By Amanda Witman
Rhythms, routines, and rituals help us stay centered and on track as homeschooling parents, and they enable our children to relax and feel secure because they know what to expect each day. A thoughtful routine allows us to focus our energy in one area at a time, knowing that other essential areas will not be neglected. Well-established rhythms help us manage the ebb and flow of homeschooling and free our remaining energy to deal with the unexpected.
Establishing a rhythm removes some of the guesswork, giving us a ready answer to the question, “What comes next?” We can focus on schoolwork knowing that there is time set aside for outside play. We can make a last-minute visit to the park knowing what time frame will still allow us to get dinner on the table. We can go about our day confident that routine tasks will be remembered and taken care of.
It may take some time to uncover the rhythms, routines, and rituals that work best for your family. Keep trying until you find your way. Once you have some ideas, post them someplace visible in a form that everyone can understand (with simple words or pictures for younger children) so that the whole family knows what to expect.
Here are some ideas as you seek to find and refine the rhythm that works for you:
Observing daily rituals and following a routine helps to center and calm us as we begin the day. It can be as simple as first opening the curtains to let in the morning sun, then feeding the cat, preparing a cup of something delicious, and sitting down in a favorite chair for a contemplative moment before your work begins.
Modeling a morning rhythm for our children by having one for ourselves is a powerful example. Some children wake slowly, while others greet the day with every ounce of exuberance. How can you support your child’s inner rhythm and incorporate it into your expectations for the day?
Circle time is a time-honored tradition in Waldorf-inspired education and is part of Oak Meadow’s curriculum for younger learners. Some families begin with an opening verse, read a poem, share a song, do a fingerplay or game, and end with a closing verse. Oak Meadow curriculum contains content and ideas for circle time.
For some families, this will feel just right. For others, circle time may need to feel very different -- shorter and more active, or more fluid and less structured, or with completely different elements. The exact content is less important than the act of sharing a ritual to focus your attention together as you start your day. Some families incorporate stretching or yoga into their morning circle. Some find other ways of sharing and connection. With some trial and error, you will figure out what works for your family.
Daily and Weekly
What is your family’s energy like on Mondays? Some families like to jump in and start the week with a burst of fresh motivation. Others regularly need post-weekend transition time and hit their peak productivity mid-week. Does it work best for you to work intensely and then rest thoroughly, or sprinkle learning and play together in a more spontaneous way?
Daily routines are one way to ensure that everything gets done and nothing is forgotten, which can be a great help when there are many tasks and needs to keep track of. Housework can be done with the children’s help. When everyone is working together as a team, it can help motivate participants who might be reluctant.
If your family is quite busy with outside activities during the week, consider blocking off a day each week in which you all stay home. If there is a day when nobody has to go anywhere, it allows the opportunity for uninterrupted down time and relaxation. You might even declare this a “pajama day” to honor children who prefer their pajamas and would love a celebrated reason to stay in them once in awhile.
Are your weekends different from your weekdays? Do you have any recurring components to your weekend, such as a late brunch, a family activity, or the observance of faith traditions? If your week already has a predictable basic rhythm, start with that and build around it.
When are your children most focused and ready to learn? When do they seem to need rest or down time? When do they burst with physical energy and need to play outside? When are they drawn to be quietly independent?
Keep a thoughtful eye on the emotional state of the household and be willing to be flexible. The best routines are the ones that can sway and stretch as needed to accommodate the shifting needs of the family. You might find that the order of activities matters most, not the exact start time of a recurring activity.
Oak Meadow’s curriculum is designed with flexibility in mind. One lesson can be completed in a week if desired, but there are other approaches that also work well. Some families spread lessons in all subjects evenly through the week. Others choose to do “block scheduling,” which might mean focusing on one subject per day or one subject per term. One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is its inherent adaptability to the needs of student and family.
If you have multiple children, you may need to arrange your day so that they get your one-on-one attention at different times. You may be able to arrange for older children (or another helper) to engage with one child while you work with another.
Can weekly chores be scheduled for a predictable day? It may work best to start (or end) your week with a family effort to tidy up the house. It can be helpful to pin a weekly activity to a particular day (such as Tidy-Up Tuesday). Another example of a chore that can be simplified with a recurring weekly theme is meal planning.
Do you have a ritual for gathering the family for dinner? This might mean having children take turns setting the table, lighting a candle once everyone is present, and observing a quiet moment of gratitude before beginning the meal. Some families enjoy a tradition of word or number games over dinner, and others take turns telling what they learned or enjoyed about their day. Even young children can take pride in helping to clear the table after the meal.
In the evening, do you foster a sense of calm as the day winds down? What would that look like in your home? In some families, evening can be somewhat chaotic, with a parent arriving home from work, older children going to and from evening activities, a kitchen flurry that hopefully results in a good dinner, and everyone’s energy in fragments after the long day. As parents, we steer the family ship. Ending the day on a calm shore is a gift we give our children and ourselves.
Making It Happen
Experiment with what you imagine might work for your family, observe the results, and make adjustments through trial and error. Ask your children for their ideas and suggestions. If you get stuck, consider a support consultation with Oak Meadow’s experienced staff.
Continue to embrace the things that work, and gently let go of the things that don’t. There are no right or wrong ways to do this. By incorporating routines and rhythm into our homeschooling lives, we help ourselves and our families remain centered and our homeschool plans running smoothly throughout the year.
Amanda Witman is a homeschooling mother of four, musician, urban homesteader, enthusiastic lifelong learner, and Oak Meadow’s Social Media Coordinator. Visit Oak Meadow on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and their blog, In the Meadow.