With all this school outsourcing, how do we find simple ways of creating flexible schedules that kids will love whilst learning (or holidaying) at home?
Spending more time at home can be a double-edged sword. We want our kids to feel free to play and learn in their own way, but we also know that for the most part children thrive when they have routines.
Knowing what’s happening next can give kids a sense of safety and security, but go too far in that direction and it can feel like we are the keepers of a gulag for small humans. This can leave them feeling trapped and unmotivated.
We have a really fluid idea of schedules at our place. We build them together and basically just let them completely go whichever way they go. If they kids want to stick to them then so do we. I feel it works well for us to let the kids lead.
Ultimately we all have to do it that way that works for us. Here below are some things you can consider as you workout your way of doing it.
Enlist them in the planning process
Educators (like me) know that the best lessons are those that incorporate the ideas and interests of the students. The more we can link learning to the things that children are intrinsically interested in, the more excited they will naturally be about it.
Same applies for planning our day. If we can involve the kids in creating the schedule, and encourage them to make allowances for how they are feeling at that particular time, for what they are naturally interested in doing, we are more likely to successfully engage them. The process will also give them an opportunity to name their feelings which is a great tool for mindfulness and self-regulation.
No idea is a bad idea
Allow the kids to brainstorm. The usual rules of brainstorming could apply, ‘no idea is a bad idea’. That said, if you would like to discourage a certain activity or behaviour for practical reasons then make your thinking transparent. By explaining the reasons for something not being able to happen at that particular time and place you are also creating a ‘teachable’ moment. You can help them understand the rationale behind your decision not to encourage that particular activity and help them self-regulate in future.
When doing this you can use a handy little thing I like to call the 3, 2, 1 rule. List three positives, two negatives and then one (potentially challenging) question.
“That is such a lovely idea! I think it would be so much fun to paint our pet elephant bright pink, and it would look very cool when we are done. The only thing is I’m not sure we have a drop sheet big enough, and I Elly could have a bad reaction to having pink paint all over her. Do you think there is some other kind of painting we could do that wouldn’t make so much mess or upset Elly?Not a true story (!)
Go with the flow
Best laid plans and all, sometimes we think we have a fabulous idea for our kids and they are just not as keen on it as we’d like. My advice? Don’t be too invested in what you think they might enjoy. Do your best to be fluid with your ideas and if they aren’t into something you researched or bought supplies for, just save it for another day. You never know when they might remind you of it.
It is often said that kids need to try food multiple times before they like it, and I think new ideas are the same. Kids like to feel like they have some control in their lives and often reject new ideas as a way of exercising that sense of control. Similarly, they may ask you for it again sometime in the future when they are good and ready.
Do the worst first
One of the skills I had the got me through university, despite me being a terrible procrastinator is that I had internalised the idea of a reward system. I knew that if I held off doing whatever I loved doing long enough to allow me to do the hard work, I would always manage.
Giving kids a sense of ‘saving the best till last’ with their responsibilities and chores is a gift that will last them their whole lives. I encourage my kids to determine the thing they are least looking forward to and the thing they are most looking forward to and then show them how to smash one out in order to get to the other. This gives them a feeling of satisfaction as well. It also means you do the hardest thing at the start of the day when they are freshest.
Get all Frozen about it, and ‘Let It Go’
Once you’ve come up with the perfect schedule for you and your kids I find it best to let them lead their experience. Guide them. Remind them what they decided to do, and why. And also, if you can possibly muster it, let them experience the day under their own direction as much as possible. I don’t mean total anarchy, but give them the feeling that they are the masters of their own destiny then reflect at the end of the day what did and didn’t work.
Keep in mind that over time, they will get better at it (and so you will you). There’s no need to make everything perfect all at once. It’s not going to be amazing every day, nothing is. No schedule is foolproof. However, if we keep our eyes on the long game and consider the life skills we are giving them, it makes it easier to let go of the small stuff.
Building a foundation for resilience and groundedness in our kids is a worthy goal. Some of the most crucial building blocks are self-esteem, trust and secure attachment. If they feel safe to explore themselves and their different interests without judgement or incursion, they are more likely to naturally develop trust in themselves and their environment.
Imagine if our kids could go into the world feeling good about themselves and their ideas and trusting in the mentorship of their elders. This is a wonderful goal, greater than the weekly maths problems or the spelling list. Keeping our eyes on this bigger prize helps us negotiate the small stuff and offer our little ones the chance to learn how to do the same.
Creating flexible learning-at-home schedules for kids can be simple and fun, and even might become a process that in itself something offers some valuable learning.