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Talking About It
Category Archives: learning and exploring
Anchor Points Make Days Predictable and Flexible
These days, I don’t write out a minute by minute schedule to plan each day. Forget minutes–I don’t write out hourly schedules, either. Our days are fairly predictable with expected routines, but they also have a lot unstructured kid free time spaced throughout the day.
We like to call the routines that hold down our day our anchor points. Anchor points are the non-negotiables that tie our days together. We have a few checklist items (e.g., make/eat breakfast, work on article, read book together, take walk, etc…), and then I arrange them within the general time categories when I need to accomplish them (e.g., morning, early afternoon, evening while kids are sleeping, etc…). Wedding this idea with the concept of margin has provided me with more flexibility and opportunities to get things done.
Keep It Simple Schedule
One way to become quickly overwhelmed with small children is to pencil in every minute of the day. When a diaper or potty accident occurs, a shoe is lost while heading out the door, or a child really needs a little more of your attention, the minute-by-minute schedule is thrown off for the rest of the day. Instead, and particularly in this season of motherhood, it may help to focus on times as chunks, and days with routines instead of strict schedules.
In his productivity book Zen to Done, Leo Babuata encourages his readers to eliminate many of the unnecessary items off of their checklists, and just focus on three main tasks for each day. By eliminating others, they are more compelled to actually accomplish the most important tasks.
While such extreme simplification in motherhood (especially the SAHM version) may seem unrealistic, it may help to eliminate the minutia that ends up creating more stress and distracting from accomplishing what is truly important.
Life Tastes Better in Bite-Sized Chunks
Viewing your day as centered around anchor points will also help to break the day into chunks, and allow each section to seem more manageable. Bite-size is easier to do throughout the day than trying to eat a whole elephant at the end of the day.
Mealtimes are great anchor points. Using these as your non-negotiable times, you may choose to break up your day into a breakfast checklist, a lunchtime checklist, an afternoon checklist, and an after supper checklist. Additionally, each day may have its own space for a particular outing or activity. (But when you try to cram in too many, you’ll definitely experience circuit overload!)
Centered around the morning anchor point, you may wish to include breakfast, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, deeper cleaning one room assigned each day, reading through two small books with a child, and answering one e-mail. Of course, with children, there will be a host of other activities that come up: changing a diaper, an emergency bath, or helping an older child work through a frustration or schoolword. With children, flexibility is important–both for your sake and the child’s. Then, push to get all those items accomplished before the next anchor comes up. You can rearrange as life happens, and even eliminate when needed.
We All Need Breathing Space: Margin and Pressure Valves
We all need breathing space in our days, throughout our days. This breathing space is, as Dr. Richard Swenson titles it, margin. Margin is essential in motherhood, though we don’t often notice it if we’re not intentional about it. Yet its absence often leaves us breathless and wondering why.
In the book Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne discusses the concept of pressure valves. Pressure valves are important parts of the day–they are times during which to release pressure or tension and to sort of “regroup” or “debrief” mentally and emotionally before moving on to the next part of the day. These are important for anyone, but particularly so for the more introverted and easily stimulated child. Such activities can include painting, water play, naps and quiet times, quiet play, or a quiet walk.
Or, as Payne writes about other types of pressure valves:
“For some boys and industrious types, work can serve as a pressure valve. Such work might be doing a project: hauling rocks in a wheel-barrow, digging a hole, building with blocks, catching lizards, or climbing a tree. Ongoing projects that kids are anxious to get back to right after school can be wonderful pressure valves. Any activity a child can “lose himself in” allows for a release of tension, and the mental ease needed to process the day’s events. Whatever the means, active deep play is an excellent pressure valve. As kids reach the preteen years, sometimes hobbies or collections – the beginnings of deep passions – and organized sports can serve the same purpose.”
I’ve found that my kids need both unstructured play and quiet times (since naps are not usual for the oldest two) to have a smoother day. And I’ve found that when I am able (not always possible!) my own morning and afternoon with a little quiet space, the day goes much more smoothly on my end, as well. (And if you must live by a minute-by-minute schedule, then schedule these into your day.)
I have watched my children learn to create all sorts of objects with paper, scissors, and glue or in the dirt when “set free” to play by themselves. I’ve also overheard countless stories being relived and enhanced as they become actors in the worlds they create from stories we’ve read, family memories we’ve shared, and totally random compilations of their lives.
As homeschoolers who finished their work quickly, my husband and his brothers (and sister) had many hours with which to invent their own worlds, write and illustrate books in the notebooks, and even make home video movies complete with explosive. I see his creativity then and now, and want that for my children.
But when every single minute is structured, these opportunities are often lost.
As I was working on this post, I noticed that Catherine of The Spirited Mind had a very helpful post that addressed many of the same topics, though from a different angle. I have appreciated her ongoing writing on habit training and children, and benefited from her tying together Charlotte Mason, habit training, and unstructured time.
On my end, I know the coming years will hold more structured (school) time than they do now, but for now we are learning lots with lots of unstructured moments spaced between a little bit of reading and writing. And at present, we are also aiming to grow and learn more habits to catalyze the effects of the unstructured time (and vice versa). I entered adult life with far fewer habits than my husband, so I often feel like trying to instill them both in myself and my children while also living a full life is like swimming upstream. But then again, two steps forward for every step back is still progress!
Do you live by a highly-structured schedule? A flexible routine? Or nothing at all? Or all of the above?
The last few weeks we’ve been doing some fun experiments:
We made a giant bubble and went inside. Yes, we let our kids put their heads inside a plastic bag. Actually, it was so large that our whole family could (and did) go inside.
You can read about how to make one here, though the example shown looks a little different than ours. (And a small desk fan was sufficient to keep our bubble inflated.)
We’ve also had fun experimenting with water beads. It has proved a fun sensory experience for kids (and adults). Our friends T and A were with us last week, and we all enjoyed playing with the water beads. The picture below was only two packs of “grown” beads, and then we added two additional packs of orange and blue beads which were growing while this picture was taken. Apparently, some water beads can stain/release the color, but we haven’t noticed a problem with the beads we’re using. I bought ours via Amazon.
A few hours later, Hana Kate played with all the colors, and they had all grown to full size.
These beads are pretty neat. They are smooth and slippery, and if squished hard enough can be broken. They also bounce if dropped onto a hard surface. Hana Kate said, “Wow, Mommy! These look like marbles!”
Speaking of ‘b’ and experiments: I’m liking the result of the one I just tried. Hana Kate usually asks for a snack in the afternoon, which is usually goldfish (the crackers, of course), pretzels, or dried cranberries. However, my friend brought some raw broccoli for lunch and so I cut up the rest of the broccoli head and gave it to her as a snack…which she immediately consumed. For some reason, I rarely buy fresh broccoli. Guess that needs to change.
We are thankful to have a kid-size trampoline in our back yard. We don’t have a playground or swing out there, but this is sufficient to keep the girls busy and bouncing. Eden is currently in love with monkeys, and while she jumps she likes to say “do monkey!” “do monkey!” This video capturing her doing it is a little long, but from 10 seconds to 15 seconds is pretty funny as Eden walks into the pole.
We’ve also been enjoying exploring the fields and looking for interesting nature specimens to collect. Hana Kate prefers to put hers in a bucket. Last week we talked about turning over rocks and decided to see what kind of things we could find. (I did this a lot as a child, and found many earthworms and grubs.) After Eden turned over some large rocks, she found one that she needed help turning over. Well, upon turning over her rock we found…a black widow spider!!!! I tried to hurl my miniature boulder and crush it, and then we headed out of that field as quickly as possible! I was a little concerned when I noticed a bite on my arm…
Last night I tried this out as a way to relax HK after staying up a little later than normal.
It’s glow sticks in the tub. Target currently has a pack of 15 in their dollar section, and I only used about half of them (and could have used less). Daniel walked in and exclaimed, “Wow, it’s like a spa for kids!”