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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Having a Routine VS. Following a Schedule

I’m going to state my bias right up front:  schedules and I don’t get along.  The thought of fitting my life into a grid and scheduling 45 minutes for math and 30 minutes for laundry causes me extreme anxiety.  Because math never takes 45 minutes and laundry certainly never takes 30 minutes. 

And what about all those lovely rabbit trails that deserve a bit of our attention?  Not to mention the unexpected phone call or the sudden need to run to the store for more baking powder because the 3-year-old decided to do a little kitchen “chemistry” (ahem) and dumped the whole container down the sink.  And you have a cake to bake.

The fact is, no matter how well I plan, I simply cannot plan for everything.  A schedule that pigeonholes all our activities feels a little too much like trying to wield complete control over things that are not completely controllable.

There’s also the element of failure…when I get too far off schedule, I feel like I’m not being productive enough, no matter how much has been accomplished.

A lot of this has to do with my personal temperament and the temperaments of my kids (although to be totally truthful, one of my kids would totally love a strict schedule, but this is an area where she is learning to be more flexible).  We don’t thrive in a grid, we get bored, moody, and resentful.  We need to shake things up a bit.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need some sort of overall organization, and that's where having a routine comes in.

Our family doesn’t thrive without some kind of overall order.

It took me a while to figure this out.  I admit that I’m not the quickest learner in the world. 

A little bit of personal chaos doesn’t phase me, you see.  I’m creative.  I’m distractible.  I’m forgetful.

Having my whole life in front of my eyes feels cozy and reassuring, because it means that what I need is always at my fingertips and I never have to search for it.  Putting art supplies into baskets might look nice and organized, but it closes doors in my mind when I put things behind closed doors.

Doing things when the mood strikes feels right and is always productive, but doing the laundry when the mood strikes really doesn’t work when you have 4 kids.  What worked ok before kids, does not work at all with kids.

We need balance.

Just because we need order in our days does not mean we need to commit to a schedule.  The answer is to develop routines

Most parents develop routines for things like bedtime, because it helps young children to know what is expected of them and what is coming next---having a big mass of  time is scary for them.  It’s much easier to see bedtime as a series of events, rather than as 30 minutes or however long it takes.

Routines can be useful during our learning time, too.  If I present the kids with a list of things we plan to do and tell them the order we’ll do them in, they know what to expect and can anticipate an end.  They’ll also have a sense of accomplishment as they check off each thing on the list. 

As they get older, they can start organizing the list on their own and develop their own routines.  With some guidance, of course, because I’ll be truthful:  no one ever taught me how to manage my time.  I went from high school with strictly managed 50 minute periods, to being on my own with no transition (at some point I might talk about how over-managing our kids’ time for them is a bad  idea, but not right now).  My time management is still not great, but everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned the hard way.

While having a routine can help you organize your time, it can also leave some flexibility.  And I’m going to say this:  keep your routines somewhat flexible.  How flexible will vary from family to family (remember, this is about finding balance, not a strict formula, but it still may take some trial and error).  Having some flexibility will allow you to deal with the unexpected.  But if you have any kids who tend to be inflexible (I do!), shaking things up a bit (just slightly, not turning their world upside down), can help them practice some flexibility.

So, what’s our routine this year going to look like?

My routine for last year was inadequate.  My anti-schedule mentality and somewhat unpredictable nature got in the way, and I didn’t build in enough routine.  So, I’m putting together something totally different and, I think, unique to our family for this year.  I’m still working on it---just because something is flexible and not written in stone does not mean that it doesn’t require any careful thought or organization. 

I want something that will help us to get things done, will support our home, and will support our goals for our homeschool, without making us feel like we’re trapped in a mouse wheel (which just encourages rebellion).  And I want the kids to learn how to develop their own routines and to see them as tools, rather than as shackles.  I’ll let you know what I come up with (almost there!).  It’s funny feeling excited about a routine. 

Does your family thrive on a schedule, or do you prefer routines?  Or do you just see how things go each day?

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