The following was written by Simple Kids editor Kara Fleck.
This article originally ran in March 2010. I know I could use a reminder to keep things simple as we start a new back-to-school routine. I thought some of you might find it helpful, too.
P redictable rhythms are important for kids, giving them anchor points in their days and weeks. Odds are that you already have some sort of rhythm in your life. Even something as simple as bath time, pajamas, brushing teeth, story time is a bedtime routine that children can come to know and count on.
Perhaps you go to the library on Thursdays or you bake together on the weekends. Anything that you do on a regular basis is your routine.
Creating a family routine from scratch, adding new elements to an established routine, or altering schedules when life situations change can be a bit intimidating. Being consistent with your schedule helps establish rhythm, but it doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
Here are five tips to keep in mind when creating routines and establishing a rhythm in your home:
1. Keep it Simple
Pick one element to add in to your routine and work on getting that woven into your rhythm before you add another. Decide what your top priority is and focus only on that.
Maybe you want to start incorporating a crafting day into your week or a daily story time. Focus on blending that one addition into your schedule before you move on to adding in another layer.
It is good to have a goal in mind of where you would like to be eventually, but create a schedule based on the way things are at this moment in time. Do what will work for your family the way things are right now.
If you know your young child needs to take a nap in the afternoon, don’t plan to run errands or arrange afternoon play dates until after naptime. Save those outings for a time when you know your child is more receptive to activity and it will be more enjoyable for all of you.
This is the season of life to be realistic about your time constraints, obligations, and the ages and stages of your children.
2. Stay Flexible
Allow yourself to make changes if things aren’t working. Perhaps the day you chose for crafting is creating stressful afternoons because there isn’t enough time to devote to a project between nap time and dinner preparations. By staying flexible you can play around with your schedule until you find a day and a time that are a better fit.
Don’t be tempted to over-schedule your days. Allow your family to have some downtime. The purpose of routines is to allow your days to run smoother so that your family can enjoy them.
Don’t be tempted to fill up those spaces with more activities and commitments when things are running smoothly. Instead, enjoy the quiet and the slow days.
Be Open to Change
Be willing to make changes as your family changes. One thing I have learned to be true about family life is that it exists in a fluid state: children grow, situations change, life happens.
Being willing to re-evaluate from time to time gives you the freedom to create a routine that meets the needs of your family.
3. Lower Your Expectations
Yes, I said to lower them. You don’t have to do it all and I would encourage you not to try. Evaluate what is essential and then eliminate what you don’t need. Take out the extra steps and keep things basic.
Lets say one of the things you want to add to your routine is to start serving your family a warm breakfast every morning. Don’t overwhelm yourself by attempting a different menu every morning of the week or by preparing complex, time-consuming recipes you’ve never tried before. Seek out something simple and tried-and-true that you already know how to make well. Perhaps make it a goal this first week to serve a hot breakfast for two mornings and then next week aim for four.
Get the basics established and once you have a solid foundation you can build on to your routine from there.
4. Make it Personal
Your family’s rhythm isn’t going to look like any other family’s rhythm. That is okay. Family routines are very personal and each household’s will be unique. The only “right” routine is the one which works the best for you for the place where you are today.
Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Joneses
Many of my own early attempts at creating routines for my family were doomed to fail from the beginning because I was trying to copy the beautiful weekly and daily routines I saw on the blogs I was reading. I was overwhelmed and it wasn’t long before those early plans were abandoned.
I set myself up for failure because I trying to do everything my family already normally did PLUS all those neat things I saw other families doing – whether or not they were truly relevant to our life.
Creating routines based on your family’s personal needs means that the changes you seek to make have a greater chance of being successfully implemented.
5. Stay One Step Ahead
Plan and Organize
Once you know what is essential, do some prep work to make it easier to follow your routines. If you want to have a daily nature walk, try establishing a designated place to have coats, hats, mittens, boots within easy reach by the door. You’ll be more likely to take a nature walk if you can get dressed for the elements quickly and easily instead of having to gather the proper wardrobe from all over the house or retrieve items from the mini-van.
If I know that on Wednesday I want to do watercolor painting with the children, then my task on Tuesday night is to make sure we have the proper paper, paints, brushes, aprons, and any other materials relevant to the task. Doing this ahead of time allows us to spend less time on prep-work during our painting time and more time on creating.
What is Right for You
Some family routines are more structured, some are more free-form but both types of schedules provide value to the kids who count on them and find comfort in their familiarity. An hour by hour routine doesn’t work for my family, but for many families it works very well. Do what is right for your family.
I think you’ll find that a little rhythm and a basic routine can go a long way toward simple days.
How do your daily and weekly routines flow? Are your family’s natural rhythms at odds with your current routine? Or, are you finding harmony and balance in your days and weeks? What one thing can you focus on improving about your family routines?