When I was first introduced to the concept of "Children's Hour" by Montserrat of Cranial Hiccups, I immediately fell in love with the concept and had to try it. Though we vary in our success of doing this consistently (it gets harder as children get older and busier, or if I'm unorganized and late with dinner), our family loves this practice.
"Children's Hour" happens just after dinner is cleaned up and right before bedtime. This is where we all go into the living room as a family and just...be. Many times I will read from a wonderful read-aloud book while younger children play with legos or blocks and older kids are flopped on the couch. Sometimes children want to show us their "tricks" (somersaults, magic tricks, etc.), or play a song on the piano (whether they've had lessons or not!) We try to let them choose calmer activities and be in charge of that time.
It rarely lasts for an hour (sometimes it's only 10 minutes), but I love the concept of everyone being there, and being present. No electronics are allowed, we take time to settle down for the night, and do whatever the kids want to do. They get 100% of our attention.
Even though this takes effort and planning, when I think of the memories we are making, the feelings that come with this special time, and remember how I am trying to be deliberate with the time I am blessed to have with my children-I know it's a worthwhile thing to do. When we do calmer activities, there is an overwhelming sense of peace. Unity increases. We like each other better. We talk. We snuggle.
But I'll be honest with you. With so many boys in the family, sometimes it gets rowdy! (But that's ok, too.) Wrestling with Dad, Nerf gun wars, competitive board games, turning off all the lights and playing hide and go seek...I'll be honest, sometimes this ends with crying. But they have so much fun with each other (until the crying starts, of course) and the kids often refer to these times, "Remember when we all cornered Dad with our Nerf guns...". No matter how it turns out, I never regret making time for Children's Hour.
Here are a few tips for conducting your own Children's Hour:
-Organize your time, so you can do this without bumping back bedtime. Because, you know, bedtime is a parent's best friend.
- Know what you are having for dinner by lunch time. When I do this, the meat is thawed, I know I have all the ingredients and we end up eating on time instead of being late because of procrastination or last minute trips to the grocery store.
-Work out an afternoon schedule. Have a standard time when kids need to do homework, instead of whenever you or they remember.
-Limit outside activities. Football, piano lessons, gymnastics, scouts... these are all very good things! But for me, giving my kids a happy, unhurried, united family is the BEST thing I could ever give them. Family means time to connect and a place to belong, not just ships passing in the night. That means putting a time limit on all outside activities. Our kids might miss out on some things, but they will be receiving the best thing in return.
-Do it with whoever is there. It's wonderful when everyone can be there, but that's not always possible. Something is better than nothing.
-Make it fun. Don't do boring things! :)
-One last secret: Call it "Children's Hour" and let the kids pick what to do. When you call it "Story Time" or "Family Time" or something else, it can be hard for kids to get excited. "Children's Hour" makes them feel important- this is just for them. They also have a sense of control, since they get to help guide the evening's activities (within limits). One more benefit: it makes a great incentive for everyone to hurry and help clean up the kitchen and tidy other parts of the house!
I hope you will give this idea a try. Let your family get used to this new rhythm. It will take you back to older times. Times that were slower, times that were more intimate. It will create special moments for your family, where you will catch your children up in your arms and and say, as Longfellow did in his touching poem, "I have you fast in . . . my heart. And there will I keep you forever, Yes, forever and a day."
The Children's Hour
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Between the dark and the daylight,
When the light 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 from 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 mustache 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!
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