After researching through Charlotte Mason’s own Home Education series as well as through articles from the Parents’ Review, I’ve collected a handful of quotes in reference to this phrase. It seems that the “Children’s Hour” was in reference to a time period each day when parents might read aloud to their children, typically, it seems, in the evening.
Here Ms. Mason refers to it when writing about geography in Home Education, “But we are considering lessons as ‘Instruments of Education;’ and the sort of knowledge of the world I have indicated will be conveyed rather by readings in the ‘Children’s Hour’ and at other times than by way of lessons” (Vol. 1).
She again refers to it in Formation of Character with: “In connection with this subject let me add a word about story-telling. Here are some of the points which make a story worth studying to tell to the nestling listeners in many a sweet “Children’s Hour”;––graceful and artistic details; moral impulse of a high order, conveyed with a strong and delicate touch; sweet human affection; …” (Vol. 5).
In order to better fit our modern times, I’ve moved the suggested evening time period for the “Children’s Hour” to an earlier afternoon time period. This allows families more free time later for those who participate in extracurricular activities. Feel free to add a snack or tea time element to it. I’ve also added in several other Charlotte Mason activities that were often completed in the afternoon such as picture study and poetry study.
Please note that while some time tables show a specific time allotment for “Tales” in Form I, some do not. In fact, the one which did not suggested that these be read later, such as during “Children’s Hour”. Tales, myths, legends, poetry and literature will all be included in the works read during “Children’s Hour” for this curriculum. Any of these selections which do not fit during this time period can be moved down to the later period of “Storytime”. Please adjust as best fits your family.
What does the Children’s Hour look like?
When one envisions the Children’s Hour, it is idyllically thought of as a time when sweet children have gathered around the reader with glowing eyes and enraptured, upturned faces, listening with intention and delight. A fire warmly burning in the background and empty hot chocolate mugs sitting on a side table adds to this picture. Unfortunately, it can be frustrating for the reader when this is not how it turns out. Sometimes, children are bickering over who sits where, who can see the pictures and who cannot and who is touching or annoying whom. Sighs and doubts arise when the reader spends more time correcting behavior then making progress thought the story. Ideally, a middle ground should be sought, particularly since this event takes place daily. It may not be idyllic, but it should be free of frustration.
How is the reading of different books to multiple children to be managed?
Reading aloud to more than one child at a time brings with it some arrangement issues. Here are a few ideas of how to manage the sitting and listening part of this act:
Read aloud while all are gathered around at the table. The reader can sit at one end, allowing for pictures from the book to be better viewed by all. Many families like to share a snack or have tea at this time. The snack and drinks should all be served or set out on the table so that children may easily help themselves before the reading commences -hopefully preventing interruptions. Eating and drinking can occupy the children, giving them something to do while listening.
Read aloud from a chair as children sit on the floor around the chair. This too allows the pictures to be better viewed and keeps arguments over who sits where to a minimum, since all children will sit on the floor. If there is disagreement over which child sits nearest the reader, then consider rotating through the children with these positions.
Read aloud from a chair or sofa using a computer tablet or notebook. The teacher can either use a free version of the book or take pictures of the pages of the book beforehand. As the teacher reads from her device, the children can sit on the floor around the book itself, viewing the pages in this way. This could lead to some issues in turning the pages at the appropriate time, which child turns the pages, etc. Again, putting out rules about how this could take place and rotating between the children could help with this.
These strategies would work well with families of more than two children. If your family is made up one reader and two children, then the reader can sit in the middle of the sofa and one child each can sit on either side of him.
Also, consider allowing children to work quietly while listening to the readings. They could work with quiet handcrafts, blocks, coloring books, puzzles, etc. Children often do not appear to be listening, but can surprise you later with how much they were. On the other hand, if your children are unable to do two things well at once (and many of us cannot), then consider letting children keep their focus more streamlined. Perhaps they can listen and use paper and crayons to draw, but what they draw must revolve around the story to which is being read. Perhaps they can better handle only quiet activities which are more monotonous such as knitting. Consider, also, if they just might be better at cuddling up in a blanket and holding onto a lovey while listening. They could play with the ears of their lovey or the ends of the blanket as something “to do with their hands”. As always, find what works best for your children as individuals.
Consider reading a book aloud when it best fits your schedule and recording it, so that the student(s) can listen to it when it best fits their schedule. This might be helpful during a stressful time period.
Remember, even older children -who can certainly read well enough on their own-enjoy listening to their teacher or parent read aloud to them. They too enjoy belonging to this family time and can learn a great deal by watching their younger siblings experience these books.
How should I read aloud?
Character "voices" are optional. I often hear or read advice about reading aloud and one that particularly bothers me is the advice that when reading aloud we should give the characters from the books different “voices”. I must confess, I do not give each character his own voice when I read aloud. I may have, when a lot of back-and-forth dialogue was involved, slightly adjusted my voice to distinguish between characters, but these were never very distinctive per each character. Hopefully, this advice does not keep those who are not interested in this type of reading from continuing to read aloud. On the other hand, if you are good at doing this and it is enjoyed by all in the family, then certainly feel free to add this aspect into your reading.
Read clearly and enunciate your words carefully. If there are words which require some pronunciation practice, such as the mythologies, then consider reading ahead in these books, giving you a chance to look up and practice the pronunciation before reading it.
Equally important is to read with range in your voice. Try not to read in a monotone voice. For example, if a section of the story is meant to be exciting, then read with a bit more excitement in your voice. It’s not necessary to overdramatize, but matching the sorrow, soberness, joyfulness and other array of human emotions with those being expressed in the book makes the story more relatable.
Read books meant for the youngest listeners first. This way they can leave the group as both the time needed for quiet listening has increased and the reading level has increased. This also allows older children the option to be a part of the whole group from the beginning. You’d be surprised at how much older children still enjoy those picture books, even if it’s just to revisit them.
Give time to linger over pictures.
Allow a few moments after reading for just general conversation about the reading(s). This gives children a chance to ask questions or clarify as needed. This is particularly helpful for those who go on to narrate about it.
The Children’s Hour creates a time in a busy schedule when the family can come together and connect with the world of story. Even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a father of three daughters, knew too of this beautiful family event; a time when all would gather and dwell together in the world of imagination and wonder. He wrote “The Children’s Hour”, a lovely poem reflecting on this daily part of the family routine, which is enclosed below.
The Children’s Hour
Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
That is known as the Children’s Hour.
I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.
From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall-stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.
A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.
A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!
They climb up into my turret
O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.
They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse Tower on the Rhine!
Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old moustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!
I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.
And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!