My Mr. Putty post prompted a flurry of emails from readers wanting to know how on earth we fit so many read-alouds into our day. By chance, a recent discussion thread at the 4 Real forums focuses on the same issue. I’m going to crib from my forum post to answer those of you who have written me privately with this question. And to those who wrote—be encouraged by the knowledge that you are not alone! I think I’ve had more email about read-aloud time than any other topic except “So when is the next Martha or Charlotte book coming out?”
Around here, it sometimes seems as though read-alouds are all I do! For several months now, I’ve been having some pregancy-related mobility problems, and I’m not up to nature walks (a pity with the gorgeous weather we’ve had this winter) or big messy art/cooking/science projects. Right now, the kids are on their own for that kind of thing. But what I can do is read. Since I’m in one of my high tide phases, we’re doing a fairly structured Charlotte Mason-style reading and narration thing.
Between 9:00 and noon every day, the children and I gather in what I jokingly call our “sitting room.” It’s supposed to be a dining room, but we don’t have the furniture. For our first couple of years in this house it was mostly empty: Scott’s beat-up old bachelor computer desk in one corner—that’s where I’m sitting right now, as a matter of fact—and in the middle of the room, a big Brio train table we inherited from his sister. Then a friend’s father had a sofa he wanted to get rid of, and I jumped at it, and now that big blue couch is where I spend my mornings.
Wonderboy bops around the room, playing with Wedgits (my best toy purchase ever) and Playmobil, and the girls perch in various locations: on the arm of the couch, the back of the couch, the edge of the train table…(I guess just plain curling up on the couch isn’t interesting enough.) Their hands are busy with Sculpey or yarn. I have a basket of books at my feet and a mug of tea on the windowsill beside me. And I read.
I read from the Bible, a book about saints (currently 57 Saints for Children), a book of poetry (right now it’s either Longfellow or Frost, alternating), Our Island Story (twice a week), This Country of Ours (twice a week), D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods, Famous Men of Greece (twice a week), 50 Famous Tales (twice a week), a picture book for Beanie, and a chapter from whatever novel we are currently reading. I finished The Penderwicks last week (did I mention we adored it?) and now we’re giving recent Newbery Honor medalist Whittington a try.
In between the various books (and oral narrations following many of them), we sing (very badly), do our German & ASL lessons, do picture study, maybe do a little math, take run-around-the-house breaks (inside the house or out, depending on the weather), change Wonderboy’s diaper, draw pictures, watch birds at the feeders, clean up juice spills, and so on. The morning passes in a flash.
After lunch is a two-hour period of quiet time. Wonderboy naps, I read a picture book to Beanie and she naps, and then I take a half hour to eat my own lunch and check my email. Yes, it is a blissful half hour. Then I spend one-on-one time with the two older girls. I’m reading Old Yeller to Rose, and then she likes me to sit with her while she works on her pet project, ancient Greek. Jane and I do lots of different things together during her one-on-one: science projects (okay, she does and I watch); play Settlers of Catan or other games; write notes back and forth to each other in her Redwall notebook (I have been requested to read the whole-entire-really-really-long series and report my thoughts back to her in writing); stuff like that.
At 2:30 we all gather again for Shakespeare-and-snack time. Right now we’re reading As You Like It. After that, Scott comes up from work, and the kids go out to play for the rest of the afternoon, and it’s time for me to go down to the office and write.
At bedtime Scott is the read-aloud guy. Usually he reads to all three girls together but right now he has separate books going with each of them. Which, yes, makes for a very long bedtime routine, but Daddy deserves some one-on-one time too.
In many ways my pregnancy hip troubles have been a blessing for our family, because without the option of doing lots of active stuff (art projects, field trips, nature hikes) I had to rethink our routine, and despite many rounds of illness—Wonderboy has had pneumonia twice, and that ain’t the half of it!—and other challenges, our days this winter have been rich and fun. We have traveled all around the globe with Mr. Putty; we’ve picked apples in New England and fought Saxons in Old England. We’ve encountered frost giants, one-eyed monsters, woodland bandits, and a host of other strange folk. We’ve journeyed in hot-air balloons and dragon-headed ships. Not bad for a woman who limps like an injured duck.
Have voice, will travel.