Rhythm and Routines: the Flow of the Day

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The following was written by editor Kara Fleck.

This month at Simple Kids we’re talking about rhythms and routines for life with children.  The contributors and I have been working on writing about a variety of aspects of daily life from a range of perspectives and circumstances.  Our hope is that you will find these posts helpful as  you craft you own family’s routines.

Rhythm vs. Routine

Some of us are “by the clock” people.  Some of us are not.  For some a detailed schedule or structured routine, where events occur at the same time every day, works well for their family and for others a less detailed order of events is a better fit.

I tend to fall into the second category myself and prefer to think of our days as having a “rhythm” rather than a “routine” because, to me, that term seems gentler and more flexible.   So, “rhythm” is the term you will see me use the most often.

But, really, what you call it  – rhythm or routine – doesn’t matter. Because no one family will exactly mirror another family, there aren’t “one size fits all” parameters.  In other words, there is no “right” or “wrong” – only what works for your family in this season of your life.

The Anchors of the Day

If you’re just getting started establishing a rhythm for your family, or perhaps if you are re-evaluating your days as you enter a new circumstance, my advice is to focus on what I call the anchors of the day.

Notice that I’m not specifically speaking right now about a cleaning routine, although some might find that incorporating household chores and caring for their living spaces into their rhythm is something they want/need to do.

What I’m talking about is tasks and events of the day related to the care and physical well-being of the people that live in your household.

A Basic Morning Rhythm

If you’re struggling, feeling like there is no rhyme or reason to your days, one good place to start creating structure is by focusing on developing a morning routine.  In fact, when I find myself in a place where it seems our rhythm is slipping a bit, getting back into the habit of a solid morning routine is where I start.

I find that how the morning goes at our home sets the tone for the rest of the day, so a dependable morning routine is a help to my whole family.

If you don’t have a morning routine in place and would like to, or your existing routine needs a little tweaking, first take some time to come up with a short list of reasonable expectations for your mornings.  Keep it simple!

Here are some potential questions to ask yourself, along with some possible answers:

  • What needs to be accomplished? (breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, combing hair, prep for school)
  • What would you help the rest of the day flow smoother? (morning chores: clearing the breakfast things, making beds, gather school stuff before the bus arrives)
  • What tasks are specific for the parent?  (make breakfast, check day’s calendar)
  • What about for the kids? (help clear breakfast things, gather backpacks and coats for school, make beds)
  • In what order should these tasks be done?

Now, ask yourself what is a realistic amount of time to get these things done? In other words, how early do you need to be getting up in order to get the day started on the right foot?

Once you’ve established your routine, the key is repeating it until it becomes a habit that anchors the start of your day. If you need to, write it down and place it somewhere prominent, giving yourself a visual guide until it becomes automatic behavior.

You might find that your kids need visual reminders, too. We have used these printable kids morning routine cards from Living Locurto at our house with success.  I printed them on cardstock, laminated them, and then put them on the kids’ bathroom door.

If you find something isn’t working, or that you need to add something in, go ahead and tinker with the plan.  This is your family’s personal rhythm, after all, and it needs to serve you well and help the day’s flow.

Stick with that morning routine and then move on to giving structure and developing a rhythm for another part of the day until that becomes a habit, too.

Tips For Getting Started from the Simple Kids Archives:

Photo by Kara Fleck

A Brief Outline of Our Routine

We are a homeschooling two-parent family of five with a nine year old, four year old, and a two year old. This is the rhythm of the day that is working best for us right now.

Morning Routine

Our morning routine looks like this:

  • Mom up first, quiet time (I get up at 5am to give myself a peaceful time to start the day in)
  • Daddy up, coffee together
  • Kids up (older ones get dressed, brush hair and Daddy or I help the youngest)
  • Breakfast (Daddy leaves for work)
  • Morning Chores (clear the breakfast things, set table for lunch, kids make beds, brush teeth)
  • Kids freeplay (during this time I’m prepping for today’s homeschool and usually set up a playscape or a busy box to occupy my toddler while we have our lessons)

Meal Times

I try to make sure that we eat our meals around the same time every day.  Sometimes we need to be more flexible, of course, but I find that regular meal times are another place to give us anchors within our days.

  • Breakfast
  • Morning Snack (This gives us a transition time during homeschool.  We usually do a craft or have an activity before homeschool lessons begin again.)
  • Lunch (Generally followed by some outdoor play)
  • Afternoon Snack (Around 4 o’clock, as we eat dinner when Chris gets home at 6:30)
  • Dinner

Occasionally we might have some cinnamon toast and milk or some sort of light snack before bedtime, but not very often.

Each meal or snack time is followed by a brief clean up, during which everyone is expected to help.  I have found it helps if we set the table for the next meal or snack after we finish the previous one. I try to involve the kids as much as I can in preparing meals and snacks, too.

Evening/Bedtime Routine

Our bedtime routine is:

  • Bath
  • Pajamas
  • Brushing Teeth
  • Story Time
  • Sleep (after the kids are asleep I do a quick 15 minute prep for the next morning)

Does every single day always look like this, perfectly?  Well, no of course not.  Life happens. For example, I haven’t been faithful about getting up at 5am daily during this pregnancy and I imagine when the new baby comes this Summer, we’ll do some adapting and make some changes as needed.

And, of course, there are many things that fill in those spaces in between our anchor points.  Some days are busier than others and some days are more challenging.

However, these are the anchor points I strive to reach every day.  This daily rhythm, combined with our weekly rhythm (which I’ll share with you on Friday) helps our lives to flow more smoothly.  Having a daily rhythm is a valuable tool that I feel helps my parenting.

Do you have a basic daily routine? Or, are you hoping to bring more rhythm to your days? What are some obstacles you face and how have you overcome them /or are you working to overcome them to help your days flow more smoothly?  If you’ve written about your daily routines, I’d love it if you’d share a link in the comments so that others can read and we can exchange ideas and tips.

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About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

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Comments

  1. After much trial and error, I’ve found that when the three of us are all home together, a rhythm rather than a time-scheduled routine works better for us. When I give myself the expectation that we’re going to finish a certain task and start the next one by 4:30, or whatever the time may be, I start to get stressed out and feel like I’m “late” if we didn’t make it. I recommend Jamie Martin’s Steady Days book for those having trouble with routine or rhythm. She reminds us that the schedule we impose on ourselves is supposed to work for us rather than us working for it. If it’s causing stress, it probably needs to be changed.
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    • I’m similar, Jaimie. In fact, that is why I don’t wear a watch anymore. I found myself constantly looking at my wrist to check the time. :-)

      Yes, I second the recommendation on Steady Days! She’s got lots of simple, easy to implement ideas in the book as well as a variety of various examples of days for a variety of circumstances – working at home, working outside the home, homeschooling, etc.
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  2. We’re sort of a mix between a rhythm and a routine, leaning more toward rhythm since each day is different. Our mornings differ depending on what we have going on that day. We always start with breakfast, but what happens from there changes. Our meals and bedtimes lean more toward a routine since we aim for the same time every day, the kids follow the same set up, and bathtime is the same every night – bath, books, prayer, hugs, bed.
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    • That is a fitting way to think of it: a combination of the two.

      Our anchors dont’ always occur at the same time, but they do generally go in the same order and follow the same format, so that is why I tend to think of what we do as more “rhythm” than “routine” – but, again, it doesn’t matter. Whatever works for each individual family is what matters :-)

      What happens in between the anchor points varies from day to day here, too. One of the things that makes live interesting and fun, I think, is its joyous variety – and, with small kids, you sure get a lot of that! :-)
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  3. One of the good things about establishing anchors and rhythms/routines is that it makes it easier to get through resistance in doing certain things. The fact that we do a big house clean on Saturdays is accepted practice. And when it comes to family fitness – a big part of our household – because we accept that most afternoons we’re going to go on a bikeride or play soccer or something, there is less grumbling from the kids (and parents). We just do it. Eventually it becomes something that we just instinctively do as part of our day – something I’m so glad we’re passing on to our kids.

    When activities always have to be weighed and chosen deliberately, it can take a lot of energy and it’s easy enough to just put them off. By making them fixed parts of your routine, you can really make sure you do it. For exercise this can be essential for making it part of your family culture.
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    • My daughter has done a great job with this and her 6 kids. They know what they are supposed to do when they get home from school. They have a snack, homework and then chores. And after dinner, nobody runs off to play, they all know what has to be done before they can play or take baths or whatever the plans are for the evening. Kids do so much better with a routine or schedule. And like Sarah said, there isn’t resistance (most of the time) because everybody *knows* what has to be done.
      Great post!
      Bernice
      Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Don’t live in default mode

      • “One of the good things about establishing anchors and rhythms/routines is that it makes it easier to get through resistance in doing certain things”

        That is a good point, Sarah. Another benefit to kids growing up knowing what to expect and being able to anticipate what comes next. Helpful for adults, too, I think.
        Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  4. What a grea post Kara — I am definitely looking forward to the rest of this series!!

    We rely a lot of rhythm here. Like you, I lean toward rhythm because I feel like it gives us a little more flexibility, and I tend to need flexibility!

    I think one of my favorite things about having a rhythm is that if the day starts going off track, there seems to be a place to pick things up and start again. But I also find tht if things get off track first thing in the morning, the rest of the day I feel a little like I am struggling against the current sometimes. I think I would like a more consistent morning routine for myself — I’d really like to be one of those moms who remembers to put the laundry in the washer before breakfast!! :o)

    • Thanks, Kara! :-)

      Yes, another good point here: when things start getting a little off track, starting with the next anchor point (wherever you are in the day) is a good way to get things flowing more smoothly again.

      It really helps me to have things written down. I write a lot of little notes and reminders to myself. :-)
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  5. I definitely find that having a morning rhythm can make or break the day!

    If I can get the boys off to school without yelling, it is a good day.
    http://enjoybirth.com/blog/2011/01/24/dont-yell-at-the-kids-before-school/
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  6. Great post! I really love the Simple Media blogs – they’ve been a huge inspiration for me.

    Ironically, I had just posted on the comfort of routine on our family blog:

    http://chezstephens.blogspot.com/2011/03/comfort-of-our-routines.html

    It’s been a frequent topic on my personal blog as well, from the comfort of weekend routines to getting organized (http://carpediembeth.blogspot.com).

    Thanks for the great sites!

  7. Over the last few months I’ve been tweaking the rhythms and routines surrounding the anchors of our day. And I have sites like this to thank for offering up great ideas and inspiration. I’ve got a post in the wings on how we anchor our day so I’ll post that later today once it’s published but I do have one area I need help with. I am home with my girls most of the time and my husband works full time. He’s home with us two days a week, his weekends, and while we love having him home, he throws off our rhythm/schedule. Do you have any advice on how to keep it all flowing when the balance is thrown off? I’m all about being flexible but with two young kids (3.5 & 1.5 yrs old) they become a little more unruly on these days.
    Carla´s latest post: Designing My Life With Intention- A Personal Manifesto In Detail

    • I think for most of us the rhythm of the weekend is generally different than the rhythm of the rest of the week. I know at my house it is. But, I imagine when those “weekends” are in the middle of your regular week it is a bit jarring to the flow of the rest of the week.

      Can you possible keep anchor points on those days consistent, but let the rest of the day flow from there? Perhaps get him involved in part of the routines, say maybe taking over bedtime or breakfast on those days? – so that him being home becomes a special part of the week’s routine, but the anticipated bedtime/morning time/etc. is still held in place?

      It sounds like that could be a challenge for sure. I’m eager to hear what others think. Perhaps someone here is in a similar situation and could share what worked for them?

      Thanks for asking this Carla. I’m interested to hear what others think :-)

      Best Wishes!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

      • Carla-
        I’m wondering the same things as my husbands weekends fall on weekdays and is 3 days, so creating a rhythm for 4 days only to have it blown to pieces the other 3 days is hard.
        I think for me I’m going to have to get my husband on board with keeping up with a daily rhythm…at least as far as the anchors of the day. I know if I talk with him about it he’ll probably keep me on task :)

  8. THis is something that we have discussed a lot at our house over the past six months. I think given the choice, I would have our lives lean toward rythym but one of our kids is a very routine oriented child, which means that our family has become very routine oriented. It’s a tough balancing act to find that point where you have routine and structure but not rigidity and stress, I think it’s something that takes constant re-tooling, but for a peaceful, smoothly flowing family, it’s worth the work.
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  9. Thanks for the great post, as always!

    I’m having a harder time with routines now that I have kids of such different ages to homeschool and since I do so much writing. I generally write my articles in the morning and work blogging in at the end of the day or whenever it fits. I used to do homeschooling projects with my older kids while occupying the littles in other ways, but now that I have 3 kids with different homeschooling needs (and a nearly 4 year-old) it’s getting much trickier to juggle.

    I didn’t see writing in your schedule and am curious when you fit that in for yourself?

    I also really relate to the tiredness! I seem to be sleeping all the time, and dealing with morning (afternoon and evening) sickness when I’m not. It’s a bit tricky getting anything done these days! :)
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    • Thanks for your kind words, Alicia :-) And, yes, I’m looking forward to the “feeling human” again phase of pregnancy LOL

      On writing – sometimes, quite honestly, it is a bit of a juggling act. But, for the most part I write in the mornings. I’m up about an hour and a half before anyone else, even Chris, so usually I’ve got a good pocket of time (after that first cup of something and some prayer/reflection time) to write and edit. I generally get about 45 minutes every morning.

      Chris is also pretty supportive and will take over bedtime “solo” one or two nights a week if I need him to so that I can work (tho’ I find I do better and am more productive in the mornings. I just seem to be the type of person who needs as much sleep on this side of midnight as she can get to function. Burning the midnight oil doesn’t work for me)

      I also schedule one or two weekend afternoons a month for JUST writing. Not catching up on laundry or homeschool planning or surfing Ravelry (LOL) but just writing. If I can get out of the house to do that, fantastic. But, normally it is me locking myself away in a quiet(er) part of the house or Chris taking the kids out to run errands or go to the park, etc.

      I try to take advantage, as it sounds like you do, of those little chunks of time that pop up unexpectedly as the day goes on, too. My friend Carrie calls that being a “master of small chunks of time” :-)

      I will be in a similar place regarding homeschooling in the future, so I’m often looking to parents like you, balancing many students in various stages at once, to see how you do it.

      Here’s to both of us feeling less tired very soon! :-)
      Best wishes!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  10. I really like your point about having “anchor points” throughout the day. Sometimes the Groundhog’s Day grind of life with small peanuts can be tedious. And I DO like to mix it up. But not in a way that makes things chaotic for kids. But I do stick to key anchor points to ground our days!

    • Alexis, you bring up a good point here: it can get tedious for a parent, especially during the younger years of childhood. There is much to be said about striking that balance between a rhythm kids can depend on and find comfort in and mixing it up and keeping life from slipping into a rut.

      Part of the reason I started including certain things in our weekly routine, which I’ll talk more about Friday, was to give myself as a parent that balance between being able to go on “auto pilot” but also giving enough variety to our weeks so that I didn’t feel like I was losing my mind :-)

      Our activity days and crafting days are just as much for me as for the kids, in that regard.

      Good point!
      Kara @SimpleKids´s latest post: Rhythm and Routines- the Flow of the Day

  11. I really believe that how we start the day sets the tone for the rest of the day and like to strive for a positive, smooth morning. We were really struggling to get out the door, peacefully, each morning, even though I’d allow for more than enough time. The kids would procrastinate, stall, and need to be reminded of every little thing they had to do. It was driving me a big bonkers.

    So a few weeks ago we made a rewards chart for my 7yr old son and agreed that we would only tell him when it was “time to get ready” after breakfast. That meant that he would look at his clothes to determine which shoes to wear, get them on, go to the bathroom, get his coat on, and grab his backpack and lunch bag.

    After just 10 days he had it down! No more rewards chart needed and mornings are soooo much smoother around here.
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  12. I just learned about the idea of rhythm recently and I love it. I just had my 3rd baby 3 months ago (oldest is 4yrs) and finding a rhythm has saved my sanity. The challenges I’m trying to figure out and work with are 1) my husband is very anti schedule and so it’s hard to include him without getting frustrated that he might throw off the balance, 2) we live in NYC and I want us to take advantage of all the city has to offer (since we will probably leave in the next couple of years), but doing so often messes up naps and dinner times. Does anyone else have a spontaneous spouse? How do you lovingly work their needs/personality into your rhythm?
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  13. I have always felt my days have been pretty loose, but reading this, I realize I was more a “rhythm” person vs routine. I work from home and my spouse works different shifts – it varies through the week, and that is more a struggle now as my kids are older than it was when they were younger, although if you had asked me a few years back, I would have said it was tough then especially with a new baby – I always found bath time difficult, so I honestly no longer use that as an anchor at all – many times I find late afternoon is perfect for a bath to decompress a cranky baby or toddler. My other kids are old enough they take showers either in the morning or evening.

    In terms of spontaneity, I am probably the worst offender of this vs my husband. I think nothing of staying late at the lake on a beautiful summer day and either bringing a picnic dinner, running to the bagel shop for a fast dinner, or having pancakes or waffles late after coming home and doing quick baths/showers. I can’t imagine interrupting my kids building sand castles or splashing in the water as twilight descends just to meet a particular “bedtime” deadline – but then again, my kids tend to sleep in so they recover the next day. I know many kids who pop up at 6 am regardless of bedtime, so perhaps my flexibility with my schedule is because my kids do tend to sleep later to make it up the next day. At the same time, there were certain golden rules I never broke regardless of my desire to do something or my husband’s. All of my kids napped at home in their cribs even if it meant we skipped an activity, ended something early, or split up on a weekend with my husband so someone was home with the napping child. My kids NEVER were able to nap in the car although I know others do fine. So, I think with someone spontaneous, you just have to draw your absolute lines in the sand based on your own kids (do they melt at a certain time, can you bring a snack or shift the time of the trip to better fit with their normal routine/rhythm) and how well they do with change or recover. We also would sometimes take a couple of the kids but not others based on the outing as one of our kids was a homebody and was easily overwhelmed by lots of noise/activity so it was no fun for him so one of us would stay home. I have never felt our family suffered by not always being together – in fact, I’d often come home to a very happy spouse who used that time to get something down or just decompress himself and vice versa!

  14. Great topic! I think generally kids are more responsive to rhythm than a schedule. It’s usually more about knowing what to expect next than it is about getting it at an exact time. Sometimes being too committed to a schedule is the bigger problem. You’re more likely to get a tantrum from a child when you skip half of the bedtime routine than you will when you follow the same routine but hit the pillow a half hour early or late. This is helpful for parents to remember when there are those changes in schedule. As long as the basic routine of the anchor points remain fairly predictable, kids generally do OK. Of course, as with most things, we have to know our own kids and make the adjustments they need.
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  15. Megan Nelson says:

    Im so grateful for this post. Finding a rhythm is something I’ve really struggled with lately, which has made things quite chaotic. I’m reading Steady Days now and I’m trying to write out some goals and rhythmic schedule for us. I think this will help all of us but especially my very spirited 3.5 yr old who has a tougher time with transitions.

    While trying to determine our schedule the thing I struggle with most is the variation of our days. My husband travels about 50% of the time (sometimes more) right now and works long hours much of the rest of the time. His schedule is often more spontaneous than scheduled, even his traveling. My schedule with the girls is also variable – factoring in 3 1/2 days of preschool, 1 day with no commitments and a day with a scheduled activity. Is there any advice for finding rhythm with this many variables? Working DH’s sched in and filling that day with no commitments seem to be my biggest struggles.

  16. My husband works at home — it’s taken us awhile to figure out a rhythm especially since he’s a more typically scattered, fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy. We make sure to have breakfast together – which he cooks! (yeah!) Then, we both put the kids to bed and have family time then. We try to have family dinners at the dining room table with candles when we can but it’s not always possible.

    Of course, things change but that’s what we’re doing now.

  17. Thanks so much for this post! We need a morning rhythm/routine badly and just needed a little guidance on how to go about it. It doesn’t help that I just entered my third trimester with my 4th little one and have been much more tired and less motivated lately. I’m hoping by establishing regular parts to our day that it will help all of us with the upcoming transition.

  18. I love the idea to set the table for the next meal. We are so casual during the day about leaving clutter around on the table– I feel like this would make things go smoother!
    Great post, Kara. It always helps me to see what others are doing!

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