One of my favorite aspects of the Charlotte Mason method of education (the method that I prefer to use and align with the most) is the focus on creating habits and rhythms to the day, week and month. Not just for the children, but for the mother as well (this concept can even serve you if you have no children at all). This is NOT something I do naturally, nor have I found it especially easy to get these rhythms started. If you only knew how many times I tried to create a “chore chart” before giving up.
When I first tried to add new activities or focuses to my day and personal growth I tried to do WAY too many. I wanted to implement all the things all at the same time. All I felt was overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted.
After learning to pair down, my next mistake was trying to stick all my new desired habits to a schedule. At 10:05am I needed to start my habit of tidying up the playroom – it was ON THE AGENDA. Well, it took me all of a few days to realize that kids and schedules just don’t go together. Heck – forget the kids – ME and schedules just don’t go. The structure was just too rigid for me.
And this is where I lived for a while. Frustrated by my lack of ANY structure, but intimidated and overwhelmed by the ultrastructure that I would see in so many of my highly organized friends and overly detailed planners.
Once I started diving into Charlotte Mason’s writings on how to help children establish habits, the idea of rhythms to the day felt like a great middle ground. There is a plan to the day, we have objectives and a structure, BUT rather than each activity being tied to a specific hour, or being confined to a 20 or 30 or 40 minute time block, it is more about the rhythm of the day and the order to the day.
Now, if you are reading this, you are probably in one of two camps. The first camp is the ultra organized, everything has a place and a time, and you may feel that this is simply not ENOUGH structure for you. I get that, and if your system is working for you, then more power to ya!! However, I have found that life is life. There are things outside of our control and sometimes, being SO strictly tied to a time and a specific slot can cause problems. Activities that are important to you, like reading aloud to your kids, might not happen on a consistent basis if there’s traffic that cuts into the “reading hour”, or a giant mess takes forever to clean up, or any number of things get in the way.
If, however, you have a rhythm established, then you know read aloud time comes after you get home from school, and it can be 3:30pm on Monday or 4:30pm on Tuesday because you needed to stop at the store for some milk before getting home. Having a rhythm keeps the activities happening from day to day, without life needing to go picture perfect -or- making a you feel like a failure because the “schedule is getting thrown off!!!”
The second type of reader may be the one who shudders at the word schedule. Who feels confined or overwhelmed or just bored by the idea of doing the same thing at the same time every day. I get that – 100%, I feel much the same way, but here is my argument for why it can be really powerful to create some rhythms.
- Creating rhythms gives you a plan that you don’t have to re-create every day.
I don’t know about you but it is EXHAUSTING for me to have to figure out what to do each day!! Whether it’s with my business or with my kids. The fewer decisions I have to make, the better. Having said that, I do still have some room for decision making, because I can be flexible within each allotted “activity.” For example, when I was homeschooling, every Thursday was our day out. I would pack lunches the night before, and we would head out of the house. Sometimes to a park to explore nature, sometimes to the science museum, sometimes we’d take the metro downtown and walk around the city to enjoy the energy, architecture and food. I could find flexibility with what we did, but I knew each Thursday we would be explorers. This was intentional to foster a sense of adventure in my children and broaden their horizons and what they were exposed to.
Having this weekly rhythm allowed me to make time for what was important to me, keep me from having to recreate the wheel each week – but also give me some flexibility for my spontaneous nature!
2) Creating rhythms allows you to automatically honor YOUR priorities.
Whether you love or hate planning and scheduling, you have to admit that without SOME sort of structure, to do list or intentionality, your life will drift and usually that drifting does not take us where we want to go. The good news is that creating rhythms is an AMAZING way to be intentional about how you spend your time, without having to be a slave to every second being micro-mangaged.
When I want to set up a new rhythm in our lives (more on this later, but I highly recommend starting slow and adding one rhythm at a time, because building habits takes focus and work) I start by making a list of all the things that I might possibly want to improve. It can be anything from improving the atmosphere in our home and a more consistent cleaning routine, or it could be a character trait I’d like to see my kids, like servanthood or hard work. Once I’ve made my list (chances are, if you are on Instagram or Pinterest, there will be no end to the list of things you could potentially want to see improvement on, and this is where we fail so often. There are SO MANY things we are constantly wanting to do or learn about, or implement with our kids, and yet we rarely take the time to think: “What makes sense for us TODAY?” and make a decision to work on ONE area at a time and take REAL action so our wishes become reality) I will consider EVERY option I have written down and pick the ONE that I want to see become a reality.
If this is difficult for you, remember, it’s ALL GOOD. There is no “wrong” decision. If you are improving yourself, it almost doesn’t matter what you pick. Everything bleeds into everything else. If you choose to start with your health, you better believe your parenting and marriage are going to improve as well. If you choose to strengthen your friendships, you may find yourself more positive at work. Don’t get so hung up on it being the “perfect” area to begin with, the point here is to decide on SOMETHING so we can place our focus and energy in ONE direction and actually see progress. (One question I do like to ask myself however, is “Which area is causing me the most pain?” -or- “Which area, if I really improve in it, will bring me the most joy and satisfaction?” I always find at least one or two areas rise to the top whenever I ask these questions)
Now that you have your area of growth selected, it’s time to create a rhythm in your day. I strongly believe, if you are starting from scratch and have ZERO rhythms established, the morning should be your first place!
There is something powerful about how we start our day. If you are a natural morning person, like I am, you can get REALLY creative and elaborate with your morning routine.
Mine is about two hours long, if I am able to complete all of it (remember that whole conversation on kids and flexibility?) and includes my skin care routine, listening to podcasts, drinking water, gratitude, planning out my day, setting my top objectives for the day, mediation, reading scripture, praying and a workout.
It doesn’t HAVE to be that elaborate however, If you are not a morning person, you can make your rhythm a slower one. Maybe you start with coffee and listening to classical music. Maybe you do some gentle stretches and affirmations. Maybe your goal is to simply get yourself in a grounded, positive state before the day starts. The important part is the rhythm being INTENTIONAL (meaning, you are doing the things YOU have decided feel good to YOU).
If you do want to focus on creating a morning routine – I have a free e-course for you that will walk you through how to create and establish a life-giving morning routine: CLICK HERE to access.
3) Creating Rhythms can create an atmosphere of safety for your children and family
Time and time again, studies have shown that children thrive on structure and consistency. When I first read this, it was bad news for me, because I LOVE spontaneity and get bored easily! But I have to say, as I have begun to implement rhythms into our day and our lives I have been so pleased with the results I’ve seen in my children.
- There is less arguing. If I have set a precedence for quiet reading time after dinner instead of watching TV, after just a few days and explaining what we will be doing, the kids aren’t fighting it. They aren’t caught off guard by my every whim, they aren’t shocked or struggling to keep up with what I am asking of them. They almost effortlessly move right into the activity and find joy in knowing exactly what comes next and what is expected of them.
- I can start giving them more responsibility. Now that the kids are going to school, we have a great little morning routine created and because the kids know what comes next, I’ve been able to give them little “tasks” and responsibility that they are proud to do and can begin without me telling them to. This is WONDERFUL because it’s now become something they do from their OWN sense of responsibility, rather than because I am nagging them to do it over and over again. It creates a beautiful atmosphere in the mornings, with each child being a busy bee, getting all their tasks done.
- Rhythms can also become a “safety blanket” that can help children when life gets turned upside down. Anyone else feel like when you go on vacation your kids turn into demon children? I mean, of course the later nights and extra sugary treats probably has something to do with it, but it can also be that the children are reacting to a completely different atmosphere. Different bed, different food, different schedule – it is very disorienting. If, however, you have established little rhythms in your day and life, you can continue to start your day the same way, or have the bedtime routine be consistent – you can take these rhythms with you and find your children much more well adjusted, happier and more content. When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, we evacuated and ended up staying for a week with another family in Orlando. It was stressful and crazy, but I brought our school books (we were still homeschooling at the time) and continued doing our morning school time each day, and I found the kids felt much more settled and at ease to have that familiar rhythm in their day.
The hardest part about getting your kids to fall into rhythms is getting YOURSELF to fall into a rhythm. I highly suggest starting with YOU. Start with that early morning, move into the rest of the day, little by little. What feels awkward at first will soon feel like second nature, and instead of reacting we can be living on purpose.
I plan to make this topic a recurring one on this blog and next installment I plan give some very practical tips for how to get a rhythm started (this is the most awkward part!) and how to get your kids and family ready to jump into the new rhythm with you, but for now, remember – rhythms can work for anyone, even if you are not a particularly organized or type-A personality, and they can be powerful tools to provide structure, purpose and security for all.