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Unpreschooling, part 4 schedule versus routine

by Beverley Paine

The other day, as you were explaining that your little one wasn't enrolled in preschool because you intended home educating her, your sister-in-law asked how you structured your day and if you had a schedule. Her baby had been born three weeks before your little one's baby brother and she confesses that she often finds the adjustment to parenthood overwhelming, and sometimes longs for the calm structure and organisation of the office life she'd given up.

Her comment makes you reflect. Most people thrive on the security of knowing when things will happen: it offers them a sense of being in control. As an adult you feel happiest whenever everything you've planned slots into place without too much hassle. You say this to your sister-in-law and she says she finds it's the unexpected disruptions which delay planned activities that cause the most friction and frustration as she tries to catch up. You both agree that the best thing about becoming stay-at-home mothers was leaving the dreaded deadlines behind! You go on to say that the freedom from arbitrary schedules and deadlines was one of the things that attracted you to the idea of unschooling your little one. You love the flexibility of not having a rigid schedule that demands to be adhered to and prefer instead the natural routine that has evolved around meeting the needs of you and your little ones and your family life. You both ponder on the differences between schedules and routines and agree that, because they are not rigid but are adaptable, routines make more sense, noticing that little people naturally develop their own routines: things that happen at the same or similar times most days. Because the routine is flexible it is usually easy to schedule in specific activities with some notice. You mention that your little one seems to thrive when there is a basic pattern to each day and will often remind you that something needs to be done. In fact, lately she's been playing a game of guessing the time and asking you to check what the clock says it is…

Later, after your sister-in-law has left and it's time to prepare dinner, you are still thinking about the whole idea of routines and schedules. It would be convenient if your little one was ready to clear away the DUPLO blocks that have invaded the kitchen floor. She's happily humming a little song as she repetitively pushes a boat with an elephant back and forth by the fridge. You suspect from that far-away look in her eyes that she's thinking about something important and don't want to disturb her. Not just yet. Your time frame in which you want to cook the dinner is really an arbitrary deadline that doesn't have to be met: dinner time is a routine not a schedule. You think of all the times you've been interrupted when deep in thought and are glad to be able to give your little one these extra few moments. And sure enough, a few minutes later as you dig out the large saucepan your little girl returns from wherever she was and gets excited about helping you chop the carrots.

Sometimes you feel unbelievably frustrated and wish you can simply get on and do the things you need to do without waiting ever-so patiently yet again for your little one to let you go: you've read the book three times; pulled apart and built the same puzzle a few more; and sung and performed the actions to the nursery rhyme over a dozen times stopping only to catch your breath. It's boring! But for your little one, repetition is necessary and fun: it's one of the main ways in which she learns. She beams a huge smile up at you and says, “Again! Again!” and giggles, knowing that you are frustrated but enjoying this little moment of control over you. It's a game of give and take and it helps you bond, building trust in each other. And sometimes neither of you have a choice, sometimes baby brother's needs come first, and these moments with your little one is precious.

It's almost impossible to stick to a schedule with these little bundles of joy in your life. You pencil in appointments, shopping trips, playgroup and arrange a baby sitter for date night. Everything else slots in around these locked-in events and you're careful not to fill your calendar with too many outings. Between those and having friends over for play-dates you reflect that you really don't have time to have a schedule. Your routine is special and needs to be protected. You and your children need it. It provides a sense of security and calmness to your life, enabling you to handle and manage the unexpected and providing space for the spontaneous to arise and be enjoyed.

And without that space, those large chunks of unscheduled time, you'd never fit in everything you have to do into your day. Those precious free pockets of time – when baby is napping and little one is occupied – are yours to fill with whatever you want: a moment's snatched meditation, a few yoga stretches, folding the laundry, cleaning the mouth and finger prints off the sliding door glass, chopping the veggies or chatting to friends online. Sure, there are days when it all goes pear-shaped and any semblance of routine is tossed out the window. Days when you rely on your network of friends to help mind the kids, bring over a casserole, lend a hand and give you a hug, reassure you that these days will pass. Overall however, somehow it all seems to fall into place and work. The more relaxed you get about it and trust, the easier it is to slip into and maintain a routine that is based on your family's needs and works for you all.

See also Unpreschooler part one value of play, part two tuning in and trusting , part three the art of strewing, unpreschooler favourite toy shops

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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