way sometimes.
Pam: [35:34] Yeah. Yeah. Well Cindy, this was a fabulous conversation and thanks so much for coming on to talk to me about what those transitional years look like, why we still want to keep those big kids in. And I think that family culture is so important. And then what are some different things we can do as they feel like they’re getting just a little too big for this. So thank you so much. I appreciate it.
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