Storming? Time to Enjoy Books, Games, Music and Crafts

Reading together is one of the joys of living slowly.In the mid-Atlantic region, we’re battening down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Preparations include drawing water, gathering candles and oil lamps, and trying to get everything washable washed in case the power goes out. Once the basics are done and the power is out, life slips into another rhythm—slower, quieter, and in its own way, more peaceful. As soon as I hear a stormy forecast, I feel an almost irresistible urge to make chili, popcorn balls, and other delights so that we’ll be ready for whatever comes.

Books, board games, musical instruments, and hand-crafts are key ingredients for making these times memorable in a positive way. One of my favorite memories is of sitting around the dining room table reading Macbeth by flickering lamplight with trees lashing and rain pounding on the roof as the edge of a hurricane passed by. It provided a dramatic and memorable backdrop for Shakespeare’s tale of murder and mayhem and the semi-darkness encouraged even the most reserved reader to add a bit of drama to his parts.

[NOTE: Our thoughts and prayers are with those closer to the center of the storm. This post is shared for those who are safe and unharmed, and may need ways to pass time and comfort small children. We know that storms can be life-changing, but most simply pass by and those are the subject of this post.]

Good books to read when power goes out

If you’re in the storm zone and as safe and prepared as possible, I encourage you to approach schooling through the power outage as a bit of an adventure. Pull out books that tell of life in simpler times—things such as:

The American Boys Handy Book

If anyone should feel inclined to complain about being without electronic gear, you may want to try:

Add in a few fun things such as Tintin, Hank the Cowdog, Calvin and Hobbes, and a few copies of Shakespeare’s plays for simple dramatization, and you’ll be ready for a few days of reading around the fire.

Board games and other non-electric fun

Games can be a lot of fun (educational, too), but it’s not always easy to find time for them. Stormy weather and power outages are the perfect opportunity. Classics such as Scrabble, Monopoly, Risk, Clue, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders (all registered trademarks of their various companies) provide hours of fun. A simple deck of cards can work for anything from Go Fish to Spades to Solitaire, so it’s nice to have cards and a book of card games on hand. Remember, you won’t be able to Google for the rules!

Beyond games, there’s a lot you can do. Listening to my boys reminisce about their childhood, I discovered that one of their favorite memories is of the times I let them use sheets and blankets to create a tent labyrinth all over the living room and dining room. Of course it’s frightful mess, and of course there is tidying up afterward, but the memories are priceless. They would spend hours in their tent/cave/fort/maze/whatever it was, narrating and acting out stories of all sorts.

Homemade music

Drei musizierende Bauern by David Teniers d. J. 003Not so long ago, people used to make their own music. In addition to singing or whistling, many people learned to play an instrument. It was considered a basic social accomplishment in certain cultures, and in an age when there was no recorded music available, it was one of the only ways people could hear music. People would gather around an instrument and sing, or simply listened a family member play. From front porches in the Ozarks to the finest parlors in New York City, music was a hands-on affair.

Ideally, every family will have at least a few instruments (harmonica, piano, recorder, guitar, anything), and power outages offer a perfect time to come together for informal jam sessions. This only works if everyone is given permission to play for fun, and not expected to be perfect. A jam session begins with tuning, then finding a few simple, familiar tunes to try out. Anything you’d sing around a campfire is usually simple enough to begin with, then you can move into simple hymns and folk songs.

If you don’t have instruments on hand, visit the sites below and check out the homemade instruments you can make:

Inventing Homemade Instruments with Math and Measurement by Phil and Sarah Tulga

Creative Arts and Crafts

If you’re in a small space and can’t built giant indoor labyrinths, or can’t create a kazoo band due to neighbor protests, there is still fun to be had. There are few things more satisfying than making something that will last. Handwork strengthens hand-eye coordination and the ability to follow instructions, and helps both boys and girls to become more confident and competent. Here are a few possible projects for days when your power is out:

Nine-patch potholders or doll/bear blankets: Recycle a couple of old woven cotton shirts or other garments by cutting them into a bunch of 2″ or 3″ squares, depending on the size you want the finished item to be. Try to cut on the straight of the grain (follow the line of the woven threads which run up and down, left and right). Sort the squares into light and dark piles, then choose nine squares—five dark, four light or vice versa. Arrange them in a square similar to a tic-tac-toe board, rearranging until the color balance pleases your eye. Sew pieces together one row at a time, using a 1/4″ seam.

You can find good instructions for hand-stitching a simple nine-patch at the Penelope Waits blog. The video below shows how to machine stitch a nine-patch, with excellent close-ups of the process.

Other small items that you can try if you have yarn on hand or can unravel an old sweater or afghan include doll blankets in knit or crochet. Remember granny squares? Children seem to master these quite easily, and instructions can be found in many books, online at, and on YouTube. I’ve embedded one video below, but there are many others available.

In addition to sewing and needlework, there are the kind of crafts done at summer camps and in long-ago classrooms. These include finger paints, collage, clay, scrapbooking, macaroni pencil holders, and more.

Still Life with Round Bottle- 1770- Anne Vallyer-CosterI hope you’re convinced that time spent during a power outage can be time well spent. Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that our running water goes away when power goes out, I’d wholeheartedly enjoy the occasional breaks in the rush of routine. When life slows down, you catch a glimpse of how previous generations lived, in both good and bad ways. Families tend to gather where there is light and heat, so there are often more opportunities for fun, laughter, and memories. You may even find yourself looking forward to the next power outage!

1 Response

  1. Wonderful post…I couldn’t agree more!

    Although our home is in the piedmont region of North Carolina, our eastern coast felt the early brunt of Hurricane Sandy while our mountains to the west experienced the first snowfall of the season. Likewise, there are a few routine preparations that go on at our house with the approach of a storm. Yesterday our youngest son gathered wood and started the wood stove…always LOVE cooking with cast iron. Naturally, our evening “read aloud” moved downstairs by the stove. Nothing draws my family (and pets) together like the light and warmth of the wood stove!

    Although we are far enough inland to escape even a power outage from Sandy, it’s nice to be poised and ready for more fun, laughter, and memories!

    Gail in NC

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