Thanks to my generous mom (who is a fabulous grandma!), Harry and I were able to have a leisurely lunch at Crema over Christmas break, where we spent some time assessing our family's evening routine and talking about how to streamline it. We agreed that we all function best (i.e., less arguing, more laughing, less rushing around) when we establish a routine, communicate it to the boys, and adhere to it. Our original routine had started off well in the fall, when the boys began school and Harry was in Kenya, but it had nearly faded away by the time Christmas break rolled around and we were all ready for a re-start.
We started by reviewing our original routine, which was something like this:
6:30am - 7:00am Wake up / Breakfast
7:00am - 7:10am Get dressed
7:10am - 7:25am Brush teeth / Make lunch / Put on outerwear
3:00pm - 4:30pm Play
4:30pm - 5:00pm Homework
5:00pm - 5:30pm Showers
5:30pm - 6:00pm Dinner
6:00pm - 6:30pm Play
6:30pm - 7:00pm Read
7:00pm - 7:15ishpm Pray / Tuck in bed
We realized (And by "we", I mean Harry; although I love to analyze things, it tends to be more of an enjoyable creative exercise for me than a pragmatic one, whereas Harry is much better about drawing conclusions from a situation than I am) that there were things that weren't happening that we wanted to be happening, and that post-dinner playtime was causing the boys to get all riled up just before bed. NOT helpful. So we talked about all the things we'd like to incorporate into our routine, then we migrated to Starbucks (I'm very particular about my hot chocolate!) where we wrote out the revised routine:
6:15am - 6:30am Wake up / Shower / Get dressed (Ezra)
6:30am - 7:00am Wake up / Get dressed (Nehemiah) ... Breakfast / Devotions
7:00am - 7:10am Brush teeth (because yes, it really takes that long for a five-year-old and seven-year-old to do this)
7:10am - 7:25am Make lunch (if not already done) / Put on outerwear / Pray
3:00pm - 4:00pm Play
4:00pm - 4:30pm Homework (Ezra) / Shower (Nehemiah)
4:30pm - 5:00pm Reward Time
5:00pm - 5:30pm Finish rewards (if applicable) / Play
5:30pm - 6:00pm Dinner
6:00pm - 6:30pm Creative Time
6:30pm - 6:45pm Prepare for next day (make lunch & snack, lay out clothes, get bags ready) / Brush teeth
6:45pm - 7:10pm Read
7:10pm - 7:30pm Pray / Tuck in bed
We've been living this new routine since the boys returned to school, and it's been going very well. If you've got a hankering to try your own schedule, here are a few recommendations based on what we've learned so far.
Make your routine work for you. This is a corollary to my favorite organizing principle, popularized by Julie Morgenstern in her best-selling book Organizing From the Inside Out: organize for the way you live. In other words, if you throw your keys on the table as you come in the door, and you've always thrown your keys on the table, that's the way you live. Instead of trying to train yourself to hang your keys on a hook, find an attractive tray to put on the table where you throw your keys and - BOOM! - your keys have a home and you naturally want to put them there. So when you're establishing a family routine, figure out how your people operate and make a routine that accounts for that. In our case, Ezra wakes up earliest and he is Ready To Go. So we slotted his shower in the morning instead of at night. Nehemiah, if I let him, would stay in bed until the bus came, so we let him take his shower at night and have a little extra sleeping time in the morning.
Create a time slot for everything. This is also a key organizing principle, so I guess there's a lot of overlap between organizing your stuff and organizing your time! When we talked about our priorities and then analyzed our fall schedule, we discovered that many of the activities we cared most about weren't reflected in our schedule; we were just expecting them to happen automatically, which of course WASN'T happening. So we created time slots for devotions and prayer, reward time, and creative time. It has made our life more orderly, but also more relaxing and satisfying. We're not rushing around wondering how everything will get done, and we have fulfilling, edifying activities built right into the schedule. One of the things that's been most helpful is having a slot for reward time. With our previous schedule, I kept trying to encourage positive choices through a reward system, but I'd often have to tell the boys that we didn't have time for their reward and that we'd have to defer it until the following day. This was understandably frustrating for them and also made the rewards far less effective as incentives. Now that the boys know that they are guaranteed to get their rewards on the day they earn them, they're much more motivated to earn them. (I'll cover our reward system in a future post.)
Be flexible. We're human, so there are days the schedule goes out the window. For instance, sometimes on the Thursdays when Harry is at rehearsal, I'll get a frozen pizza from Fraboni's and we'll watch an episode (or two) of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Or we might eat at 4:30 (Daddy would never be willing to eat that early!) and spend two hours snuggled in bed for a massive reading party. You don't worry about sticking to the routine when there's a chance for a reading party!
Be willing to admit when things aren't working (and fix it). For the first couple of weeks, our post-dinner creative time worked perfectly. It was a blissful time of journaling and painting and cutting and pasting. For some reason I still haven't quite pinpointed, we've had to skip creative time in order to get through the pre-bedtime routine and still get to bed on time. I think the problem is that I'm not always on the ball with dinner (or the food just doesn't cooperate by cooking in the expected time), so we start dinner a little late, then we talk a little longer than normal during dinner, and suddenly we're already into the pre-bedtime slot. So I've decided to start preparing dinner 15 minutes earlier than I would typically start, and hope that the problem works itself out. I'm determined to keep creative time because the boys really enjoy it and benefit from it, and we end up having some really interesting and frank conversations during that time while their guards are down. It's worth preserving, so I'm willing to experiment with our routine to make it work.
I know that routines aren't for everyone. Some people I know thrive on spontaneity, and some people have more flexibility because they don't have kids in the house. But if you've been thinking about making a routine and have just been waiting for the right time, I encourage you to start. You'll be glad you did!