Do you think reading to your kids is important, even toddlers? Have you ever wondered how to maximize learning time with little children while also keeping it simple? A morning basket is an intentional time of connection and learning at home and a great way to make family reading time work. This is how to make a simple reading morning basket for toddlers.
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Maybe you popped in here because you have heard of all the benefits of reading to young children. Do you have dreams of reading 1000 books before kindergarten or helping your child to excel in academics by instilling early literacy through reading together? Have you considered just trying out a form of homeschooling to see if it might work for your family someday?
Are you looking for ways to connect with your kids and time to intentionally teach them the values and principles that are important to you but so easily get forgotten in the day-to-day?
I glamourized reading aloud, poetry, and music time, like I was going to be the Maria von Trapp of the Midwest. But it was not coming as easy for me as I thought it would.
Then I heard about the Morning Basket.
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Making the Morning Basket Practice Work
A morning basket is a container filled with books and activities to facilitate a routine learning time with you and your child(ren). The best thing about a morning basket is you can squeeze in dedicated learning time at a moment’s notice because you have what you need and have curated in one place.
Other names for Morning Basket are Circle Time, Table Time, Tea Time, Symposium, Table Talk.
History of Morning Basket
The Morning Basket practice was popularized by Charlotte Mason. She was a British educator who made a great impression on education with the idea that appreciation for fine art and literature should be available to all children regardless of class.
I love the idea of offering my children culture! The problem was, I wasn’t sure how. Also, what was I hoping to accomplish? And how do I make time…with toddlers? Have you been there?
I like how Pam Barnhill boils it down on her blog Your Morning Basket to four basic components for a framework: reading, ritual, recitation, and relationship
This is what I have learned about making a morning basket rhythm work for our family, specifically with toddlers.
Though it is called Morning Basket, you do not have to do it in the morning. That works for many homeschool families as a start to their “school” day. But you can choose any time of day that works for you and your children.
During the toddler years, the morning was not a good time for us to sit and read. They had so much energy and a need to move!
We spent most of our mornings out. We played outside, attended library programs, went to appointments and errands, parks, museums, and hopefully the beach (as often as possible), for example.
While I cleaned up breakfast and got everyone dressed and ready to go out, I would set up an “invitation to play” to occupy them. This way I could set up something intentional to occupy them. It would limit how much they pulled out so we did not have to do a major clean-up just to get out of the house.
We would spend several hours out of the house and usually, we returned home for lunch and nap time for the littlest.
After lunch, was a natural time to snuggle together quietly for our Basket Time. I used this time to help them wind down for rest and napping.
Everyone had full bellies, clean and dry, and they were good and tired from our morning activities. I pulled the curtains, grabbed my basket, a book light, and snuggled into the couch with the kids.
Cozy as Can Be
If someone fell asleep, sometimes I would move them to their bed. Other times, I let them stay snuggled right there.
Sometimes I had tea, sometimes I lit a candle or turned on some accent lamps and peaceful music. I tried to make it cozy and inviting.
It seemed like everyone looked forward to this time and connection no matter what materials I had picked out, which leads me to how to curate the materials for your basket. This is what I did.
Curating the Materials
A traditional Morning Basket may include Scripture reading, poetry, character-building readings, music (traditionally hymns sung together a cappella), and books to read for enjoyment. As I mentioned above, as Pam Barnhill says it includes: reading, ritual, recitation, and relationship
I chose books from our shelves at home or from the library. I would select books based on a theme or something they were particularly interested in at the time.
For us, faith is important and more specifically, biblical literacy is a core value. We love Jesus Story Book Bible for the toddler years. And there is a companion coloring book, too.
If there were specific things I wanted to cover, sometimes I made a list and put it in the basket. Other times, I gathered a variety of things I know they like and let the kids lead and pick what they wanted to read.
For example, we went through a phase when one of my kids was fascinated by the states. We gathered books, puzzles, maps, crafts, music, coloring pages, and anything I could find that taught us about the states. (More on how I used activities, in addition to books, later.)
Have you heard that nursery rhymes, songs, and poetry are powerful tools for growing a child’s vocabulary and helping them to gain confidence and competence for a great foundation for future success?
Morning Basket is a great time to read the same small verse or poem every day so we could memorize it and it could become part of our family culture.
Just as choosing the best time of day helped us make it work, staying flexible in other ways was important, too.
First, I did not expect the children to remain still and focused during this time (though sometimes they did). I did ask that they play quietly, but perfection or nothing close to it was expected.
I was not strict about the format or what kind of readings were included all the time. Sometimes our quiet time before rest and nap was comprised of Seek and Find books only or even some videos (gasp).
In addition, I did not stress if we missed a day or even a few weeks. When we were ready, we started again.
Sometimes we took our basket on trips with us or had our reading time outside in the shade or even on the beach a few times.
Find ways to make it enriching as well as relaxed and enjoyable. Be flexible!
Preparing your morning basket for busy hands
As I eluded to above, I did not expect my children, especially toddlers to sit still or remain focused on my reading the entire time. I know that busy hands can actually help some brains focus better.
Quality time together and them learning that reading was a priority to me were the primary takeaways. I did not want to have to force this time or make it stressful. I provided a small collection of quiet activities to do to make it fun and to keep little hands occupied.
I stocked our basket with interesting things to keep little hands busy while they listen. If possible, I tried to theme the handiwork with the theme at the time, but that was not always easy, so I didn’t. One proviso I would like to recommend is to limit the selection of activities to 1-3 options per basket and rotate them every week or two.
Here’s a list of some ideas:
- Play dough (recipe) or modeling clay
- Sensory objects in a small bin like dry beans, oats, field corn, and a few pouring containers and scoops
- Lacing cards or threading beads
- Small photo albums of family
- Simple crafts
- Safe scissors and paper for cutting (bonus tip, kids love cutting play dough with scissors.
- Coffee table books of fine art or photography (for older kids or supervised and if it tied in to the theme, it was a plus!)
- Magna-tiles (link in image below)
- Water color set or Water Wow books
- Coloring pages (themed was a bonus!)
- LEGO or Duplo
- Small animal or people figures
- Colorforms, window clings or letter magnets, and a cookie sheet
- Water play in a shallow dish (if we were outside especially)
- Snacks (especially if they go with the theme)
Beyond the Basket
The love of reading and learning are values that I want to teach my children. Sometimes our afternoon reading times would last for hours. As they got older, I would read chapter books and sometimes we would finish a whole book in one afternoon.
Since they were infants, we read at bedtime with our kids. So when “basket time” is not possible, we include some elements of our basket in our evening routine.
Our practice for bedtime is each child chooses one book and I picked a book to read (almost always the Bible). I also sang to them (I am a former vocal performer). I prepared a little collection of songs I wanted to sing while they were in their beds (shared a room). I wrote some ideas on the bookmark because I sometimes draw a blank.
I would be remiss if I left out audiobooks and podcasts. They are great tools for enjoying literature, stories, Scripture, and more. I play them in the car, while they are playing, during rest time, while they wait for meals, and times when they would like screens and I would like no screens. They are also an adequate substitute for mothers doing live readings.
In Summary, Making the Morning Basket Practice Work with Toddlers:
Do you think reading to your kids is important, even toddlers? Are you ready to maximize family reading time while keeping it simple?
This is how to make a simple morning basket rhythm for toddlers. The morning basket is an intentional time of connection and learning at home and a great way to make family reading time work.
How do you think a Morning Basket kind of practice would work with your family?