YMB #73 Finding Truth in Every Subject: A Conversation with Brandy VencelPin
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Welcome to another episode of Your Morning Basket. You may remember that, early in episode 2, Pam introduced us to the “4 Rs” that make up a rich Morning Time: recitation, reading aloud, ritual, and relationship. (And if you happened to miss that one, be sure to check it out!)

In today’s interview, Pam talks with Brandy Vencel of Afterthoughts about the second of those Rs, reading aloud. They discuss the subtle ways that reading aloud during Morning Time can differ from the reading we may do with our children at other times during the day.

This interview is packed with great book recommendations and insightful conversation about how reading aloud can help shape our children’s imaginations, give them opportunities to grapple with big ideas, and enrich their learning by pairing content with captivating stories. So sit back and enjoy!

Links and resources from today’s show:

Start Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason's 20 PrinciplesPinStart Here: A Journey Through Charlotte Mason’s 20 PrinciplesCircle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your DayPinCircle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your DayThe Pilgrim's Progress (Dover Thrift Editions)PinThe Pilgrim’s Progress (Dover Thrift Editions)Minn of the MississippiPinMinn of the MississippiThe Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild PetsPinThe Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild PetsNature's Weather ForecastersPinNature’s Weather ForecastersThe Cruise of the Arctic StarPinThe Cruise of the Arctic StarSwallows & AmazonsPinSwallows & AmazonsThe King of the Golden CityPinThe King of the Golden CityThe Burgess Bird Book for Children (Dover Children's Classics)PinThe Burgess Bird Book for Children (Dover Children’s Classics)J.R.R. Tolkien 4-Book Boxed Set: The Hobbit and The Lord of the RingsPinJ.R.R. Tolkien 4-Book Boxed Set: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings


Pam: This is Your Morning Basket where we help you bring Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone, it’s Pam Barnhill, and welcome to episode 3 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. Today we’re talking about another one of those three ‘R’s of Morning Time, we’re talking about reading. And this can be a tricky subject because most homeschoolers read to their children in some way. So this begs the question how is reading aloud during Morning Time different from the reading aloud that you might do at other times of day with your family. To help me answer that question today, I have my good friend, Brandy Vencel. Brandy is someone who definitely spends a lot of time reading to her children. She follows the AmblesideOnline curriculum, she is a big proponent of the Charlotte Mason method of education, and she is here today to help us talk about how reading aloud in Morning Time looks a little bit different from the other reading that you might be doing, or how it could look a little bit different. A couple of the things that we do in today’s podcast that you can look forward to, we really talk about what Brandy’s Morning Time looks like, and then we talk about the reading in her Morning Time; what kinds of things does she read, for a family that spends a lot of their day reading how is the reading during Morning Time different and how does she make those choices.

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We also do a little comparison between the reading Brandy does in her Morning Time and the reading I do in my Morning Time because we’re not a family that does the Charlotte Mason method where we’re reading all day. Morning Time is actually quite a bit of our daily reading. And finally, we unpack a few truths, some good nuggets for you at the end. What I love about Brandy is typically about half way through a conversation that we have together she comes up with some great really insightful nugget and today was no exception. So we’re going to talk a little bit about how reading can fire the imagination and what that can do for a child. So it’s a great conversation, I’m so glad you’re here, and when we’re done we’ve got an awesome Basket Bonus for you at the end, so be sure to stick around for that.
Brandy Vencel blogs at Afterthoughts and she is also the author of Start Here, A Journey through Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles. She is a member of the AmblesideOnline Auxiliary and she has homeschooled her four children using the Charlotte Mason method for about the past 12 years now. Welcome, Brandy.

Brandy: Hi, how are you?

Pam: I’m good, how are you?

Brandy: Doing great.

Pam: I’m so happy that you have come on to join me today to talk to me a little bit about reading and Morning Time, but I do want to go ahead and set the record straight from the very beginning here. You do not do Morning Time in your house, do you?

Brandy: No, we do Circle Time – that’s the right name (just kidding).

Pam: I just want to set the record straight before we even start that during the podcast you and I may use the word Morning Time or we may use the term Circle Time but we’re talking about exactly the same practice.

Brandy: Yes. I just don’t want to have to do it in the morning if I don’t want to.

Pam: There you go. I just didn’t want to confuse anybody. They’re like, “OK, she’s calling it Circle Time!” Alright, go ahead and tell me a little bit about how did you get started doing your Circle Time and how has it evolved over the years?

Brandy: It was really a convergence of two things. So, the first year that I was homeschooling first grade. I do kindergarten but first grade was a big deal. That’s when the AmblesideOnline curriculum starts and all that, so the first year that my oldest was doing first grade I had a baby and so that year is all a blur and so the second year I just felt like really frazzled and going in many different directions, so when I had that baby I had three children under the age of four and I had this first grader. And I was reading Cindy Rollins’ blog and she was talking about Morning Time and she also referred to Circle Time. She called it Morning Time and she referred to the Preschoolers and Peace blog and so I read the Preschoolers and Peace blog and one of their emphases for Circle Time was this idea of making your preschoolers feel included in the day, having a spot for them. So I started with that emphasis. I felt like I was having trouble doing right by my oldest child and doing school and doing right by all these preschoolers and paying any attention to them or developing them in any way. And so for me it was just this perfect time to try to set aside time for all of us to be together as a family doing some things. But I really got the form of it, of the thing, from Cindy, because at that time she still had some really little ones. Her youngest child is not much older than my oldest child and so she was still very much talking about what do you do with a preschooler, that kind of thing. So, the ideas of things like putting in memory work or singing which is just very much inspired by her. But I guess the name Circle Time, we can blame that on Preschoolers and Peace.

Pam: And that’s Kendra Fletcher.

Brandy: Yes.

Pam: And she does have a book, and I think it’s Circle Time, the Best Part of Your Day, but we’ll put a link to that in the Show Notes. I think that’s still available. OK, well that’s very interesting. And I love that that was your main focus then, was how I do right by the six year old but also include all of these little guys in what we’re doing and do right by them as well. I love that that’s where it started. Now that your youngest is six…

Brandy: He starts first grade this year, so we’ve come full circle.

Pam: You have come full circle with your Circle Time. So how has your Circle Time evolved now? How does it look different now that you have a 12/13 year old down to a six year old?

Brandy: I was actually talking to someone about this the other day because when they’re little how I organized things was that it was, sort of, all inclusive and I might start dismissing (not really dismissing) but allowing little ones to wander off, based upon their ages. So I would start with the most important things, so Bible and prayer. I wanted everybody to be there. Sometimes with babies you can’t negotiate, but for the most part I wanted everyone to be there, but then after that, if you’re two or three and you wander off, that’s fine.

Pam: As long as you’re not destroying anything elsewhere.

Brandy: As long as you’re not hurting yourself or others we’re good. And so then I might do songs and memory work and my preschoolers, so 4/5 year olds might still like to hang out and do some of the singing and some of the reciting and that kind of thing but they might wander off when we’re doing reading. So I was dismissing or allowing people to leave as it got on and we lost their attention or that kind of thing. But now it’s almost reversed. Now it’s my oldest who leaves because we have this day set up where it’s everything that we do together but then there are some things that I’m combining the younger children for that he’s already done, he’s three years away from the next child so he’s been through all of the curriculum that she’s doing. It’s just funny how it works out, that now it’s the oldest that’s leaving instead of the youngest one that’s wandering off. So he will leave near the end when we’re doing something that he doesn’t really need to be present for and he’ll go start his day. He might start on Latin. So the only other thing that I would say that has changed would be then the content because we’ve all matured a lot. I don’t need to do picture books as much, that kind of thing, versus when they were really little, some of the readings were just for preschoolers, so we’ve had that change also, I guess, is the other big thing that I can think of over the years.

Pam: So, Circle Time in your house has been a tool that you’ve used that’s definitely evolved and changed as your children have evolved and changed and grown.

Brandy: Absolutely.

Pam: I guess they’re growing, not really evolving and changing. That would be the proper term. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about, I know you do a lot of reading throughout your school day because you do follow the AmblesideOnline curriculum with four children. Help me paint a picture here. I know that your oldest is doing his own Ambleside year and then your youngest guy, did you do Year 0 with him?

Brandy: Sort of. I wouldn’t say as officially as some people do it, just because I keep things really informal in those ages. We read a lot of those books but it wasn’t a real super organized thing where I had boxes to check or anything like that.

Pam: And then your two middle girls do they do a year together, is that what they’re doing, or do they do their own separate years?

Brandy: They have some things that are separate and some things that are combined.

Pam: OK

Brandy: They’re in the same year of math, so that’s one thing you’ve heard me say I combine with them. But this coming year they’re going to be combined for geography and a little bit of their science also. Every year I reexamine what I can combine people in and usually, if nothing else, it’s the two of them that are combined on some things.

Pam: Right. You have a lot of moving parts just in the non-Circle Time part of your school day.

Brandy: Yeah.

Pam: And a lot of reading that’s going on, either children who are reading to themselves individually and you’re still reading quite a bit too to some of your other children. So, what I want to talk to you about is what does the reading look like that you’re specifically doing in your Circle Time and how is that different from the reading that they’re doing for their Ambleside years at separate parts of the day?

Brandy: Well, I would say there is some cross-over. So I do, sometimes, use Circle Time as an opportunity to combine some things. With Ambleside, the main thing I like to keep separate is the history component, because it’s chronological, and I like the idea of them starting in year 1 and going all the way through a whole cycle of history chronologically. So that’s really my main motivation in keeping it separate for the most part, but things like geography or some of the natural history which would be science readings, that kind of thing, a lot of them do fine crossing over years so they might be a specific book that’s chosen for science for Ambleside might really be appropriate for anyone between second grade and fifth grade. And so, what I’ll do is pull some books from one person’s year that I know all three of my younger children at least have not done and I’ll put it into Circle Time and that will be something my oldest child can then skip out on, so I’ll put that as the last thing on that particular day. So, another big one that I do, is that Pilgrim’s Progress is assigned by Ambleside in the original language for 2nd and 3rd grade and instead of making that part of any particular child’s year I have just taken that piece out and we just read a little bit of it every week in Circle Time, and I’ve been doing that for seven years now. We took a little bit of a break for a short period of time to do a little bit of something else but we’re going back to it this year, so I don’t worry about staying on the Ambleside schedule with that, when we get to the end of Pilgrim’s Progress, which we have done before, then we just start back at the beginning because there’s always somebody who doesn’t really remember the beginning of it anyway.

Pam: So this is just the book that never ends.

Brandy: It really is. It’s a fantastic book, it really is. So I have these books that I’ve taken out of the curriculum, then it makes all of the children’s days lighter. For instance, if I’m taking a science book out and putting it into Circle Time I’m not going to double-up on science that just counts as science for everyone. And if they miss the book for their year they’ll get it again later, I’m not that worried about it. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Pam: That makes perfect sense.

Brandy: OK. I do use Circle Time as a way to combine some subject areas of the Ambleside assignments. Ambleside uses a lot of pages; it has a very high page count. So practically getting all that done with four children can be a challenge so that’s sort of one way with dealing with it versus also I like to have group conversation about some of the books, so it also allows for that instead of all the books being read by themselves.

Pam: There are a couple of things I’m hearing here. First of all, I’m hearing that Ambleside, even if someone is not completely following Ambleside curriculum, going to that website and looking around at some of the selections they have is really a great place to find some ideas for what to read during Morning Time?

Brandy: Oh, I definitely think so. I can’t believe how great some of the books are, because so many of them when we started I had never even heard of the authors or the books or anything and it’s just been wonderful because most of them are really ideal for reading aloud which is Circle Time/Morning Time that’s usually a read aloud time for people, and so I think a lot of those books fit really well just for the goal of reading aloud.

Pam: OK, so the other thing I hear you saying is that Circle Time or Morning Time is a great place to combine children for one subject. So, it’s a great place to do science reading for all of your children and that counts as everyone’s science. Or it’s a great place to do Pilgrim’s Progress, which in my house I would label as religious reading, and do it for all of your children, everybody would be enjoying it together.

Brandy: Yeah. In fact, you saying religious reading sort of rang a bell for me. Ambleside also has some church history readings and sometimes I’ve used their assignments and sometimes I’ve chosen things myself but that’s another thing I’ve pulled out and so I’ve just made sure all the children have had church history readings every year but they’re not necessarily using the Ambleside schedule because we put it into Morning Time and we’re doing it altogether. The way they have it scheduled it does somewhat dovetail with the history cycle so my children are missing out on having it chronological along with their history but for me, it has just been worth it to have them all combined for that thing.

Pam: Right. And Charlotte Mason would say they can make those connections for themselves anyway. Right?

Brandy: Amen, sister!

Pam: Let’s get a sample. Can you give me a sample of a few things that, at any given time, you might be reading in your Morning Time?

Brandy: Sure, I actually printed out some of my old schedules so that I could remember what I’ve done over the years. Often I have church history, often I have Pilgrim’s Progress, I’ve done lots of science and geography also over the years. Poetry.

Pam: Can you give me samples of a couple of science or geography books you might have used?

Brandy: Sure. Last year we did Minn of the Mississippi by Holling C Holling, and I actually dismissed my youngest (he was a kindergartener, so he left the room for that) and I just did that with my girls at the end of Circle Time. We used that one, traced the turtles journey on the map. We did The Tarantula in My Purse.

Pam: Oh, that sounds interesting.

Brandy: It’s sort of animal story/bug story kinds of things. We did Nature’s Weather Forecasters, and I always hate telling people this, it’s a wonderful book on predicting the weather and understanding on a really basic level how weather works but when I bought it it was $4.00 and now they’re hundreds of dollars on Amazon last time I checked, so I always feel bad telling people about it because it’s a great book if you can ever find it but it’s just hard to find it inexpensively.

Pam: So that’s one to look for in thrift stores or at your library.

Brandy: Exactly, because if you find it, it really is great, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth paying $100 for. It was a great $5 investment for me. Those are some of our geography books. Holling C Holling is basic; we do a lot of him for geography in the younger years around here. And, actually this year we’re going to do geography with my three youngest children. In Morning Time we’re going to do Cruise of the Arctic Star which is California geography, because we’re in California I’m supposed to cover California history, California geography, at some point in their elementary school career, so we’re going to do that this year.

Pam: And Morning Time’s a great place to tuck that right in there.

Brandy: Exactly.

Pam: So we have your religious reading and church history, some science, and also some geography. What other kinds of things might you read during Morning Time?

Brandy: We’ve done poetry. One year I put in a literature selection for fun, so we did Swallows and Amazons one year. And they did love that also. It’s easy for me to get caught up in trying to make Circle Time count academically where there are these exact subjects that I’m covering and these boxes I can feel I checked and they made my student’s rest of their day lighter and all of that, but the year I added in Swallows and Amazons what I learned was that just taking time for that joy of enjoying a story together and getting really into it. It was so valuable and it really changed the mood about our school day. Not that it was horrible before but they were just super excited on the day we were reading Swallows and Amazons, and so I learned that it is worth it, or especially if you are having a hard time in Morning Time to add in a book. You can still discuss it but just to add in something that is for sheer joy, I think that has a lot of value too.

Pam: I was going to compare and contrast our Circle Time readings but they’re really not that different from each other. So, we also do a religious reading. Right now we’re reading a little book called, The King of the Golden City which is an allegory for children, and on any given day we might be reading a composer biography. We’re doing Burgess Bird Book this year. We’re working our way through that one.

Brandy: Ooh, I like that one.

Pam: Poetry, of course, we’re studying Robert Louis Stevenson all year long. And we’re reading some of the time life math books. I think they are also out of print but we’re reading some of those for mathematical fun, bring a little interesting side note to math and not just it be about the worksheet that you’re doing today or the concept that you’re covering.

Brandy: I hope you’re going to add a link to those because I have never heard of those before, that sounds really interesting.

Pam: Usually you can get them fairly inexpensively on Amazon. They’re just simple little cartoon drawings, the kids love them. The one we read this week was about a cat and she was helping these two other children in her building. So it’s the cartoon. Figure out whose garden plot was larger. They had two different shaped garden plots so they wanted to know who had the larger garden plot. Well, of course, by the time she got down there with her little square and squared them all off they were both exactly the same size.

Brandy: Interesting.

Pam: But it was just a fun little story. Artist biographies are something that we read, and then history. We read our history spine during Morning Time because I combine all three of my children for history, and then we also have a read aloud portion of Morning Time, where we take whatever the current family read aloud is and I read a chapter. And I know some families like to do that at bedtime, some families do it at different times of the day but I like to do it during Morning Time because that way if the rest of the day gets crazy or the schedule in the evening has a lot of things crammed into it, like church and choir and my daughter goes to dance in the evening times, things like that, then we know we’ve got in our read aloud chapter for the day.

Brandy: That’s a really good idea. Do you do that every day?

Pam: Every day except for Thursday. And we do Morning Time four days a week.

Brandy: We do, too!

Pam: So we do it three days, and if we do get to it in the evening that’s great, we just get an extra dose for the day. That way, it’ll get done and not get forgotten. So, what about you, do you tend to do read alouds at a different time of day?

Brandy: It’s become our tradition actually to do it at lunch.

Pam: Oh, ok.

Brandy: Sometimes I’ll even snack while I’m making lunch so that I can just read while everybody’s eating. So I read aloud every day at lunch, and if we have time in the evenings, then we will add another chapter, half a chapter or something, but it’s sort of the same kind of thing. Usually, we are eating lunch so we can do that but the rest of the day is a little more of a tossup depending on our schedule so it’s totally the same philosophy – this is a set time that we can do it. I actually started doing that because my youngest had behavior issues at lunch and I figured out he would behave if there was a story being told.

Pam: Excellent.

Brandy: So then it became this habit. With kids, if you do things one time then you’re a horrible person if you break the tradition, right?

Pam: Right.

Brandy: So once I did that once or twice I was pretty much stuck reading aloud at lunch for the rest of my entire life, I think.

Pam: So the year that you did Swallows and Amazons in Morning Time, did you still do your read aloud at lunch?

Brandy: I did. But if I remember right, we actually just had two read alouds going. We made Swallows and Amazons special for Circle Time and our other one was special for lunch and we just two going which we don’t always have multiples going but it worked fine at that time.

Pam: We’ve talked a little bit about different things you can read during Circle Time and what our reading looks like. So let’s talk a little bit about Living Books and why it’s important to choose a Living Book for your reading during Morning Time.

Brandy: I’ll be honest and say that I think the number one reason, probably, to use a Living Book would just be because children will pay more attention to them. Really. I really think they tend to be in more of a story form even if they’re a geography book or a science book or something. Charlotte Mason said that our minds, especially when we’re little, they’re made for story. In the middle of this education project that we’re trying to do and attention is so important and then trying to hold a child’s attention with something that is not very interesting is pretty much impossible, and so when we use living books as our tool, they almost demand attention, because they’re so good.

Pam: So, let’s give a couple of characteristics for any of our listeners who might not be familiar with the term “Living Book,” can you give me a couple of characteristics of what a living book is?

Brandy: First off, it’s not a text book. What I mean by that is usually it only has one author, maybe two. (Textbooks are usually written by a committee of people, a large group of people if you look there’s 5-50 authors, and so usually [Living Books] are written by one person and they’re usually written by someone who has a real passion in their field when we’re talking about science or geography and they’re usually in more of a literary form, so they’re written more like a story. I don’t want to completely limit it to story because it’s not like everything has to be written like a fiction novel. I’m thinking of Minn of the Mississippi is teaching a history of the Mississippi River and it’s also teaching the geography of the Mississippi River but it’s also the story of a turtle and the turtle’s development and habits and even some of the science behind what it is to be a turtle, and so you have all of these things together but it’s definitely a story of this particular turtle’s travels on the Mississippi. That’s a really good example of we’re teaching these facts, if you will, of what the Mississippi is like but it’s clothed in this story of this turtle and so it’s more memorable, it’s more interesting than if I just rattled off a lecture to my kids about the Mississippi River and how long it was.

Pam: Or read an encyclopedia entry.

Brandy: Exactly. And so I think with living books that’s why they hold the attention; just because the style is so much more intriguing and then usually there’s this focus on ideas over facts which I know we’re going to talk about some other time.

Pam: We can touch on it here because this was on my list of things.

Brandy: Oh it is. I’m not breaking the rules?

Pam: No, you’re not breaking the rules. I think it’s something that could be unpacked in a whole episode all by itself but let’s talk about that for a second. So you have a book like Minn of the Mississippi and there are a lot of facts in there about the Mississippi River and a lot of facts in there about turtles but it’s a living book so it has a story to it. What are the ideas? When I say to you, “Well Brandy, we’re going to not just focus on facts but we’re also going to focus on ideas.” What would that mean to you, what are those ideas?

Brandy: That’s a hard question. What are the ideas in Minn? I’ve never sat down and thought about it.

Pam: Well, any book. Is it perseverance?

Brandy: In Holling C Holling there’s a lot of ideas of the deep history that’s embedded in a place and so, as a child, I was definitely taught geography in a fact way (I’m not against facts, you can’t know anything without knowing facts) but I was taught facts in isolation of any idea, so I just had to memorize these facts that I didn’t really understand and rattle them off on a test and that was the end. So, I really don’t remember much about geography other than I had a great dislike for it. So, when you read Holling one of the things I really like about him is that he shows you that this place belongs to these people and these animals and that the place is the way it is because of how it is geographically but also that we change the geography. So, for instance, in Minn there’s this place there are these hills on the side of the river and probably if I was there, I would think, “Oh look, there’s hills” but actually they’re ancient Indian mounds and the Indians built these hills and they used to have these structures and stuff on them, and those are all gone now, but the hill itself is still there and so they actually change the geography of the place. So I feel like with Holling probably the big idea we get when we read any of his books is (except for maybe Seabird because that’s the ocean and as humans we don’t leave our mark on the ocean because it’s water, so that’s a little bit different) but as far as his others that take place on land there’s this definite idea of the interaction between the way the land is, but then the effect that people and animals and history (like wars and the passage of time and all of that) have upon the place so it’s like this interactive view of geography where it’s not completely stagnant, it’s something that changes and evolves, slowly but definitely changes over time. So I never really thought that about geography until I started reading Hollings children’s books.

Pam: You wouldn’t sit there and explain all of that to your children, just like you explained it to me? You would let them come to the realization of that idea through that text, right?

Brandy: Yes, probably my oldest, the others probably would not be able to articulate that they understand that geography’s impacted by a relationship between creatures and the land. I don’t think they could articulate that right now if you talk to any of them. But I do see that they have that understanding because of the kinds of questions they ask about places when we go there. And so if they’re seeing a new place some of the questions they ask are very interesting to me, or the observations they make, and I can totally see the influence. So it’s like those ideas become latent so they’re not super conscious of them but I do see that they’ve taken them in over time, especially my daughter that’s going into 5th grade because she’s read three or four of these kinds of geography books, three by Holling and then there’s another one we’ve read that’s very similar, and so I can just see that she observes things and wonders “Is it naturally like that or is there a reason why it’s like that? Did some creature make that or did man make something?” It’s interesting to watch her thinking about it. I see that she’s picked up the idea even though she couldn’t articulate it.

Pam: That’s really interesting and I think it does. We’re shaped by these stories that we read and they do enter our psyche and stay with us much longer than we ever realize.

Brandy: Oh, absolutely. Story’s really interesting. I feel like it has the ability to enter almost a different part of your brain. So I was thinking what was wrong with how I was taught geography as a child? And what I mean by ‘wrong’ was why didn’t I remember anything, why didn’t I like it, that kind of a thing? And I really think it’s because I was never able to imagine any of the places, so nothing ever entered my imagination. Nothing was compelling enough for me to want to do that but nothing was ever story-shaped enough for me to spontaneously imagine either. And so I’m thinking when we’re reading these geography sort of tales, because when the kids are older we might read books written by travelers like Lois and Clark, that kind of thing, but you can’t help but imagine this journey as you’re traveling with them in the story. And I think that’s just a much more powerful way to study something because it engages the imagination because you’re reading it as story versus when we’re just studying as facts (and there’s a definite place for facts; I do map drills with my kids at a different time of day so don’t get me wrong that facts aren’t important) but I just think when we engage the imagination it has a different effect on the memory and it has way more sticking power.

Pam: You’ve just said something that’s probably going to change the way we’re doing some things around here, because I think you’re exactly right. I think it gives everything a whole other layer when you combine those map drills that you’re doing. You said that you actually took Minn and mapped it out on the map and followed his trail down the Mississippi, so you were probably talking about a lot of facts and locations and water formations and things of that nature, and then you paired it with the story, and so that probably went a long way towards putting it in probably even separate areas of the brain. I don’t know if there’s any brain research on that but that makes sense to me.

Brandy: That would be actually interesting to try and look up the research and see.

Pam: Yeah, it really would.
Let’s talk a little bit about reading in Morning Time because one of the things I know you do with your Circle Time with some of your reading especially, is you do what you call ‘slow reading.’ You read small chunks and you read, let’s say, a chapter once a week or once every few days. So tell me a little bit about that practice, why would I want to read very small chunks to my children and spread a book out over a very long period of time?

Brandy: That’s a good question, and I’ll give an example what we’re doing right now. We started in May, it might have even been April, we’re reading through Tolkien. We read The Hobbit last year, so now we’re doing The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. And so we’re probably at the pace of a chapter a day for that book, because it’s summer time and that’s our read aloud but even then, I don’t think of that as actually being particularly slow but I’ve had people comment that it is because I suppose if you’re reading alone the temptation might be to go down the book in large chunks and stay up late and read it, especially if you like Tolkien. I feel like we’re actually journeying through middle earth, because now it’s July and we’ve been reading less than a book a month, and it’s just a different kind of relationship. I would never tell one of my children in their own reading that they needed to slow down on their free reading in their spare time but I feel like this lingering there’s more that we can absorb and it’s probably only valuable with really good books that have a lot of depth to them, is my guess, that we just have more time to assimilate the ideas and things that we’re learning before we move on to the next part. In the Sabbath, this idea of a pause between the readings and going slowly and kids process things in their spare time that they’ve learned throughout a school day, and so having it be in a digestible chunk; they didn’t eat the whole chicken I gave them a chicken leg. We’re giving them the portion size that they can handle because I do read more as they get older so it was less when they were younger and its more now but we’re still very slow compared to some people. I just really valuable that digestion time and the assimilating of the ideas and this idea that we’re looking for wisdom, we’re not just trying to consume a book and check it off our list. I do think wisdom takes time.

Pam: Giving them an opportunity to live with the chapter or the portion that you’ve read and mull it over and think about it and sleep on it, there are some brain processes that happen while we’re sleeping as well before they get to the next portion.

Brandy: Absolutely. What I have even found with Minn, they’re only three pages long, but the books are large, in terms of how big the pages are, they’re large, and the type was small and there was a lot on it and so I was assigning a chapter a week but I even broke that up over two days, for the most part, so on Monday we’d read half of a chapter and on Wednesday we’d the rest of a chapter we’d started on Monday. I found that they do remember more than if I was to do the whole chapter in one day. Now, I don’t think that’s necessary, for instance, for my child that’s going to be in 8th grade. He could do a whole chapter in a day, that’s totally fine, but at the younger ages I’ve just found that breaking it up like that, there’s just more that they retain, there’s more that they take in because it’s not as rushed. If you’ve ever tried to narrate something that you’ve read but it is really interesting. I’ve experimented myself, narrating to a voice memo on my iPod just to see what I could do. It is interesting, if I read a whole chapter then I can do an outline of the chapter but it’s not very detailed but if I do a section of a chapter then there’s a lot more detail to my narration. They’re pretty much equal in length so my narration is 3½ minutes of a chapter or 3½ minutes of a section of a chapter. It depends on how deeply you want to get into something, how slow we should or might want to read it, but it has been interesting for me as a personal experiment to see just how much more depth I get when I slow down.

Pam: OK, and so you require a narration from all of your Circle Time reading?

Brandy: Not all of it. I don’t narrate poetry. I have actually ebbed and flowed on Circle Time reading, but yes, geography they do a narration for sure, science they do a narration for sure. Some of the other things I’ve changed over the years. And I will say with certain of readings if they launched right into a conversation then depending on how the conversation went I might have considered the narration unnecessary; if there was so much of the content that came up in a conversation, at some point I don’t need to formally go through the narration because it happened organically.

Pam: They followed the same process by having the discussion that they wouldn’t have by narrating back to you.

Brandy: Right. But if they’re not very talkative after then I do have them narrate because I do find that things stick, and that is really a good test of how long a reading should be, is how much a child can narrate. So that’s a very personal thing, some kids can narrate a lot. I have one child that needs to be taught to not narrate so much because I don’t need to listen to her talk for 15 minutes after every book she reads. If you’re working with a 1st grader it’s going to be less than if you’re working with a 5th grader.

Pam: So, do you have a trick for doing narration with multiple students in a Circle Time setting?

Brandy: I use dice, actually, or one die, it depends on how many kids I have. I teach a group Plutarch sometimes and when I’ve done that I might have 6-8 kids then I just assign them all a number, roll the die. In my head, I don’t tell the kids what is what, I will just say who’s even and who’s odd and I’ll roll a doll and that separates them into two sides of the table so if the even side’s win then I decide who’s even and odd and roll again and then that’s who has to narrate, and I’ve found that because they all might have to narrate they all pay attention as if they’re going to narrate, so that’s why I do it by chosen by random chance, so that they’re all listening attentively. If they know they don’t have to narrate then a couple of them totally start doing something else unless they’re really, really into the book.

Pam: So at any given time any child at the table might be randomly chosen by the die to give a narration?

Brandy: Yes. It’s a lesson in fate.

Pam: And so at the end of that narration do you ask other children if they have anything to add or is that kind of it, everybody else is “We’re off the hook” and you move onto the next thing?

Brandy: It depends on how thorough it was. If there are big, huge gaping holes – I shouldn’t say that – I do often ask if anybody else has something to add regardless, but some narrations are so bad they demand for the holes to be filled.

Pam: I’m glad that’s not just my house.

Brandy: No, it’s not. It’s universal.

Pam: About how long does a Morning Time last in your house altogether?

Brandy: This year I’m shooting for an hour, and we’ll see, because that’s pretty long. We’ve gone back and forth. There was one year I tried to go over an hour because Cindy Rollins’ Morning Times were quite long near the end of the time where she was posting her plans online, and so I just got really motivated to make mine longer, but I think maybe my kids weren’t really old enough for that, and so that really bombed. This is my first year at trying an hour. 45 minutes is probably what’s average for us and works really well, and my main motivation for bumping it up to an hour is just because I have certain things that I would like to do, shared as a group, and I’ve found that if it’s not in Morning Time then it’s more likely to get dropped. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; it’s just easier for it to fall through the cracks. I’ll even tack something onto the end of Morning Time that’s not really in Morning Time because it might be me and one other child but it’s just this thing that I keep dropping and I’ve realized if I just put it on the Morning Time schedule and tell everyone else they can leave and I just keep this one child with me for an extra 10 minutes or something, it’s just more likely to happen. I think it’s because that’s one place where we are really consistent, and so I can tack my inconsistent stuff to that consistency, it’s like it rides on the coattails or something and it works better than other things.

Pam: That’s a great tip. I love that. Well, Brandy, do you ever find that with having a Morning Time that’s 45 minutes to an hour long and you’re doing all these different readings that you, kind of, lose the kids in there somewhere, or do you do something to break the readings up? I know they’re very interesting and engaging readings but we are talking about young kids here, so what do you do about those kinds of challenges?

Brandy: Absolutely I think we can lose interest just by doing a good thing for too long. So, first off that fits with the slow reading it’s just that they’re short also so we still have attention all the way to the end, but also, variety really helps so breaking up readings (and we don’t do lots and lots of readings, we might read a chapter from one book and a chapter from a different book and that’s probably about it for the reading part of Morning Time) but I try to put something else between those two readings, so for me, it has always been really convenient to have all of our song singing done during our memory work time because I keep the songs in the same binder that I keep the poems that we’re memorizing and the Scripture and all that stuff, so that was really convenient but singing in between the two chapters that we were reading was a great way to break things up when my two youngest children were really little. They were really little and I wasn’t requiring them to stay but they would sometimes want to stay, so that was one thing. And there’s been other times there was just something else there; if we were doing a composer study for the day and so we had a piece of music that we were going to listen to by Bach or something, I could put that in between the two chapters, but it was just something to make it not two chapters back to back. And so just that variety helps.

Pam: Always having something in between to stagger those readings, so you might read and then you might recite memory work together and then you might read and then you might sing a hymn or two.

Brandy: Right.

Pam: Some days we even have a third reading just depending on what’s going on, but I’m with you, as long as I put something else in between there, we’re they’re actually maybe getting to talk or move their mouth in some way (sing, talk, something like that) they’re able to handle the “be quiet and be attentive and read” at the same time.

Brandy: I will say, I used to think that the talking from narration and having a conversation would be enough, that’s what I used to think so I would think that I could put two readings back to back because in between, after the first reading, we would have the narration and conversation and that, I found, wasn’t enough. We really did need to do more like what you’re saying with a song or jumping up and down just like using a completely different part of our brain on a completely different subject. Another thing you and I have talked about is if they’re doing anything else while we’re doing the readings. I’ve met people that use putty but we’ve never done that but my little guy, he doesn’t do this as much anymore, but we would be sitting at a table and he would be sitting more on the floor next to the table playing with his cars or his train set or that kind of thing (not all of it). He tried to bring all of it one time and that was a bit too much. I hadn’t realized he outgrew that until I was thinking about it just now. As long as he was not making really loud car noises or something, he was able to keep his hands occupied, and he was totally present. He knew all the songs and poems, but sometimes it’s just like they need something else to do with their bodies while they’re thinking.

Pam: Something to do with their hands. We have that a lot as well. Well, Brandy, thank you so much for joining me today and talking to me about your Morning Time and reading during Morning Time. I just really appreciate all of your insights, this has been wonderful.

Brandy: Well, thanks for having me. It was fun, I always love talking to you, you know that.

Pam: Yes, thanks.
And for our Basket Bonus this week, I’m so excited because Brandy has compiled some of her favorite Morning Time reads for us. And these are readings that you can do in Morning Time in various subject areas. She’s made a list of her very favorite books for families to use and we’ve made a printable for you, so you can print this out and use it a library list or you can use it as a list to take to the bookstore to make your shopping or your book finding a little bit easier. So, head on over to EDSnapshots.com/YMB3 to download your booklist of Brandy’s favorites for your Basket Bonus.
And there you have it, episode 3 of Your Morning Basket, and I just want to thank you so much for listening in and joining me today and the comments that you leave on the blog and that you send via email are so encouraging. And I also want to thank you for leaving those ratings and reviews in iTunes. Those ratings and reviews really help us out to get the podcast out to more people. I want to give a special shout out to 1ColtsFamily and BoldTurquoise. These are two families who are doing Morning Time and listeners who stopped in to leave us lovely reviews on iTunes to let us know that we are doing a good job. So thank you so very much ladies for taking the time to do that. If you would like to leave a rating or review on iTunes you can head on over to the Show Notes for this episode. You can find those at EDSnapshots.com/YMB3, there you can find links to everything that Brandy and I talked about today, the Basket Bonus, and you can also find instructions for how to leave that rating or review. And we appreciate you guys so much. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks for another episode but until then keep seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in your homeschool.

Key Ideas about Reading in Morning Time

  • By reading living books aloud during Morning Time, we can combine multiple children of different ages together for some subjects.
  • Living books hold the attention of the reader/listener and present big ideas. Young children are able to absorb and think about those ideas, even before they are able to articulate them.
  • When a living book pairs a story with facts, it engages the imagination in a way that facts alone do not. This spark of the imagination is a powerful force for memory and learning

Find what you want to hear:

  • 3:54 how Brandy got started with Morning Time
  • 6:31 how Brandy’s Morning Time has evolved as her children have grown
  • 10:10 lightening the workload by using Morning Time to cover required readings for individual kids 15:22 specific books from Brandy’s Morning Time
  • 18:59 specific books from Pam’s Morning Time
  • 20:35 reading aloud at other times of the day
  • 23:06 why use living books
  • 26:07 introducing kids to big ideas (not just facts)
  • 30:21 how engaging the imagination facilitates learning
  • 32:35 slow reading
  • 37:08 Brandy’s thoughts on requiring a narration for all Morning Time readings
  • 38:31 narration in a group setting
  • 40:49 tacking inconsistent items onto Morning Time so that they get done
  • 41:47 breaking up Morning Time readings in order to maintain interest and attention
YMB #3 Reading in Morning Time: A Conversation with Brandy VencelPin

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