Read Aloud Time.
It has the potential for being some of the best moments of the school day. But, on the other hand, the promise of disaster if too many children are made to sit sedately for too long.
Although we have amassed a large assortment of fiction books, we typically save this time for reading library books. My usual pattern is to read two board books for The Newbie, two picture books mostly for the middle boys (Pre-K and Kindergarten), and one chapter from a chapter book for everyone to enjoy. After a morning of going in many different directions doing mostly independent, core studies, our read aloud time is our way of regrouping together.
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I'm sure right about now you have Norman Rockwell-esque visions of my family gathered around a warm fire, snuggled under a blanket together, wearing wistful grins as "Ma" reads from a hard-back classic. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!
Let's be honest...I have five children under the age of eight...three of whom are rambunctious boys...with a little baby brother soon to follow in their footsteps. Most of the time, my living room feels more like the chaos of a Rembrandt than the serenity of a Rockwell.
But, over the years, I have learned that most of the mayhem can be controlled by keeping little hands busy with some CONSTRUCTIVE activity. By providing some simple hand-work projects for the kids to do during our read-aloud time, I am creating an outlet for all their pent-up energy. Their minds are free to concentrate on the story when their bodies have been "paused"...if only for a little while.
ENTER THE HANDWORK BASKET
I have gathered a variety of inexpensive "hand-work" projects for the children to grab just before we sit down together. This is not something we do everyday, but rather, pull out whenever I sense it is needed.
Since picture books are naturally compelling, we save our projects for our chapter book. The children know to spread out and find a sitting place large enough for their chosen "hand-work". Sometimes I allow the middle boys to work together on an activity as long as they remain quiet.
I limit these activities to skill-oriented projects...no toys. I want the "fun" to be found in the reading of the book, not in playing with a flashy toy.
In addition, I typically reserve this time to be for activities that my children are already well-familiar with. Nothing spoils a good story more than having to pause a million times to give directions for a sewing or building project. My children must be fully comfortable and confident with a particular hand-work item before they may work on it during read-aloud time.
One might wonder whether the children can even listen and comprehend the story while working on something else. Amazingly enough, it usually helps them engage in the story even more. They often ask questions about the plot, laugh at humorous dialogue, and share thoughtful discussion afterward.
It is helpful to have projects that can be easily "set up" and "torn down". Hand work is designed to ASSIST during read-aloud time, not create more work for the mom. I have had to "outlaw" certain activities at times because they tend to explode all over the room. My rule of thumb is...if you can't set it up, complete it, and put it away ALL BY YOURSELF, then it is not suitable "hand-work."
As I mentioned, some activities have been more successful than others. Here is a list of some of the items that have made it into our basket.
- lace and trace cards
- Magic Mosaic kits
- coloring books
- large color mats
- friendship bracelet kits
- Joann Fabric craft kits
- pot holder weaving kits
- crochet materials
- knitting materials
- flip book kits
- snap circuits
- doodle books
- origami paper with idea books
- perler beads
- Knot-a-Quilt kits
Sweetie Pea is an auditory learner and has never needed to be "occupied". But, I insert items in the basket for her as well, so that she doesn't feel left out. Sometimes she opts to just lounge and listen.
With so many little ones, NOTHING is ever a silver bullet, but hand-work has certainly helped to control most of the commotion while I am reading.
Does your family do "hand-work?" What have been your most successful activities?