If you're a homeschooler you are probably already familiar with Pam Barnhill and her podcasts. Listening to her interviews with experienced homeschooling parents over the years has frequently provided the necessary encouragement and inspiration I needed to keep going with this challenging lifestyle and educational approach. One of her podcasts, Your Morning Basket, is about an approach to whole family learning that is really similar to our Calendar Class practice. So back in December when we were in Lebanon Pam invited me to share what we do with her listeners and the podcast is now available on her website. Hope you enjoy listening to the conversation!
At some point this month an interview I gave to Pam Barnhill for her podcast "Your Morning Basket" will be published, so I've prepared this blog post for any of her listeners interested in seeing what a customized calendar class curriculum could look like for a Catholic family like our's. We're always tweaking it but most of what is in the plan below stays the same from year to year. As always, if you have any questions we'd love to hear from you. Just send us a message on our FB page (the Kirkos Caravan) or an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Assaf Family’s Calendar Class Overview
Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Seasonally, Annually
*Daily Calendar Class:
P.E.S.C.L. Sequence four times a day= Pray, Eat, Study, Clean, Leisure
at breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner
Pray: morning offering noting the date, saint, and weather of the day
Eat: Breakfast and vitamins
Study: Calendar Class then independent studies with journals
-Readings on the Four Cycles of Life of the day; entries in our perpetual and school journals
Resources: catholicculture.org, Aleteia.org, Saint of the Day books, New Teacher’s Almanack, Chamber’s Book of Days, Farmer’s Almanac, History of the Day apps, 365 Nature book, Nature Connection book
-Copy-memory work recitation and cursive practice
-Lessons of the day, independent studies with journal entries
Clean: Kitchen and finish anything left over from the morning routine, household chores
Leisure: Play outdoors, move, stretch, tone, juggle
Pray: Angelus or Regina Caeli
Study: Story Studies
Leisure: nap or quiet time
Pray: Divine Mercy Prayer
Eat: Tea Time healthy snack or treat
Study: Arts Appreciation with Morning Time plans and other selected resources for art study, history, geography, anthropology, nature study (indoors or out), music appreciation, poetry, instrument and voice practice, theater and circus skills practice, educational game or documentary
Leisure: play dates or outings
Pray: Gratitude and Arabic meal graces
Study: Kitchen Classroom--cooking, cleaning, decoration, manners, conversation about the day
Clean: kitchen, bedrooms, household chores, get ready for bed
Leisure: Family Hearth Ritual prayers, hymns, family formation readings, coloring or drawing, tuck-in ritual
*The first of the week (Sundays), month, season, and year--
special celebrations with family and friends including:
-Themed graces, litany, memory prayers and hymns
-Themed food and drink
-Themed decorations, crafts, art, music
-Readings and conversation about the themes and plans for that particular time period (year, season, month..) and the Four Cycles of Life in it, with journal entries and recitations
-Homesteading activity, seasonal tree/wreath/garland decoration, and nature study walk
-Bonfire with Storytelling Theater, themed games, and a sing-a-long
Monthly Themes Through the Year
Winter: Sages, Death, Christmas, Carnival, memory work Sage stories, songs, and poems, snow and ice sports, baking, fire-making
December: Winter Solstice, St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, Advent and Christmas, Month of the Incarnation, memory work carols, Christmas basket-making
January: New Year’s Eve Play about the Four Cycles of Life and Time, Annual Agenda, Month of the Holy Name of Jesus, St. Anthony, St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Holy Family, Cordelia and Tony’s birthdays, memory work Solo per Oggi
February: Love, Month of the Holy Family, St. Valentine, St. Marun, Valentina’s birthday, memory work 1 Corinthians 13
Spring: Lent and Easter, Apprentices, Growth, field trips in Rome, Italy, Lebanon, Europe , memory work stories, songs, and poems of apprentices, planting, hiking, lawn games, kite flying, animal husbandry, Spring cleaning of the home, body, garden, soul
March: Spring Equinox and World Storytelling Day, Month of St. Joseph, St. Francesca Romana, St. Patrick, St. Rafqa, St. Dominic Savio, Lebanese Mother’s Day, memory work Lorica of St. Patrick, Easter basket-making
April: Easter, Month of the Holy Spirit, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Mark, memory work Easter hymns
May: Marian and May traditions, Month of Mary, St Philip Neri, Maya’s birthday, U.S. Mother’s Day, memory work Marian hymns and May themed poems
Summer: Missionaries, Flourishing, Ordinary Time, field trips in Michigan and the U.S., memory work songs, stories, and poems about adulthood/vocations, camping, tending garden and animals, water sports
June: Summer Solstice, Month of the Sacred Heart, Corpus Christi, St. John the Baptist’s nativity, Sts. Peter and Paul, Father’s Day, memory work folk songs
July: American History and Folk Culture, Month of the Most Precious Blood, Visitation, memory work patriotic songs, poems, and speeches
August: Michigan History, Month of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, memory work Michigan poems, songs, and stories
Autumn: Decline, Teachers, Harvest, Ordinary Time, memory work songs, stories, and poems about Teachers, harvesting, cross country, hiking
September: Autumn Equinox, St. Michael, Month of the Holy Cross, memory work St. Michael the Archangel prayer
October: Month of the Holy Rosary and the Holy Angels, All Saints party, Souls, Spirits, and the Supernatural, St. Francis, Joseph and Andrea’s birthdays, memory work ghost stories
November: Month of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, Thanksgiving and Gratitude, St. Andrew, memory work Thanksgiving recitations
Did you know that March used to be the first month of the Roman calendar? It really makes more sense to begin the new year with the Spring Equinox in March rather than in the bleak midwinter of January! The month of March was named after the Roman god of war, Mars, because it was the month when wars were resumed after pausing for winter-time hibernation. Later on the month of February was added as a time of purification to prepare for the undertakings planned for the new year and then January was added as a month to honor the Roman god of endings and beginnings, the two-headed Janus.
So to celebrate the old Roman new year, I'm posting my simplified and more organized plan for our homeschool to keep me accountable for the new resolutions I've made!
Our School and Family Culture Formation Plan
Summarized categories of our studies
*A home supplied with holiness, great books, art, music, food, friends, nature nearby
*Calendars: annual wall calendar, annual agenda calendar book, perpetual calendar books
*Binder for reference material and notebooking subjects, quality art and writing supplies, loose paper and journals, computer/ipad and speakers
Seasonal Studies’ Interdisciplinary Methodologies
*Homesteading with a focus on growing, preserving, cooking, and serving healthy, gourmet food presented beautifully (culinary arts)
*Storytelling Theater with a focus on presenting creative narrations of our studies of the four cycles of life in each month and each season
*Combining Homesteading/Culinary Arts and Storytelling Theater through our catering of monthly-themed Dinner Theater and the seasonal Four Feasts events at our homes in Remus and in Rome including our own Kitchen Band parade and dabke performance/instruction for dinner guests
*Book-making with our own original stories and illustrations based on our studies; Our family cookbook; Our Book of Days: Calendar Class Curriculum ; Four Season Family: A Guidebook for Celebrating the Four Cycles of Life and Shaping Your Unique Family Culture
*Gift basket making with our own artwork, crafts, books, calligraphy greeting cards, preserved food or drink, and CDs with our own recordings of stories and songs
Here's what we're up to this month! I'll report back to you via video at the end of the month to let you know how it all went and what surprises and providential learning opportunities popped up.
March Studies 2018
Overall Themes: Lent, Spring
Liturgical Cycle: Lent
Sanctoral Cycle: Francesca Romana, Rafqa, Patrick, Joseph
Human Cycle: Apprentices (ages 0-25)
Natural Cycle: the beginning of Spring at the Equinox
Events and Celebrations
*Confession and Divine Mercy Chaplet at Santo Spirito Church
*Pilgrimage to Santa Francesca Romana casa and basilica on the 9th
*St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th
*Parish feast for fathers and mothers on the 18th
*St. Joseph’s Table on the 19th (party at monastery)
*Spring Feast on the Spring Equinox and World Storytelling Day on the 20th
*Lenten Plan: fasting, alms, prayer, confession and spiritual direction, Friday stations of the cross, decorating eggs, making baskets, pretzels, whole wheat bread, My Path to Heaven Coloring Book, research origin of stations and Holy Week traditions, make Easter greeting cards
*Art Project: watercolor still life of flower arrangements
*Homesteading/Nature Study: eggs, seeds, gardening, maple syrup
*Storytelling Theater: Spring Feast play
Interdisciplinary Place Studies: Rome
*Italian, English, and Arabic proverb or poem of kids’ choice related to themes
*Wisdom quote: “The relationship between apprentice and mentor is one of the most beautiful and most sacred relationships. In sharing his wisdom with his apprentice, the mentor discovers even more wisdom to share.” ― Charbel Tadros
*Hymn: The Glory of these Forty Days
*Song: Ci vuole fiore
*Lullaby: little chicken legs/Coscine di pollo
*Stories and Other Readings: Little House books, St. Joseph, St. Patrick, movie about St. Rafqa, The Sword and the Stone, Persephone, Howard Pyle stories (March birthday), Before I was Me, Le Quattro Stagione, CM Motto explained for children by Dawn Garrett, Lent for Children
*For parents: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and Kids, Parenting with Grace
Resources: Catholicculture.org, oldfarmersalmanac.org, The Teacher’s New Almanack, Lent for Children by Jennifer Gregory Miller, Lent and Catholic Solemnities Morning Time plans by Pam Barnhill
February used to be one of the more depressing months for me, but now that we've established these annual traditions to celebrate in our homeschool and family life it's actually become one of my favorites. It might also have something to do with the fact that February is definitely the first month of Spring in Rome, with the almond trees in full bloom around the feast of St. Valentine (which is why one of his symbols in the almond tree). Despite the daily suffering of Spring allergies that those blossoms bring, February has become a month to celebrate hope, renewal, and love.
February 2018 Studies
February Events: Groundhog Day (2), Candlemas (2), Abraham Lincoln’s and Julia Nelson’s birthdays (12th), Feast of St. Valentine’s Eve/Martedi Grasso (13), Pilgrimage to his relics at Santa Maria in Cosmedin (14), Valentina’s Birthday (21), Carnevale 1-13 February, Lent from 14 February on, President’s Day (19)
Themes and Topics for Readings: St. Valentine, Valentine’s Day history and traditions, Carnival, Lent, The Four LOVES- storge, philia, eros, agape
Place Studies (Integrated Studies--Geography, History, Art, Music, Natural Science, Language, Anthropology, Philosophy, Theology, etc): ROME
Special Saints: St. Valentine and Cyril and Methodius (14th), St. Marun (9th)
Prayer/Hymn: Ubi Caritas
Memory Work: memorize a poem you like about love or write your own for recitation at the February Feast on the 13th! Memorize U.S. Presidents for Presidents’ Day
Song: 1 Corinthians 13
Crafts/Activities: make Valentines cards/decorations using Sacred and immaculate hearts image from Trinita dei Monti gate, Carnevale costumes and events during Carnevale Romano
Copy Work: 1 Corinthians 13
1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV)13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
With February right around the corner, I'm looking today at the template for our monthly studies and the "minor feast" that kicks it all off (this name is a play on the "major feasts" of the liturgical calendar; our own major feasts are the ones that kick off the new season). Here is a collection of ideas for the celebration. Next, I'll share what our studies look like for the month of February.
Minor Feast Template
Date: Around the first of every month
Agenda: tea party with lessons and workshops in the liberal and common arts related to our monthly themes and the four cycles of life in the month and season
*Light the seasonal candle and say the monthly grace and prayers for milestones of family and friends that month, sing litany of special saints of the month
* Serve the special themed drink and treat of the month or season, or something related to our monthly studies
*Play the monthly memory work or themed music in the background, reveal the monthly collage-still life and any other art study of the month
*Reading of an overview of what we are studying that month in the four cycles of life-- liturgical calendar, special saints, history and biographies, nature lesson and study. Talk about any special themes, crafts, events, etc. of the month
*Recitation of monthly multilingual memory work: prayer, hymn, poem, quote/proverb, word, storytelling, dance lyrics
*Update family journals-Book of Days, Stories We Shared, Family History…
*Sharing of memories, traditions, stories, etc. associated with the month
*Do a craft or homesteading lesson
*Go for a monthly nature study stroll with journals
*Do a folk dance indoors or outdoors
Time has not been on my side so far in this new year, which brings me to today's posting of our January Studies, now already more than half way through the month! Well, you know what they say- "Better late than never!" This particular proverb has comforted me throughout my life! Happy New Year, friends, and may your days be long and prosperous.
2018 January Studies
Themes: Time- linear, cyclical, eternal, temporal...
Virtue: build up the habit of self-control through games and daily challenges, watch and discuss the Great Courses video on the science of self-control
Four Cycles of Life in the month
Liturgical: month dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus
Sanctoral: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Anthony of the desert, John Bosco
Human: Sages; Tony and Cordelia’s birthdays
Natural: orange and grapefruit harvest and related recipes, winter nature study, make fire cider and study other natural health remedies to boost the immune system
Readings: “All About Time”, “The Thread of Life”, myths of Janus, Christmastide tales, January in “The New Teacher’s Almanac”, New Year traditions from around the world in The Farmer’s Almanac, the life and work of St. John Bosco (video on formed.org)
Hymn: O Domine Deus (with related biography research of Mary, Queen of Scots)
Multilingual Copy-Memory Work:
The Jesus prayer
Only for Today prayer by St. John XXIII
Time quotes, proverbs, poems (kids’ choice)
Activities: Create the 2018 Family Annual Agenda, make Janus masks and a storytelling theater production of the Janus myth, make a clock cake with oranges, juggling video and practice with students
Field trips: the Janiculum hill and the cult of Janus
Saying farewell to December is always bittersweet as there are inevitably Christmastide plans left undone and crafts left unconquered. Fortunately December does come every year, so it's wise to plan for it now while the experiences (or lack thereof) are fresh in our minds. Here's our perpetual family traditions calendar for the month below. What about you?
The Four Cycles of Life in December
Liturgical: Advent and Christmastide
Sanctoral: St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, Mary the Expectant Mother
Human: Sages; family milestones; history of Christmas traditions
Natural: Nesting/Home and Hearth
Memory Work: Advent Hymns, Christmas carols, practice Christmas folk dances and the Paradise play
Advent Activities: Advent Angels, create tree ornaments and wreaths, charity, caroling, Four Sundays of Advent wreath ritual (Advent prayer, readings, hymn, treat and Christmas story), Service acts for Sages (visiting a nursing home, etc)
1: Overview of the month, create a plan for crafts, gifts, outings, activities, etc.
4: Santa Barbara traditions
6: St. Nicholas stockings and coin bags for charity
7: St. Ambrose traditions
8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
12: Our Lady of Guadalupe traditions
13: Santa Lucia traditions
14: St. Hardini
17-23: O Antiphons, confession
21: The Winter Solstice/The Winter Feast
23: Michel’s birthday
24: fasting then fish dinner and Paradise Play
25: Nativity of Our Lord-Mass, carols, gift-giving, charity, George’s birthday
26: Begin the 12 Days of Christmas catechesis and Christmas fun (baking, crafts, etc)
27: St. John, Apostle- bread and wine sharing of the love of St. John
28: Holy Innocents: Coventry Carol, bless children, pray for the unborn, crisis pregnancy charity
29: St. Thomas Becket
30 or first Sunday within the Octave of Christmas: Feast of the Holy Family- consecration of the family
31: St. Sylvester’s Ball with a performance (Christmastide or Time themed variety show or select play, such as “A Christmas Carol” or “The Golden Thread”), write real and fake New Year’s resolutions
The tradition of living the liturgical year in the home through family crafts, rituals, and feasts experienced a renaissance with the publication of this book by Maria Augustra Trapp, the heroine of the movie "The Sound of Music". Today it is out of print and remaining copies are rare and expensive. Fortunately, Jennifer Gregory Miller of FamilyFeastandFeria.com is offering this book in a giveaway to subscribers. Jennifer has done a great service to keeping the family liturgical living tradition alive through her blog at CatholicCulture.org. We use her resources regularly. Take a look here!
Our contribution to SimpleHomeschool.com's annual "Day in the Life" Series:
February 29, 2016- Leap Day!
"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." -Matthew 6:34 (KJV)
8am- I fade in and out of consciousness throughout the morning, hearing my husband Tony leave for a walk, return, and then the wonderful sound of dishes being cleaned from last night's birthday party for our now three-year-old, Valentina, whom I'm attempting to put back to sleep. When I can treat my seasonal allergies and get some coffee before the toddler wakes up, the morning is that much less stressful.
9:15- Thanks again to my husband, who is usually out the door earlier than today, I'm drinking coffee, eating an egg, and writing this in my journal (unfortunately still in pajamas). The 10 and 8 year olds are playing with pretend toy cars in the bedroom, a gift from yesterday's party. In the not-so-distant past I used to insist on everyone eating the same food at the same time for breakfast but in order to cope with morning temper tantrums (mine included), I've relaxed the expectations and have given all of us some "transition time". I blow my nose for the hundredth time and put tea bags on my swollen eyes for one minute as Tony leaves for the day.
10am- Chaos momentarily erupts when everyone suddenly needs the house's one bathroom at the same time and the toddler wakes up. When the squabblers get settled at the kitchen table with food in front of them everyone calms down and we manage to say the Morning Offering together. The nearly 11 year old, Maya, eats oatmeal, the 8 year old, ZouZou, eats leftover white cake, and Valentina eats leftover carrot cake, eggs, and tea. Maya, who takes after her father with her culinary skills, made both the white and the carrot cake for her sister's birthday party (they were delicious!).
During breakfast, we read and discuss our Calendar Class selections about the Four Cycles of Life in the Day (our version of Morning Time; will post about this separately). I try, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid being annoyed by a buzzing noise in the background from a fishing game toy that has appeared at the table.
11am- My attempts to avoid nagging the kids to get themselves ready for the day fail as I find myself barking orders like a drill sergeant. With the promise of listening to an audiobook chapter, they finally comply. Suddenly it begins to hail, and the kids rush to the door to observe and collect a hailstone sample, storing it in the freezer to show to their Dad tonight. The toddler screams to go outside to play in the "snow", so we have to have an impromptu science lesson to explain the difference between hail and snow. We are living in Italy right now so the appearance of hail on this last day of February- Leap Day!- is a rare occurrence. Thankfully, she is convinced that it is not pleasant to play under the hail and the kids return to playing pretend with the cars.
Normally around this time the big kids begin their academic work in their assignment journals and workbooks but as these supplies were left at their Dad's workplace in a backpack, I allow them to continue playing pretend together. It's a shame that the one day I chronicle for other homeschooling moms doesn't include a description of the kids' academic work, but at least it reflects the unpredictability of our days.
For the first time Maya and ZouZou allow Valentina to join their game, albeit after much shouting, and I recognize that this is one of those precious, fleeting moments of their childhood together. I write this all down, then return to the never-ending housework.
Within the hour the big kids drift to the audiobook and their laundry sorting and folding chores. In Italy the dryers are not very effective, if you're lucky enough to have one at all, so tending to drying racks full of clothes is an unavoidable part of our daily routine. Valentina returns to her fishing game and making messes around the house. Frequent interventions are necessary.
12 Noon- I listen to half of an interview with Julie Bogart on the podcast of amongstlovelythings.com while washing breakfast dishes and preparing lunch. I'm delighted to hear about her Poetry Tea Time practice, which sounds similar to our monthly Minor Feast practice of celebrating and reviewing our monthly studies themes with a little party (more on that soon, too).
1:30 pm- The kids come to the kitchen for a smorgasbord of vegetables, fruit, bread, and cheese (Daddy is the gourmet chef; with Mommy the kids get the basics!). We recite the Angelus prayer then we eat lunch, during which the kids catch me up on what's happening in the latest Harry Potter chapter and I read the rest of our Calendar Class selections for the day- a math problem, history or biography of the day, proverb or quotation, etc. Before leaving the table I ask Maya and ZouZou to read aloud to Valentina in English and Italian to practice their language arts and to help teach their sister. Because we live in Italy part of the year and because my husband is from Lebanon, we incorporate Italian and Arabic into our daily readings and memory work.
Maya and ZouZou are eager to find out what happens next to Harry Potter so I let them listen while doing their chores and then drawing in their art journals. More trash gets taken out, more laundry goes in the washing machine, and the toddler goes in the bath after she decorates herself with colored markers. I'm feeling worn out by now and it hasn't even been a full homeschool day since we had to skip the academic work. The relentless rain is keeping us house-bound when we could use some fresh air and exercise but at least we've got a talented narrator with a British accent to listen to all day if we do have to stay indoors.
3:45 pm- Tea Time! Coffee, carrot cake, and toddler cuddles help counteract the dark and dreary day. During this break I type up most of this blog post while Valentina gets to watch some of her favorite cartoons (currently Peppa Pig and Little Bear), and the big kids continue obsessively listening to the audiobook (and I get to listen in, too). At one point I notice that the ceiling is leaking again so I make a few calls and later on a workman stops by to check the roof that was only repaired last week, for the third time this season.
6 pm- Tony returns and whips up a simple but scrumptious dinner of sauteed spinach and chicken tenders. While he's doing this I encourage the kids to practice memorizing multiplication tables together. Lately I've gotten in the habit of taking a quick walk when Tony comes home so I can get out beyond the walls of the house alone for a brief while and gaze out over the beautiful cityscape of Rome. Tonight the rain is thundering down and there is lightening in the sky so there's no chance of escape. During dinner the kids summarize the plot and characters of Harry Potter for their Dad, who has never read the books. Tony plans to go out again to do some work at his other job but the heavy rain and fatigue convince him to stay home, so we all get to have some family time after dinner.
8 pm- Family Time: I've named this our "Family Hearth Ritual", and it consists of prayers, hymns, and stories in our three languages. Tonight we keep it short as the kids want to return to-- you guessed it-- their audiobook. I agree as they are near the end of the series now and the plot is increasingly scary and dark, so it's important for us to hear it in common and discuss it together. After our prayers and some playing with Daddy, I put the toddler to sleep and let the big kids listen until they are nearly asleep. My big kids ask for cuddles at bedtime, which is really the only time they do now, so it's a treat when Valentina is asleep and I'm able to spend time individually with Maya or ZouZou.
11:30 pm- As usual, I'm the last one awake as I type these words-- precious solitude and freedom for my fingers to be on the keyboard without interruption This is the first time I've ever chronicled a day in our lives and, although there really isn't time to stop and write everything down on an average day, I've enjoyed how this simple act of observation has helped me be more aware of the blessings, drawbacks, and privileges of our homeschooling life.