I usually enjoy planning for an upcoming school year, but last summer was different. Very different. For the first time the schedules of six school-aged children and a toddler stared back at me. All my children have various combinations of challenges: anxiety, attention, sensory, memory, emotional. With a family business and a homeschool ministry on top of it all, I could only see a list of checkboxes and too few hours to get through them.
As I wrestled with the demands of our school and work schedule, I realized that the very thing I was trying to give my children in their school day was missing from my teaching day. We needed to remember our vision: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
While many homeschoolers love long morning time routines, I didn’t have the energy for another “big” thing. Whatever I chose to place in my day to help me remember my vision, it needed to be very, very simple. It needed to be included at both the beginning and end of my teaching day as a gentle support to the often overwhelming task of educating my children. So I set out to find my “beautiful bookends.”
For my morning bookend I decided to read a brief Scripture passage or reading from the centuries-old monastic prayer cycle known as the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a simple thing to include in our opening prayer and, on special liturgical days in our tradition, it also provides a short explanation of what makes that day special. I can’t fully explain why I find this so beautiful, but I absolutely love it.
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the Lord will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”
— Isaiah 58:10-12
After this reflection, I spend a little time with my two year old, reading stories, singing songs, and pretending to be piggies and horses. I use the Memoria Press preschool curriculum (which is also Simply Classical Level A) so I can just enjoy this planned one-on-one time instead of worrying about what to fill it with. Then we begin our lessons.
The closing bookend to our mornings is to stop school at noon, regardless of how far we have made it in the day’s lesson plans, and pray. Mornings are the most intensive part of my teaching day, so this bookend gives a much-needed moment of recollection. It is a simple yet beautiful continuation of the heritage captured in one of my children’s favorite paintings, The Angelus. Millet’s farmers have stopped their work to focus on their Creator and on the Incarnation. And so we are still, and we pray:
V. (versicle) The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
R. (response) And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord,
R. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
V. And the Word was made flesh,
R. And dwelt among us.
V. Let us pray.
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that, we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord.
V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
While these practices speak to me in this particular season, there are other beautiful things that may minister to you. Maybe you need to light a candle, close your eyes, and inhale the scent for a few seconds. Maybe you need to snuggle on the couch with your children and enjoy a good, non-school read-aloud book. Maybe you need to sing a song or read a simple poem. Whatever your bookends, they must be simple. They can be free from your “should’s.” They can also be free from guilt. They should refresh.
Some days you will practice your bookends and some days you will set them aside. Some days you will forget. You may change your bookends as the seasons of your life change. Sometimes, you may change them weekly. In short, there will be an ebb and flow to this practice and that’s perfectly fine. This is not another obligation. These good and beautiful moments are for your soul, and all have in common one truth: Sometimes the soul simply needs to be still.