Together Time, Blue’s Clues and the Challenge Years

Long before I considered teaching my children from home our family had adopted the habit of morning time. We’d come together, open God’s word, pray, read, play and discover the world before separating into our individual routines. How did this begin? I didn’t have an epiphany as I read the scriptures. There was no correlation between how Jesus bonded with and taught the 12 that brought about our quaint routine. At the time, I had never heard of Pam Barnhill, Sarah Mackenzie, Charlotte Mason, or any other home school savant. I hadn’t even read a single book on child education. No, Bean, my then 3-year-old, came up with it after watching the highly regarded kids’ educational show called Blue’s Clues. Yes, the episode titled “Blue Takes You to School” started it all. Periwinkle, the cat, begins preschool and wants to know Blue’s favorite part of the day. The paw prints lead to circle time which is a section of the class that leads the students to a rug where they learn and share together. It even had its own song “Circle time, circle time, it can be anything as long as we’re together.”
As an enthusiastic new big brother, Bean wanted to share circle time with his sister. After breakfast, we’d plop her pudgy baby booty into her Bumbo and gather around on the floor. There, with help from me, Bean would re-enact an abridged version of his Sunday School Class. Singing with puppets and dolls, he would teach her that her senses

were God gifts and could be used to explore the world the Father had made. (Mostly with Moo Moos here and there and the like) The whole cute scene took only five minutes but bonded us for the day. Afterward, I would nurse the girl, Bean would snuggle beside us and we’d watch a show or listen to an audiobook together. I had no idea how this little habit would grow into the feast of fellowship it has become.541417081_7960714e0a_m (1)Homeschool grew more formal. Circle time became known as together time. Morning routine switched to the afternoon and back again. Still, together time was our bonding time. As the kids sprouted, we used curriculum like My Father’s World to guide our time and introduce us to missionaries of the past and unseen populations of the world. We added prayer baskets and dedicated time to hymns and celebration. Then teen life started and with it a new curriculum and a more rigid schedule. Classical Conversations’ Challenge program seemed like a perfect segway between family together time and learning to express oneself to one’s peers. So, Bean jumped in. But with Challenge A came a new load of data to digest and a greater need for a more focused individual learning time. At first, we mournfully buried together time. Wasn’t Bean absorbing more important information? The weekly planner was brimming with interesting ideas and hours of workload. Surely together time was just a burden and misplaced use of energy.
What I didn’t see, until the fighting started, was the sudden and scary segregation that canceling our routine would cause. A distance between siblings. Bitter angst on my end and a bit on my boys created walls. On my knees in desperation and tears, God brought a simple tune to my heart. “Circle time, circle time it can be anything as long as we’re together.” Duh! Thank the Lord for Blue’s Clues.

So, together time morphed and returned to its humble beginnings. It couldn’t last 2-3 hours every day. But 15 minutes was enough to reunite us and pump us up for harder labor. What does it look like now, you ask? Like the song says it can be anything. Recently it’s been a short Bible verse discussed with the five common topics. Following that is a short cursive lesson which review for Bean but new for Sprout. Sometimes we toss in a poem or hymn. More often than not we leave the languid family read aloud for evening time or even Audible it out on car drives. One blessing is combining subjects to broaden our conversation while limiting our time spent. With books like Prayers that Changed History by Tricia Goyer, we can lump Bible study, prayer time, history, geography, and character training into one 20 minute reading. We add in time whenever, wherever, and however, we can. If Bean is ahead in his week or family strain is getting palpable, we ramble through our time instead of blast through it. Discovering new material. Revisiting old friends. Drilling Latin or math facts. Playing a short game, “educational” or not. Singing and praying. It truly can be anything… as long as we’re together.
The teen years and Challenge years are not the time to drop out of routines. Family involvement is more crucial than ever. If you’ve never instituted a together learning time, do so! You won’t regret it. Will kids always joyfully sit beside you and read? Uh, nope. Do you have to make it ultra-academic? Again, nope. Will you get behind in the curriculum? Uh, possibly. But what’s more exhilarating than going down a relational rabbit trail filled with light bulb moments and laughter. Just remember it doesn’t have to take all morning. It’s the connection that’s vital. Trials become adventures only when they are traveled with friends and family. Together time is the perfect way to remind yourself and your kids that you’re a team and life is the best mission ever.
Gather your kiddos. Allow them to bring a coloring book and crayons, a sketchpad and pencil, maybe play dough, or even a puzzle. As long as their task is quiet and not distracting let them bring it along. Next, is grab your favorite book and your favorite snack to share. Set a timer for 15 minutes and go. When the buzzer sounds, put down your book. Hooray! You’ve finished your first together time. But you were in the middle of a chapter? Your kids want more? You don’t want to stop, either? Great! Everyone will be even more excited for tomorrow’s time. Remember this time can be molded and grown, no need to start out elaborately. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Keep it together. You can do this! Let me know how it goes.

Don’t know how to start? There are great blogs and podcasts out there to show you the way. Here’s a couple for you.   (Sarah Mackenzie and the Read Aloud Revival)    (Pam Barnhill and Your Morning Basket)

photo credit: sean dreilinger Family StoryMinute – (license)_MG_6491 via photopin (license)