As I welcomed September with half-open arms, I was ready to put my new plans to the test. I had no lofty expectations that we would fall into this beautifully orchestrated schedule without any hitches. In fact, I expected there to be failures and there were a few but there were also a lot of little moments that made our days a bit brighter where I could sit back and bask in the greatness of my planning. (That didn’t really happen. I was normally just happy to sit back and take a breath while they had all engaged themselves.)
I like to start with a theme for the year for each child. One year, a child had the theme of “CIRCLE” while another had “JOURNEY.” I would tell them a story pertaining to their theme to foreshadow the coming year. This year I chose a theme for all of us: “RAINBOW.” On the first day of “school,” I told them a story about a rainbow and clouds. I told them how we were that rainbow – our family. Each of us was on a separate path but we are connected. At the moment, our paths are different lengths but mama and daddy arch over them right now, keeping them steady on their path and they will have to trust us as we guide them. I was asking them to trust us. Trust us in this journey.
We are finishing up our second week of school and I am getting a better feeling of what works and what doesn’t. Transitioning from a laid-back and unstructured summer schedule to a fall rhythm with more structure hasn’t been easy. In the first week, there was some push-back so I adjusted my plans to go slow and allow for afternoon outdoor time because the weather is still nice. I opted for a story-heavy week with a lot of form drawing for everyone.
An unscheduled trip to the beach after lessons was greatly appreciated.
Although there were a few tantrums and stubborn demonstrations of will, there were also moments of quiet cooperation and boisterous play.
Here are some of my observations about what I need to do to really enjoy the fruits of my planning:
1. Writing down what worked (and what didn’t work) every day helps me evaluate my plans on a bite-sized level.
My colourful daily journal. I have a fetish for multi-coloured pens and highlighters.
Each afternoon, right after lessons, we have down time. The children can choose to have down time in their rooms, read a book, or just play quietly. The key word: “quiet.” This is my time to write down everything floating in my head that just happened. It is all fresh in my mind and I quickly jot down the morning’s events. I document what worked for each child. More importantly, I was honest with myself and wrote down where I failed to meet their needs. I ask myself what I could have done better to support that child during their difficult moment? (Also known as entering Meltdown City and some of them would take full residence there for awhile.) There are times when I stand firm when I should have let go and times when I gave in when I should have been more firm. The point of it all is awareness and not shame or guilt.
I am now very aware that when a particular child doesn’t eat enough breakfast, she is a few feet away from Meltdown City. If one of them is not given adequate attention first thing in the morning, we both take a visit to Meltdown City together. If I don’t have an art/craft activity set up for my kindy child, he will do his absolute best to irritate each older sister. He wants to do “work” just like them. He also will shift into free play mode faster with a story and the set-up activity – paint, beeswax, clay, paper/glue, etc. When they wake up to a favourite playlist, they are happier. I am now playing music in the living room at 8:00am and we are dancing in the morning instead of stomping heavy feet. I am also very aware that after 1:00pm, they are less alert and it seems like their minds just melt off their face and they can no longer focus or concentrate. They need to “do” or they need to “play.”
These watercolour paints saved the day.
After I write my observations, I plan the next day. I plan hour by hour, child by child. I plan their independent work and what I think each child needs to accomplish or material they need to hear in a certain way. I may spend time trolling the Internet for ideas, print some out, and put together our day. I check in with my monthly goals for each child and monitor my progress with achieving those goals.
Then I shut down my day as teacher. I leave it all until the next morning. If there are any challenges that I can’t resolve in the afternoon, I leave it and trust that I will find the answer in the near future.
2. Honouring my own personal rhythm above anything else.
(Let me preface this by saying that I can do this because I no longer have toddlers and babies in my home. If you have anybody under the age of three in your home, you really shouldn’t be reading any of this. Really. None of this will work if you don’t have a regular sleep schedule. Trust me. Just click away and bookmark all of this for when your youngest is three or four years old. You can still keep a loose rhythm and write down what you notice. But the following is tough to do without a consistent sleep routine. Just saying.’)
If I am able to have my morning and afternoon rituals, I am good. As long as I have 6-7 hours of sleep per night, I can wake up at 5:00am and get my ritual going. I wrote about morning rituals. I can’t say enough how much I value my morning ritual in my life with five children. I have adjusted it to our fall schedule so it looks like this now:
5-5:30: Morning Pages. I have been doing these pages everyday for six weeks now and they have changed my life. I write them every morning.
5:30-5:45: Meditation. I meditate and pray, asking to be able to let go of yesterday and tomorrow and welcome today.
5:45-6:30: Write. I write for a solid 45 minutes for this blog or Sense of Story.
6:30-7:30: Plan. My oldest three children have agendas and I write their to-do list of independent work each day. I draw on the chalkboard twice a week during this time. I also prep any arts and craft activities for the youngest one. I check the weather. I visualize my day.
7:30-8:00: Prep breakfast with the early risers – #4 and #5.
8:00: Play music to wake the rest up or signal that it’s time to get ready and come downstairs for breakfast.
8:00-9:00: Morning welcome – breakfast, dancing, clean-up. (With Dad at home too.)
9:00: Music is turned off to signal start of school.
2:00-3:00pm: Quiet Time. I write all observations down unfiltered and make adjustments for next time. Plan the next day.
3:30-4:30: Errands like groceries, pick up supplies for next day, week, etc.
4:30-5:00: Kids start prepping dinner and cleaning up.
Evening Ritual (after kids are put to bed):
Read before Bed. Gratitude meditation. Lights out.
3. The three things I need to maintain my rituals: SLEEP, EXERCISE, PROPER NUTRITION.
Duh. But we tend to put these things on the back burner constantly. (And again, if you have a child under three, stop reading. I know you are doing your best with these things. Please cut yourself some slack. This time is short and it will pass. And you will miss it. You will miss being able to talk to your partner in front of your kids without them knowing what it all means and opening the door to thousands of questions about life. Trust me.)
I have been able to keep our rhythm for the last two weeks – Monday to Friday. There were bumps when I have come home late and bypassed the evening ritual. The few nights that I slept after 10:30 were not helpful in maintaining my morning rituals. The 5:00am wake-up still happened but my morning pages weren’t pretty. As I get older, sleep has become an essential piece to establishing a peaceful me. Training is also essential. Sleep, training, and proper nutrition make for skyrocketing energy levels. I can’t even describe to you how I feel after I train and then follow it with a good sleep.
Ever-Patient and I, along with some of our closest friends, have decided to do a 30-day cleanse. Simply put, we are giving up alcohol, sugar (not fruit), and grains for 30 days. I am cutting caffeine intake drastically, but not giving up the first coffee of the day. (Come on, now.) I am now down to 3 scoops of decaf to 1 scoop of caf in the french press. Yay. I had indulged in the summer’s fancy-free spoils and paid for it with a recurring pain in my gut, reminiscent of past pancreas issues. On the first few days of the cleanse, I crashed hard but now feel less groggy in early morning and late afternoon. There is no pain in my gut when I wake up. My cravings are gone. We started two weeks ago but cheated at a wedding last weekend. I’ve decided to tack on another week because I want to see this through. (But all bets are off at Thanksgiving.)
I make this sound easy. It isn’t. But I have felt the positive effects. My body wasn’t feeling right and I made changes. That’s it. Every small step counts. Going to bed 15 minutes earlier. Going for a walk. Giving up that afternoon coffee.
4. I am open to the unexpected and I try to be creative when things aren’t working.
We started doing lessons at the market and at our local green space because I wanted to see if being outside would occupy the little ones when I worked with the big ones. I also wanted to observe how well the children did their independent work outside. It was great. We had sunny and warm days and cloudy and cool days but it didn’t matter because they loved being outside in the morning. We walked to the market and by the time we got there, the children were motivated to do their regular market routine and then sit down and work at a picnic table. The oldest one would accompany us on our walk around the market, saying hello to our favourite farmers, and then she would run off to the library to do her work. After lessons at the market, we would hang out with friends. After the market, we would do our weekly library trip – grab our holds, return some books, and hang out. On other days, we took a 10 minute drive to our local green space where we would do lessons on top of a hill. We found ourselves immersed in nature art and I often rolled with it. After each lesson, each child went off to find things to do or to make.
One morning, after our lessons on the hill, the kids wanted to make lunch together. They made panko-crusted chicken nuggets with home fries on the side. (And they made coconut-crusted chicken for me.) Instead of rushing home to continue lessons and eat leftovers for lunch, we headed to the grocery store. They made lunch together and I made suggestions along the way. #5 had a major meltdown at home because he wanted to stay at the pond but we were all starting to get hungry and left a little early. He got home and began to writhe and to whimper on the floor. I suggested that he might want some alone time in his room and he marched up there and continued to whine while we ignored him. As soon as we started prepping lunch, and called him to help coat the pieces of chicken, he came to help. It was nothing short of a miracle. Our lunch time, from prep to meal to cleanup, lasted a couple of hours but we took our time and did everything slowly and deliberately. Some were ready to continue with lessons while others decided to take a break and read, asking to continue on their own time. No problem. In years past, I probably would have nixed the 2-hour lunch because of the daunting to-do list and would have freaked out during #5’s freak out. This time, I let go. I recognized that this simple act of gathering together to cook, to eat, and to clean together did so much more in accomplishing my goals for them this month than any planned lesson.
My previous planning process, which included those daily lesson plans, was exactly what I needed to see what didn’t work for our family. Isn’t that how it always works? You have to really know what you don’t want in order to identify what you really want. I compared last year with our year before that. I was able to pinpoint the significance of rhythm – not only maintaining it but figuring out what in fact it means to me as an individual and what it means for our family. Rhythm, and not strict routine, is the core of what makes this work – managing the ebb and flow of each individual person while keeping us all relatively in sync.
Although these posts make it seem easy and neatly packaged, our real life does not reflect that. I wanted to give a general overview of what has worked for me but maybe not in the ways that you think. I have my own goal: to pay attention. To pay attention to my life each and every single moment of the day. I go through the gamut of emotion but paying attention to each moment pulls me out and reminds me of the bigger picture. That’s where the gratitude comes in. Being in tune with our rhythm, examining each child, and looking closely at our day helps me do that. And each new day is a new day – an opportunity to start over, to strive, to try again. It all helps me pay attention because this life, this little circus of ours, as I like to call it, will fade. Each act will move on to star in their own show. And Ever-Patient and I will only look back fondly, remembering the days of juggling all the balls in the air and being the ringmasters of the greatest show I have yet to see.
Have you stopped to take a look at how your planning is shaping up? I hope to continue to update on “my plans vs my reality.” Please share any successes or challenges you face with time management, rhythms, and general planning for your own family.