Sunday, June 10, 2012

Read Aloud to Real Challenges: Mr. Bear's Chair and Constructing A Sabbath Chair

Sharing creative ideas with one another...
Three things that I do in training my young children up to know and love God are:
1.      Regularly surround them with others who live and love our faith, such as with families in our local Catholic homeschool co-op.
2.      Weave together traditional learning (such as language and literacy studies), out-of-the-box experiences (such as engineering challenges) and faith (such as discussion of Bible stories and the Catechism).
3.      Encourage them to recognize that God made each of us with our own unique gifts, talents and creative genius, and  He expects us to share all these with others.
The other day, Amy, a Training Happy Hearts Facebook Fan, reminded me of a course I put together with these three things in mind:  the Read Aloud to Real Challenges: An Early Literacy and Challenge Course that I planned and taught for our Catholic co-op in Spring 2011.  Amy also asked me to share what books I used for the course, besides the ones that I have previously written about (Albert’s Alphabet , which inspired us to build self-standing letters in honor of the Holy Spirit and My Friend Rabbit, which brought us to building towers to point to God.)
3 Chair Designs
Determined not to let my recent computer failure prevent me from answering Amy’s question in a timely manner, I spent some time last night searching old photos that I had on a different hard drive.  Success!

Beaming over rocking chair design...
I found photos from the third lesson that I taught both at co-op to 5-7 year olds and at home on my lawn with my then 3 and 5 year olds.    These helped me to reconstruct the lesson plan for the third class session of my Read Aloud to Real Challenges Course.

Delighting in cushioned chair design...
So, today, please enjoy this plan for a class centered around Thomas Graham’s Mr. Bear’s Chair and constructing a Sabbath Chair – a plan that would work for any week, but would tie in particularly well with:
  • exploration of the Creation Story.
  • discussion of the Sabbath
  • Father’s Day (since Dad’s work hard, but need rest, too!)
Materials Needed
To facilitate Mr. Bear’s Chair and A Sabbath Chair, you will need:
  • a copy of Mr. Bear’s Chair  by Thomas Graham.  (A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams could also work.)
  • a bag of mini-marshmallows (or gum drops)
  • a box of toothpicks
  • old magazines or catalogues
  • one sheet of address labels for each child or pair of children (These can be recycled from freebies you get in the mail; we were out of those, so I used blank labels.)
  • a “great stuff” box of materials and supplies leftover from prior classes or donated by children for this class
  • scissors
  • white boards and markers (or scrap paper and pencils)
Welcoming Prayer and Stretch

Welcome students back and ask if anyone can remember what we should do with our bodies to help our minds work. That’s right – stretch and move! Lead the following stretch, adding in movements according to students suggestions:

We thank you God for the sky above, (Stretch onto tip toes, arms up high, really reaching for the sky. Reach with one arm way up as high as you can. Reach with the other. Reach with both.)
and for the ground below. (Bend over and touch toes or floor. Tickle your own toes. Walk your hands up your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, tickling and/or squeezing your legs with your hands.)
We thank you, God, for everything (Lunge to one side, really stretching arm out. Press toward the wall.)
that we come to know. (Lunge to the other side. Then, feet together, bend over and touch the ground again, Roll up. Stack knees on top of feet, hips on top of knees, shoulders on top of hips, head up… Scrunch shoulders up to ear together. Then, one shoulder, the other, back to the first, back to the other. Up and down with both. Wiggle the entire body, turn around and sit down.)

Warm-Up Challenge: Make a Person
Let students know that now that their bodies are warmed up, it’s time to use their minds.  Ask if they can recall the Creation Story... Who made the world? (God!)  And us?  (God!)  Why? (To know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.)  Discuss how amazing God’s design for the world and for us is.  Ask them if they know in whose image God created us? (His.)  Then, take out a bag of marshmallows (or gum drops) and a box of toothpicks. 
Challenge children to take only ten minutes to make likenesses of people with only these two items, people.  Each created person should be able to sit on the edge of a table or chair without falling off.
After ten minutes, congratulate children on their creative figurine making and ask them to set their toothpick-and-marshmallow people aside until alter in the class.  If any child, however, has not finished creating a person, offer that child a choice of quietly doing so as you read the day’s story or waiting until later to do so.

Read Aloud: Mr. Bear’s Chair

Ask children if they can guess what today’s story might be about.  Then, show the cover of Mr. Bear’s Chair and take a picture walk through it.  Have children make predictions about what the text will be about.

Read Mr. Bear’s Chair, asking children to read text that they are capable of and taking time to stop to really look at the pictures and to make predictions as you go.  Be sure to identify what the problem in the story is and what Mr. Bear does to solve it.  Also ask what they think will happen next after the final page of the story.  How might Mr. Bear solve the problem suggested by the final illustration?
Ask children how Mr. Bear applied the strategy for solving problems that we have used for the past few weeks. How did he identify the problem, come up with a plan for solving it, test it and, if necessary adapt it?.

Finally, discuss themes and values related the book—loving relationships, enjoyment while eating together, care in work, serving one another, etc.

The Main Challenge: Building a Sabbath Chair

Ask what Mr. Bear and Mrs. Bear might do in a chair besides eat?  Respond to all answers, and, if no one suggests it, bring up the idea of resting.

Harken back to the Creation Story and ask if anyone knows what God did on the seventh day?  (He rested.)  What is a day when we honor God and rest?  (Sunday.)  Does anyone know another word that begins with “S” and means “a day of worship and rest from work”?  (Sabbath.)   

Suggest that just like Mr. Bear and Mrs. Bear might use their chairs for resting on the Sabbath, our newly created “people” might need a Sabbath chair. Review how to approach a problem: identify it, come up with a plan, test the plan, revise it as needed and, finally, share the results.

Present the day’s main challenge and its guidelines:

  • We will design and build chairs that the people we created can sit down to rest on.
  • Chairs must be self-standing.
  • Each chair must be able to support a marshmallow-and-toothpick person without the person falling off or the chair falling part, breaking or collapsing.
  • Only materials (address labels and magazines) and tools (scissors) provided may be used.  (You may also wish to include leftover materials from prior lessons or use items from a “Great Stuff” box.  All of the children in my class opted to go this route, and I honored their choice.)
Encourage students to plan their chairs out first on mini white boards (or scrap paper) and to meet the challenge on their own or through their collective creativity and problem-solving.  Encourage them to look critically at any problems they may run into with their designs and to helps each other discover ways to overcome these or to revise their plans.
Finally, of course, share the results!


If any students finish early, offer related mini-challenges, such as building people out of paper scraps, designing three-legged stools, creating rocking chairs, etc.
Inspiration for this lesson plan came from I Need to Sit Down and  A Chair for Mom at

As always, enjoy this plan, inspire creativity and remember:
  • process over product
  • experience and imagination over end-result and teacher-direction.
  • Credit where credit is due.

Honor each child’s problem solving and teamwork abilities and give thanks for creativity and personal interpretation that God grants each one of us.  And, most of all, enjoy!

Can my chair hold me?

Plus, if you happen to borrow ideas from this plan to use in your own home or co-op, please point folks back to this post (or series), and also, be sure to stop by and let me know how it went. I always enjoy hearing how others adapt my plans and collaborating to improve plans for future use.


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