A Time to Gather (with Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully)

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering
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When your podcast guests are not only fabulous and wise, but you can also count them as your friends, it makes the conversation even more delightful! Today we are joined by the wonderful Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully. Both have been guests previously on the podcast (check out my previous chats with both Pam and Heather), but today’s topic is something extra special. Heather and Pam have co-written a new book called Gather: Exploring the Wonder, Wisdom & Worship of Learning at Home, and today we’re going to talk all about what a gathering time is in your homeschool, the joys (and struggles) that arise when we gather, practical tips for gathering in your family, and more.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Who is Pam Barnhill

When Pam is not homeschooling her three kids, she can be found empowering other homeschoolers at pambarnhill.com. She is the host of the popular Your Morning Basket podcast and author of Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, and Savor the Subjects That Matter Most. Pam lives with her family in Alabama.

Who is Heather Tully

r over 18 years. As a documentary photographer, she seeks to capture the wonder in everyday life. You can find Heather online at heathertullyphotography.com, where she shares her work and photos of her family from their Georgia home.

Pam Barnhill Heather Tully Gather Homeschool Morning Time Morning Basket Book

Watch my conversation with Heather and Pam

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Amy: Hello, everyone. Today I am joined by my two friends Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully. I’m so excited to have you both here today.

Pam Barnhill: Thanks so much for having us, Amy.

Amy: When Pam is not homeschooling her three kids, she can be found empowering other homeschoolers at pambarnhill.com. She is the host of the popular Your Morning Basket podcast and author of Better Together: Strengthen Your Family, Simplify Your Homeschool, and Savor the Subjects That Matter Most. Pam lives with her family in Alabama.

Heather is a mom of 10 kids who has been practicing a gathering time in her home for over 18 years. As a documentary photographer, she seeks to capture the wonder in everyday life. You can find Heather online at heathertullyphotography.com, where she shares her work and photos of her family from their Georgia home.

Now, both Heather and Pam have been previous guests on the podcast but never at the same time. I’m super excited to have you guys here today. You have a new book coming out or, I guess, at this point, it has come out that you worked on together. We’re going to talk a little bit about the topic of gathering. I’ll alternate back and forth.

What is Gathering Time, and why is it important for homeschooling families?

Hopefully, we won’t get lost as to who will answer first, but let’s just start big picture. What do you even mean by the term gathering time? Why and when did you initially start including a gathering time in your homeschool? Pam, you want to get started first?

Pam: Yes, I can get us started. I haven’t actually been gathering as long as Heather has. She is the pro at this..

What Heather and I both mean when we talk about a gathering time in our home is any time of day when you bring all of your children together for everyone to learn together.

It works really best with what we call content area subjects, things like science, history, nature, study, music, appreciation, things like that as opposed to skill area subjects, which are things like math and composition and learning to read.

Now, some moms, I’m going to caveat that with some moms combine kids for that because I know Heather does, but a lot of moms let those kids work individually on those subjects. Gathering is where you can all come together and learn some of those content subjects. I started doing it when my oldest was about seven, she’s 16 now.

The main reason that I started doing it was because I wanted to do all of those little things in my homeschool, things like singing hymns, learning songs, reading poetry together and memorizing things.

I would schedule them into my homeschool days throughout the week, but they never got done. We were so busy checking off all the lists and everything that those little bits and pieces were the things that got dropped out of the schedule. It was only by putting them together and giving them a weight in a specific time of day that they actually started getting done. That’s how it started for us. I was very inspired by Cindy Rollins, Mystie Winckler, and Brandy Vencel to do this kind of time in my homeschool day.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Amy: How about you, Heather? You’ve been doing this for 18 years now. What first got you started?

Heather Tully: Yes. We started back, she was three. I wanted a time when I could do something with both the three year old and the one-year-old. I wanted to combine both of them together and I wanted to make sure like what Pam was saying, I wanted to make sure those things that were a priority were getting done.

It started with just reading the Bible, doing some catechism, and then doing poetry. It was really short and sweet. Then through the years, it’s grown and it’s gotten longer with more children, but it started really short and sweet.

Then we started adding in more things. For us, it’s the time– There’s those skill things you’re learning and those contents you’re learning together, but it’s also a time of community. It’s a time when all of us can be together. It varies, like Pam said, it can be any time of the day. There’s been times when it’s right after breakfast and then there was a season with a very busy baby that we did after dinner so that Daddy could help with the baby. It’s varied in times, but we’re all together building that sense of a family community, and then also a community of ideas because we’re not just studying one thing.

It’s all these various topics and little bits each day. It builds this sense of learning and I’m building relationships across the board. I loved it. It’s become our favorite part of the day. It’s the thing that always gets done out of all of it. That and math, we try to always get math.

Pam: Can I just add on, one of the things that Heather said made me think, I get such a feeling of accomplishment after having completed, we call it Morning Time in our house. We don’t do it early in the morning, but we typically do it first thing before we do other things. By the time we finished Morning Time, we’ve done literature, we’ve done geography, we’ve done memorization, we’ve done a little religious ed studies, there’s so many things that we’ve gotten done, I’m rocking and rolling today. It really does is that shot in the arm feeling of accomplishment that it’s so hard being a homeschool mom some days. It’s nice to like, “Man, we got that done.” That’s one of my favorite things about it.

Amy: I really relate to what you both are saying. My oldest is 16 like yours, Pam, and we started our Morning Time routine when he was probably seven or eight. We finally have this way where I could take the things that had been my priorities, those priorities hadn’t changed. I could just never figure out a way to actually get them into the reality of my daily life. Just to prioritize that time when we would come together. Now, as I have much older children, still the wide age range, we’re all often going in different directions to know we at least have that time every day, where we’re going to have that connection together, those shared memories, the inside jokes that develop over Shakespeare, whatever, it’s so important. I treasure it so much, especially as I see those older kids getting ready to head out on their own.

How has your perspective on Gathering Time grown over the years?

Heather, I would love to ask you, as someone who’s done this now for many years, have you noticed your approach or your perspective on gathering time changing or developing over the years?

Heather: For sure. In the beginning, I think I saw our morning time or at that time, we were calling it circle time, and you can’t really call it that with big kids. [laughs] At least my kids did not like that name. It was more of a focus of memory work. We would gather together and it was a lot of reciting and chanting. That had its place and we still do a lot of memory work as a family. Through the years, we’ve added in more hymns, we sing folk songs, we diagram sentences together at the table. I get a little lapboard and a whiteboard, little small one, and I hold it up, and we diagram sentences.

We’ll do map work at the table, all of us together so that I don’t then later have to do map work with several children throughout the day. We do a ton of read alouds now. Before maybe we were just reading the scriptures. I went and accounted before we got together and we have 14 books going right now in our morning basket. We don’t read all 14 in one sitting. I pick a few each day and it’s various topics.

There’s Shakespeare, there’s poetry, there’s history books, there’s a few science books. I pick a few, we read it and we discuss it. Then we just loop around and sometimes we get through it quicker than other years. A lot more reading aloud, a lot more singing. It feels more alive than it used to when they were just having to perform and chant back to me. They’re now engaging in conversation and they take turns reading. It also has meant our time has grown.

That didn’t happen overnight. We slowly added the time, but we’re gathering now for about an hour to an hour and a half, where before we started with 10 minutes. That’s all a three-year-old could do at that time. It was short and sweet. Then just over the years just a little bit more, and now I have to stop myself because those big kids do have to do their homework. [laughs] I have to make sure I honor their time by not going too long because they’re there with us.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Amy: Yes. I had Cindy Rollins on the podcast last year and I asked her, “What is the most important thing you think everyone should include in their morning time?” She said, “Singing,” and I was so taken aback. I don’t know, I hadn’t really prioritized that in our morning time, but I thought, “If Cindy Rollins says I got to do it I better do it.” Ever since then, we’ve included that, not just in our family devotions in the evening but I’ve began including that in our morning time. That’s been a real delight. That word you used, it’s a more alive, it’s more living when we sing together.

How about you, Pam, how have things grown and changed over the years?

Pam: Mine is ebbed and flowed a little bit. I think we always started out, my kids have always been real keen on the idea, of we get to sit and do what we want to do while we do morning time. For the longest time, they would get so involved in their projects. They were so happy to sit there because to them, they felt like they were getting away with something. They weren’t having to do school yet because we were doing morning time. You can use this to your advantage, [laughs] little do they know, and so they would be sitting there doing things with their hands. We did rainbow loom, perler beads, lots and lots of water colors, drawing, puzzles, pattern blocks, just so many things that they did and made. Ours has always, once we got started with it, ours has always been about at least an hour long.

Then when my daughter started doing middle school, my oldest started doing middle school, we were involved to with the co-op at the time and she had a lot of other things she needed to do so I backed off and made it much shorter, only about 20 minutes long and then I didn’t like that as much. It didn’t feel as good or as life giving so eventually we dropped the co-op and made our morning time longer again [laughs] and that’s what feels better to us. Right now, it’s probably about an hour long. Maybe some days we go a little bit longer if we get into really good conversations. It’s just ebbed and flowed through the years.

Amy: I like hearing from both of you that it’s not like you were married to a certain plan, like, “Well, this is the way we started. It always has to look just this way in order for it to be a success.” Because it can really ebb and flow with the ages of your children or the season of life, it’s very flexible and you can make it work for your unique family.

Pam: Very much so.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

What to do when Gathering Time is hard

Amy: Well, this all sounds lovely, but speaking for myself, I know sometimes the gathering is not quite as peaceful as we wish it would be. What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your family’s gathering time, Pam, and how have you sought to overcome those challenges?

Pam: Well, sometimes photographers show up and my kids decide they’re going to have really bad attitudes about the whole experience, despite the fact that they had given permission for the photographer to be there. I think the biggest thing we deal with right now are teenage attitudes, just that surliness, I didn’t sleep well, I stayed up too late, I don’t want to do this all the time.

Usually, it’s just a matter of waiting it out because I could start butting heads with them and they’re just going to get more and more surly. You really can’t force them and so you have to wait it out and talk to them and have conversations through their heart about why this is important. Eventually they come around again and it goes well, but that’s the biggest thing right now out that we’re struggling with.

I know a lot of families with younger children struggle with things like toddlers who are disrupting the day, and so maybe for a season you have to do it like Heather did it, where you’re doing it at a different time of day so you could get help with the toddler or maybe you make it really short for a season. There are just so many different things that come up. I think the biggest thing is to know that you’re not alone. Whatever problem you’re facing in morning time or your gathering time, there’s probably been somebody who’s experienced it and had to deal with it.

Amy: How about you, Heather? What have been some challenges that you guys have faced in gathering time?

Heather.: Well, Pam’s not alone. Attitudes are hard, and it’s not always the kids. Sometimes I don’t want to do morning time. I get distracted, I’m tired. I stayed up too late, and now I have to start our day, and that’s hard. Sometimes it’s mama needing to stop and pray and go, “Okay, this is a priority for our family and we usually, at this point we do it first thing, and so to start our day, we need to start here.” This is putting what is good first before the rest of the day gets busy. Sometimes I have to stop and pray about my attitude and it’s usually– we have a big family, so usually at least one is grumpy at morning time. It’s just going to happen, and I just keep on going. Singing helps, even if you don’t sing well. There’s something about folk songs, and it just tends to bring around better attitudes or letting that child who’s struggling pick what we’re going to do that day.

Just throw out what I had planned and say, “What do you want to do today?” Sometimes they don’t want to answer and we just move on, but sometimes, “Well, I wanted to read this book” or “I really want to do do geography” and “Can we pull out the sand and do geography?” It’s like, “Okay, I can do that for that child.” Yes, attitudes. Then I was going to say interruptions because I try really hard to not let schedules interrupt when we do our gathering time, but life happens and we have big kids who now work outside the home, and so if a big kid is missing, I’ll do our normal gathering time and I’ll jot down what we read aloud and they catch up later on their own. They don’t want to miss out on those read alouds and they’re able to do that.

If it’s an appointment and we need to move our gathering time, I try to give the kids a heads up. I’ve got several that if I don’t let them know our schedule for the day they struggle, and so if I can give them a heads up that helps them know, “Hey, we’re going to gather today after lunch instead of in the morning.” That helps. Then learning just to persevere with riddles. There’s a lot of noise and there’s a lot of mess when you’ve got toddlers and babies, and often when they were tiny, a big kid was walking circles with a baby, or I was walking circles, and I’m holding a book and reading a aloud with a baby on it. Just learning to embrace a little bit more of the chaos is really important if you’ve got a lot of people in with various ages.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Amy: If we set ourselves up with these expectations of this rosy filtered, quiet picture in our heads, then we’re going to spend the whole time just frustrated by the attitude, or by the noise, or by the mess, and sometimes it just helps us to remember going into things like, “It will be messy. People are going to be grumpy. Things might not go according to plan, and that’s okay.” Just having our expectations set appropriately can sometimes help us actually accomplish our goals more joyfully, I think.

Pam: Yes, I think the important thing, Amy, is it’s beautiful and worthy despite the mess and the noise.

You’re going to sometimes just feel despair. You’re going to feel like I’m just not– like there’s no way they’re learning about these artists.

There’s no way they’re enjoying this music. There’s no way that they’re getting this read aloud, because it’s just like, “I’m constantly having to stop and correct somebody or somebody has a horrible attitude or we only got to it three days this week.”

You know what? Just over the years it all builds up and it’s beautiful and worthy despite the messiness of it sometimes. I think you’re right. We can’t have that unrealistic expectation in our head because then we just stop trying.

The blessings and joys of Gathering

Amy: Yes, and I love that. I want to move into some of those blessings of the gathering time. Why is this worth it? Why is it worth pursuing. Heather, in your family, has there been anything that’s surprised you as a blessing from gathering time or just something that you’ve really noticed in your family?

Heather: Yes. A few things. We’ve had those shared stories that have become a part of the culture. The shared stories of Narnia, and we’re going through it a second time in our family reading it aloud. It’s been so much fun because the littlest ones don’t know the whole story. They know bits and pieces, but we’re reading it for the first time, but the big kids jump in with their favorite memories of, “I remember we read this at this place or we did this.”

That’s been fun to hear their memories, and it builds, I think it helps build their relationship because they’re learning and they’re enjoying something together. That’s really good for their relationship building as siblings. I’ve seen their attention grow. When you read a book over several weeks or sometimes we’re reading a book for a whole year, you have to really pay attention to follow that story.

It helps them to recall things and to remember. They learn to pay attention when there’s noise with those busy toddlers. They learn to forgive and be patient with each other. They learn to disagree with one another, kindly, [laughs] because when we’re discussing current events and we’re talking about something in politics, they might have different opinions, and so they’re learning to express them in a way that is kind but well thought out.

One of the things that really surprised me through the years is we’ve come to love Shakespeare, and I never saw that coming.

I remember the time we listened to Shakespeare being read aloud, it was an audio book. I was so confused and they were confused and I thought, “Okay, we’re just going to keep going and we’re just going to keep listening.” Now we understand it and we read it regularly, and that has just been such a delight. I have a daughter who is considering doing that for graduate school. I thought, “Huh, who knew.” If we hadn’t opened up that book and tried it and kept on going, we would’ve gotten there, and so that’s been a fun surprise.

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Amy: I love that too because it wasn’t like an immediate thing that you loved right away. That’s such a good encouragement. Sometimes I think we’re too quick to toss the book or toss the curriculum because like, “Oh, yes, we just aren’t quite into it. We’ve tried it like once or twice,” but just that willingness to know something’s worth pursuing and to keep at it, your affections grew, and your ability to understand grew over time. That’s really cool, and I’m a big Shakespeare fan. I’m especially excited about that one. How about you, Pam? Has anything really surprised you or been a blessing to your family from your gathering time?

Pam: Just the relationships we have with each other. I could see us going off to our own little corners of the house with our own little different books if we weren’t gathering together each day, and it could almost feel just as lonely if the kids went to public school. We would just be passing each other and not really engaging with each other in any meaningful way in the day, and that’s what it is, for us. That’s what morning time is. It’s the place where we engage each other in meaningful ways.

And then I’m the opposite of Heather, because here she is a mom of 10, and they’re all spread out. Whereas, I’m a mom of three, and they’re 12 to 16. There could have been no more efficient use of our time in our homeschool than to have all three of those kids right there together, and if you do have a family where the kids are closer in age together, I can’t recommend it enough because you can just really do the things that you need to do with everyone. I think it makes it more enjoyable, because you’re all there together, but it’s definitely really efficient as well.

How do you get started with Gathering Time without getting burned out?

Amy: Yes. Okay, a mom is listening to this conversation, or she’s just picked up your new book, and she’s feeling all inspired. She’s like, “Great, tomorrow, we’re going to go, we’re going to have this three-hour gathering time. I’m going to put all the amazing things in it, right? We can listen to a podcast is the reason I get so excited, and then we end up burning out.” Maybe that’s just me, but what would you encourage to that mom who wants to get started in this way? What would be the first steps to start incorporating a gathering time? What would you say, Pam?

Pam: Well, the first thing to do is to stay off Pinterest, don’t go there. [laughs] That’s bad, and then the second thing to do would be just to start very small. There’s probably a very good chance that you’re already doing either some kind of prayer, devotional or scripture reading. Do that, and then add one thing. Figure out one thing that you think your children would enjoy, and if you have, I call them the tough nuts to crack, if you have the boy who’s between the ages of nine and 14 and you know that they’re going to be the one who’s like, “What do you mean?” Find something that they like, find something that they enjoy, and have that be the first thing you add.

Do it for three or four days, just like that, and then add something else and do it for another week, just like that, and then add something else. I always encourage moms to put in one thing for each of your children and then put in the thing that you’re really passionate about. If you’re like, “Oh, we’re going to learn all 16 verses of this ancient hymn,” save that for last. Get everybody else started on the things that they really enjoy before you start learning verse one of 16.

Then you’re going to have buy-in from them, and it’s just going to grow and lengthen over time. It’s kind of like the old adage about boiling a frog. If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, they’re going to hop right out, but if you put them in cold water and turn up the heat slowly, they’re not going to know what hit them, and that’s how we do morning time.

Amy: Yes, when you start small, and you’re actually successful, it sets you up to think, “Oh, I can do this,” and then you’re more inclined to keep going. Would you add anything, Heather?

Heather Tully Pam Barnhill Gather Book Homeschool Conversations Morning Basket Morning Time Gathering

Heather: That was great. I would encourage mommas to keep going, even if it’s hard at first. You’re building habits of attention. You’re teaching them to love things that are hard to understand sometimes. Shakespeare or poetry, or even let’s read and discuss the scriptures. That can be really hard sometime, but it’s good, and it’s worthy of the work. I think I say it in the book that some days the gathering is amazing. You’re like, this was picture-worthy. I should have done photos.

There’s a lot of days that are really hard, but most of these are just ordinary, and you don’t see a lot of fruit, and you do wonder, I think Pam said it earlier, you wonder like, do they get it? But you’ll start to see it if you pay attention. You’ll see it in conversations later, you’ll see it in their affections changing. Those things they didn’t really want to read before maybe they enjoy it now, or they understand it better, so keep going. I think you have to have a little bit of faith that you’re going to look ahead and move forward.

Finding beauty in the ordinary homeschool days

Amy: Heather, I’d like to dig into that comment you made a little bit more about how many of these days are just very, very ordinary. I think that’s sort of the reality for most homeschool days, and it can be hard for us to see the beauty right there in the midst of the ordinary. Maybe we’re comparing our worst day to someone else’s best day or just our ordinary day to someone else’s pretty special day. We can lose heart, or just feel like it doesn’t really matter. I would love to hear both the heart issue like, how can we change our heart and our perspective as we think about our own homeschool days, and then specifically, as our resident photography here today, how can we change like our literal view as we as we look around and maybe even document what’s going on.

Heather: Yes, well, Pam said earlier, stay off Pinterest. Stop comparing. Maybe stay off Instagram, even though I’m there, and I love it, but if you’re comparing when you get on there, it’s probably not a good place to be. I think the hardest uses homeschooling and raising children is a walk in faith with the Lord, and his work, his work in our children and his work in ourselves takes time.

You don’t often see the fruit or we don’t see the fruit we think we should see, but it’s the fruit He’s doing in their lives. I think staying real in our thoughts as moms and saying, Lord, you’re working in them, in your good timing, and I trust you, and I’m going to pray, I’m going to repent when I’m anxious, I’m going to seek to be at peace and I’m going to wait on what you’re doing.

That’s the hard thing, I have to tell myself a lot. Even with big kids, you have to remind yourself, this is the Lord working in them, and pray a lot. I always say pray more than you’re talking. It’s a good motto.

From a photographer’s point of view, you need to start looking, I think, before you try to take the photo, you need to see, observe what’s in front of you.

These days that feel like they’ll never end, and I remember thinking, we were blessed, but we had 19 years of pregnancy and babies. And that wasn’t a season. That’s a life, and it felt very ordinary. It felt very repetitive and sometimes mundane, but I asked the Lord to help me change my perspective and then I started looking. That table that’s in front of you that day with all those children isn’t going to look that way next year, and it’s worthy of remembering that toddler, and it’s worthy of remembering that big kid who really loved that science book and narrated. I want to remember those moments, that’s why I take pictures of those to help me remember, and help me pay attention.

Amy: That’s a beautiful encouragement and reminder. How about you, Pam? Would you have any encouragement for changing our perspective or finding beauty in the ordinary?

Pam: Oh, I speak alongside Sarah Mackenzie, and I’ve heard her say a couple times this spring already that most of our homeschool days are going to be ordinary, and that’s okay. That’s completely and totally what most days are supposed to be like, right? If every day were just this fabulous, wonderful, awesome day, that would eventually wear you out, just like the hard days do. The vast majority of our days are going to be ordinary, and that’s okay. I love the fact that ordinary contains the word order because I like to say, you know who likes order? God likes order. It’s a good thing, and I think we just need to get over the fact that not every day is going to be Instagram perfect. The ordinary days are okay days, and that’s largely what we’re after.

Amy: My site is Humility and Doxology, and this is just making me think how much of that really comes down to pride where, we wouldn’t say it this way to ourselves, but we really want to accomplish this great thing. We want to perform either for people outside, but sometimes even just for ourselves so we can pat ourselves on the back and be like, “Look at me being an awesome homeschool mom,” or impress our kids or our spouse or whoever. It’s really about performing and achieving something grand and glorious ourselves, instead of humbly coming and seeing our need for God to work in us and in our children, and just that reality of being a finite creature, being willing to be content in that small space where God has placed us. It’s probably a good reminder to repent as so much of home education is.

Pam Barnhill Heather Tully Gather Homeschool Morning Time Morning Basket Book

Order your own copy of Gather: Exploring the Wonder, Wisdom & Worship of Learning at Home

Well, before I move on to the questions that I’m going to ask you guys that I’m asking all my guests this season, do let people know where can they find the new Gather book? Pam, do you want to let people know?

Pam: Yes. They can find it at pambarnhill.com/gather. We have it over there and you can order a copy there. That’s the only place you can order it unless you’re going to see me at a Great Homeschool Convention this year. We’re keeping it exclusively on the website so it’s not going to be available on Amazon or anything, you can pick up your copy there.

Amy: I cannot wait to get my copy. I have my pre-order in, and the photos just look absolutely gorgeous. Heather, how many families did you travel to document?

Heather: Well, thank you. There’s nine families. There’s Pam and I’s families and then seven others. It was such a gift to get to go into these women’s homes. I think often they do struggle to see the beauty of the ordinary and so to give them the gift of the photos I think helped them to see it with fresh eyes, and I was so inspired.

It was such an encouragement to my soul and to our family, not just things to do but just to see the love that these mamas are pouring out with their children. It was a really beautiful thing.

Amy: I know it’s going to be an encouragement to many homeschool moms, so I’m really excited.

What Pam and Heather are reading lately

Well, here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I’m asking everyone this season. The first, Pam, what are you personally reading lately?

Pam: I am actually rereading, but it’s been so long since I originally read it, it’s like sixth grade [chuckles] that it’s almost a new read. I am rereading All Creatures Great and Small right now and my daughter and I have been watching the series on PBS. love it, totally recommend it. I read all of James Herriot’s books when I was about in sixth grade, and I had forgotten so much.

It’s been wonderful just revisiting that, going back through and reading that again. I’ve got the first two, and I’m almost done with the first one.

Amy: We read that book in my in-person book club last spring. It was a great book to read in the spring, it felt like a perfect spring read, so everyone should go to their library and grab a copy. How about you, Heather? Do you have anything that you’re reading lately?

Heather: Yes, I’m in the midst of the Odyssey. I’m doing that with some kids. This year we did the Iliad, and now we’re doing the Odyssey at the end of the year. I have just loved it because up until this point I’d only ever read children’s versions, which are really good, but to read the original and we’re doing it as an audiobook and we read along.

We have the physical book, but listening has helped us get through it, and I’ve just loved it. I’ve really enjoyed that. Then I was going to also share I did need a break. I was like, “Okay, this is a lot, this is heavy, this is heavy stuff.” I just finished The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin. It was so delightful. I read it in two days, it was a quick read. If you love books, you have to go read that book.

It’s set in World War II and it’s a bookshop. It was just delightful and it was what I needed after– There’s a lot of heavy stuff in those ancient [chuckles] readings. If you’re needing some light spring or summer reading, that’s the book.

Amy: I know that I will be adding to my library hold list when we’re done here. Heather, what is the audio version, or what’s the translator that you were listening to? I’ll put that in the show notes.

Heather: I’ll have to look. Is it something Wilson?

Pam: Emily Wilson.

Amy: Emily Wilson.

Pam: I was going to ask if that was the one. That one was so delightful. I read it last year.

Heather: It’s so good. We’re listening to masterclass on audible has a series of lectures. I think it’s 12 lectures, and that has been so insightful for helping us to understand what we’re reading, [chuckles] so I’d highly recommend that.

Amy: Well, I’m really glad to hear that you’re listening to the Emily Wilson version. I just have to take a quick little rabbit trail here. In high school was when I was first introduced to the Iliad with the Fitzgerald translation. Oh, it gripped me, I loved it. It’s been a favorite book ever since, I love sharing it with my kids, but I just could not get into the Odyssey at the time. It was a different translator, it was the Lattimore translation.

Last year, I was rereading the epics, I reread the Iliad, and I was like, “Maybe I should just try a different translation of the Odyssey.” Sure enough, reading it in a different translation I was like, “Oh, this is actually really beautiful.” [chuckles] Sometimes with those older works, if you didn’t like it the first time, I guess my tip would just be try a different translator because it really can make a difference a lot of times.

Pam and Heather’s best tips for helping the homeschool day run smoothly

Final question. Heather, what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Heather: I was really tempted to say “Gather.” But I thought, “All right, we just spent a long time talking about Gather. What’s another tip, though I will say go gather with each other because you’re going to get a lot done, you’re going to build community, build relationships, it really is such a beautiful thing.

The other tip I often give mamas is you need to be home to homeschool.

I know some people thrive on activity, and they’re more extroverted than I am, but especially in those early years when they’re first learning to read, when they’re getting the foundation in solid math or writing, they need time to be home. There’s a season, we’ve done it in the van and driving, but they need focused attention and then they need time to just be kids, to go outside and play, to bake cookies in the kitchen, to just live life and build that atmosphere of community outside bookwork.

You brought them home to homeschool, but then I think it’s really easy to get really busy and not be home. Then we wonder why they’re tired and we’re tired and they’re stressed. Even with big kids, I have to sometimes pull back and say, “You’re still a part of the family, [chuckles] we still need to see you, you need to be here often.”

Amy: A really good reminder. How about you, Pam? What would be your tip?

Pam: Can I just fall back on my old faithful tip of start your day with a song? [chuckles]

Amy: Yes. That’s a good one.

Pam: Believe it or not, your children have their own agenda. They wake up in the morning with something that they want to do that day, and if you’re not always speedy with getting started with breakfast and school and all of those things, they get into their own little work. We walk in and expect them to just drop that and stop and come immediately. Even if they’re obedient in doing that, it’s still jarring for them.

I like to say avoid the light switch transition by starting to play a song, just pick any song that your family enjoys, anything that’s good, that you like, play it loud enough that everyone in your house can hear it. Instead of mom walking around the house yelling over and over again, “It’s time to start school,” and the yelling turning into angry yelling before it’s over because sometimes that happens.

Then your kids know when they hear the song they have until the song is over to get to the table and be ready to start, whether that be gathering time, their math lesson, their reading lesson, whatever it is you start with. It really, really does help, especially if you start when your kids are young, and you start working with them on this. Sometimes you have to have a consequence if they break it, but you know what?

I can think of maybe one or two times in the past nine years that my children have not showed up when they were supposed to. It really does work, and the attitudes are so much better than starting your day with trying to round everybody up.

Find Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully online

Amy: What a joyful way to get the day started musically with a smile? Pam, where can people find you all around the internet?

Pam: All around the internet you can find me at pambarnhill.com. That’s where Your Morning Basket Podcast, which is all about gathering time, that’s where you could find that and the 10 Minutes to a Better Homeschool Podcast. Then I’m on social media as Your Morning Basket.

Amy: Great. How about you, Heather?

Heather: I’m on Instagram as HeatherTullyPhotography, and then my website is heathertullyphotography.com.

Amy: Perfect. I will have links to all those things and to the new book Gather in the show notes for this episode over at humilityanddoxology.com. Thank you, ladies, for joining me today. It was really fun to chat.

Pam: Thanks, Amy.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast HumilityandDoxology.com Amy Sloan


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