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“Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, as touching one thing, behold, there will I be in the midst of them.”D&C 6:32
All subjects can be divided into skill-based or content-based. Skill-based subjects are based on knowledge and skills acquired line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept. These subjects are based on individual growth and don’t usually benefit from learning in a group setting. These include math, reading, spelling, and even drawing. Content-based subjects lend themselves better to discussion and group-projects. Most subjects need a little of both: personal reading and contemplation, supplemented with regular discussion with friends and family.
As I’ve become more familiar and comfortable with Charlotte Mason’s methods I’ve moved toward a one-room schoolhouse (or family style) education. We combine for the content-based subjects the first hour of the day, then after a thirty minute play break we reconvene at the kitchen table for individual, skill-based subjects for the next hour or two. During this time children can delve deeper into subjects they’re interested in or answer questions they had during our reading. I keep a basket of books with topics related to ones we covered in family gather: biographies, historical fiction, and books about our special study topic (nature).
The purpose of learning subjects together as a family is three-fold: first, it is easier for me to teach multiple children at once. Second, younger children learn so much from listening to books a above their normal reading level, and they benefit from listening to their siblings’ narrations. Third, it gives them a “taste” of knowledge that leaves them hungry to learn more in their individual learning time. If it’s one of those difficult days and all we can get through is the one hour of Family Gather I feel confident knowing their hearts and minds were nourished that day.
I started gathering my family together when my oldest was four years old. It started small and simple: with a scripture, song, and poem. It has slowly grown to include more subjects, like Spanish, history, art, and music.
Gathering together as a family can happen anytime during the day; it can include as few as or as many subjects as you want and it can be any length of time that fits the needs of your family. Just make it a priority to do some meaningful learning together every day.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you gather your family together:
Keep it Simple
Keep subjects between 5-10 minutes for young children, and increase with age. Resist the urge to sermonize or over-explain, especially the scriptures. Your job is to provide the “feast” of ideas, it’s the Spirit’s job to teach. You do not need to supplement the scriptures with worksheets, coloring pages, or games. These take precious time away from your spiritual preparation and can detract from the simple truths being taught. Kids benefit from free, wholesome, and open-ended learning; like drawing their own picture of the story, acting it out, or a simple object lesson with things you have around the house.
Engage the Heart and Mind
This is a time for the whole soul to be fed on a daily basis. Incorporate subjects that develop the moral imagination and can be enjoyed by all ages: art, music, nature study, and poetry. You do not have to do every subject every day, however; picture and composer studies, Shakespeare, and nature object lessons only need to be studied one day a week.
I’ve just recently began incorporating living math ideas once a week into our Gather routine. I write a math or logic problem on our chalkboard the night before so when they wake up they have something to think about and solve together. Even better: ask your children to take turns creating their own story problems for their family to solve!
Engage the Hands
This practice may not be approved by Charlotte Mason herself, but it works wonders in my active, all-boy family. During Family Gather I have materials to keep their little hands busy and minds alert. I keep trays and baskets on the lower shelves of our bookshelves with quiet activities for them to choose from as I read.
- puzzles (we especially love geography/continent puzzles)
- drawing and other art materials
- pattern blocks
- clay or playdough
- knitting or crochet
Take turns narrating after each reading. There are a few different ways you can go about this. First, it’s most effective to start from youngest to oldest. Children under six years should not be required to narrate, although they are usually anxious to share what they learned! Allowing the youngest to narrate first allows them to share the main ideas and what they learned, and it challenges the older children to expound on what they younger ones have already shared. Another fun method, especially for scriptures, is for each person to ask one question and answer one question related to the reading that day. For example, one person starts by asking the person on their right a question, like: “why did you think Jesus taught in parables?” The person on the right then answers to the best of their ability, and turns to the person on their right and asks a question. You can read more about narration in this blog post.
Create a Ritual
Family relationships are held together by the “glue” of ritual. Rituals are more than routines; they have a spiritual and emotional significance that bind us together. Lighting candles, cuddling on the couch with a read-aloud, drinking hot chocolate, or reciting a family cheer are all ways to start or end your Gather time.
Learn by Heart
Recite scriptures and poetry when you gather. Learn by heart phrases that will change how you think and who you are. Younger children are encouraged by watching their parents and older siblings recite, and the phrases we have learned as a family have been used regularly to uplift, comfort and guide each other. Multiplication tables can also be recited and memorized as a family. Little ones are never required to participate, but they gain so much by watching and listening to their whole family learn together (hello, atmosphere!).
As my children have matured we’ve extended this concept to home-centered, community-supported learning by creating a group of families that gather together weekly. During this time children nurture friendships through unstructured play and book discussions, but you can add other subjects like Shakespeare and music.
My Favorite Gather Resources
These are the resources I feel are essential for stocking your Family Gather basket. I keep at least one book from each category in our basket to read during the week.
- Books by Steve Sheinkin: King George: What’s His Problem?, Which Way to the Wild, Wild West? and Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War
- This Country of Ours by H.A. Marshall Revised by Donna Jean Breckenridge
- The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer
- The Rainbow Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (or any of his other fairy books)
- Aesop’s Fables
- The D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and The D’Aulaire’s book of Norse Myths
- Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
- Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys by Jane Yolen
- Read Aloud Poems for Young People edited by Glorya Hale
- Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris
- Poetry for Kids: William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson
- Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou
Citizenship + Character
- The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett
- Everyday Graces: A Child’s Book of Manners by Karen Santorum
- Parables from Nature by Mrs. Alfred Gatty (we like the modern paraphrase available from ambleside.org)
- The Children’s Plutarch (Tales of the Greeks, and Tales of the Romans) by F.J. Gould
- Thornton Burgess books: The Burgess Bird Book for Children, The Burgess Animal Book for Children, and The Burgess Seashore Book for Children. (younger children)
- All the books by Edith Patch: Through Four Seasons, First Lessons in Nature Study, and many more! (all ages)
- Books by Dallas Lore Sharp: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter of the Year (age 10+)
- A Bunch of Wildflowers for the Children by Ida Prentice Whitcomb
- Trees Every Child Should Know by Julia Ellen Rogers
- Squirrels and Other Fur Bearers by John Burroughs
- Let’s Play Math by Denise Gaskins
- Geometry for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave
- Mathematicians are People, Too by Luetta and Wilbert Reimer
- Rotation schedule at amblesideonline.org
- Picture Study Aids by A Humble Place
- Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art by Michael Bird