The Importance of a Flexible Routine

Importance of a Flexible Routine

Back when I started having babies, I didn’t know there were two schools of thought about breastfeeding. I lived in a third world country and everyone breastfed. It was free, always available, didn’t need refrigeration or reheating, and everyone around me was “doing it.” You nursed a baby when the baby cried or was hungry or needed to sleep. That’s what I was told; that’s what I did. I didn’t know moms who put babies on a schedule.

Then we came to the states for two years and my friends told me that I should schedule feedings and not let the baby get the upper hand, that babies on schedules slept better and were happier. Except that my baby was happy and we slept together and it went well enough, it seemed to me. While I know plenty of moms and kids who have used a scheduling format and their children have grown up to be healthy, happy young adults, I have never regretted not being a scheduling mom.

Still, there are some moms who are adamant that demand-feeding nearly destroyed their well-being, making them feel like slaves to their children. I didn’t experience that and I’ve thought a lot about why. My conclusions mirror how I see the idea of “flexible routine” in the homeschool.

Schedules appeal because they are predictable. There’s comfort in knowing what comes next in the day, every day. We all need some structure (it’s why meals are morning, noon and evening, not just whenever you feel hungry).

So it isn’t structure per se, that is the enemy.

The question becomes: what kind of structure is most
nurturing to your personality, your kids’ needs, and your lifestyle?

In my home, breastfeeding followed a kind of intuitive pattern that matched each of the five babies (that also shifted and adapted to new routines and patterns as the baby became a nursing toddler and eventually weaned). I could predict with some degree of accuracy when that baby would want to nurse and I’d be able to organize the day knowing that there was the “first thing in the morning” feeding, followed by a mid-morning feeding, followed by the post lunch feed, followed by nursing around dinner time, and so on.

It wasn’t so much that I wrote it all out and checked the clock. It’s that over time, I could see a pattern emerge. When it was between the usual times and the baby was fussy, I didn’t necessarily start with nursing. I tried other distractions and so on. But if baby bumped his head, of course I would nurse the baby, even if he had just been fed a few moments before!

The key term shift for me was from scheduled vs. demand feeding, to flexible routine feedings instead. My breastfeeding relationship with a baby followed a predictable pattern (one I could detect and foster), yet could be altered if circumstances warranted it.

With homeschool, a similar style works well for us. Scheduling our days so that each hour has a specific task didn’t work so well. When I created a daily, hourly schedule, I mostly felt guilty for falling behind. It seemed that if we were supposed to have our read-aloud time at 10:00, but we couldn’t find the book, we were now “off-schedule” and an urgency to get back “on schedule” took over. If a dental appointment slowed our reading pace (so many pages, by a certain date), then we were battling to squeeze in extra reading to “catch up.”

The one time I successfully enforced a schedule for an entire semester (when I really did have five kids under 9), Noah woke up one morning and said, “I hate my life.” It was the wake-up call I needed. We had managed to get our work done, to follow that schedule, to keep up with the demands of reading, workbooks, writing and math problems despite life’s natural intrusions. I felt great, but he was miserable.

That was a turning point for me. I realized that enforcing a program was less effective than enriching our lives. At about that time, I discovered Charlotte Mason (no “demand-feeding” style instructor was she!). Yet her vision of a full, rich, day-with-free-time lifestyle caught my attention. What if we simply chose to include certain activities and areas of focus in our lives each week, in a flexible, yet predictable pattern? Could we, for instance, read poetry every week? We could pick a day for it but not worry so much about what time of day.

The idea would be: We’ll read poetry once a week on Tuesdays when everyone is calm enough to read together. I discovered early on that drinking tea at the same time brought that calmness to the table.

Could we look at art once a week? I started to bring art books home from the library, left them out, would page through them on my own in the evenings (drawing the attention of the kids). I hung prints and identified the artists over breakfast. I took everyone to an art museum. Then we took a hour a week to draw or read or flip through an art book.

What about math? I’m not so good at intuitive math instruction. So we continued with math books, several pages each day. But I didn’t pick the time. We’d simply be sure that at some point in the day, “math got done.” When they were younger, it worked to have them do it in staggered stages so I could help each kid. Now that they’re older, it’s easier to do it all at the same time (provides morale and support).

Read-aloud time became the centerpiece of every day. It signaled that we had eaten breakfast, had all become clothed, had brushed teeth. Once those tasks were finished, we gathered in a group in the family room. I would read. And often nurse someone (and sometimes a baby wouldn’t nurse if I read, so I would have to have read-aloud time during a nap period instead). Still, each day’s read-aloud time reassured us that we were making progress, that we had been together in a meaningful way, that education had happened. It didn’t matter if it happened at 9:00 a.m. every morning. It mattered that it usually happened, most days, in the morning, after breakfast and brushed teeth.

A flexible routine is slowly cultivated.

It doesn’t spring into existence in a book you keep. It’s the patient adding of “what works,” “what needs to be done,” and “what interests” to your lifestyle over a period of time.

Poetry Teatime

16 Responses to “The Importance of a Flexible Routine”

  1. Paula says:

    This is exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Lately I have been worried–am I doing enough? This ALWAYS leads to panic and then if I let it, adding more “schoolish” activities so that I can have proof that we had indeed been accomplishing something. Thank you for the reminder that learning isn’t something that is done to the child. When I decide to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy learning with them, I find we truely learn something that sticks.

    I think that I need to make a huge sign and hang it in our house where I can see it often—Comparison is the death of contentment. Anytime I choose to compare what we are doing to another homeschool family it robs me of my joy and peace.
    That is one reason that I think that certain homeschool curriculum forums can be a dangerous place–at least for me 🙂

  2. Laura says:

    Thank you so much…even after nearly 9 years of homeschooling I still need to hear that a detailed schedule does not necessarily equal a better day. I, too, have tried detailed schedules and they always turn me into “ogre mommy”. I become enslaved to the schedule causing me miss opportunities to ENJOY my children and their home education! So now I’m off to make cupcakes for our homeschool group that I’m hosting in my home today (the kids that are willing will give some kind of oral presentation: book report, art project, poetry recitation, etc…). I think I am going to fit in read aloud and math! And I know I’m putting on a pot of tea for the moms!

  3. Jody says:

    I’ve been reading your latest blog posts about mothering and homeschooling and just wanted to let you know that I’m wholeheartedly agreeing with you. Your ways have been my ways (with five kids) and I’m so glad that we chose a lifestyle over academic pursuits.


  4. Lona says:

    This is timely. We are croaking here at the end of the year. We’ve got a graduation open house that needs planning, and farm work is popping up everywhere like a bad game of whack-a-mole…

    Math and life, from here on out. Thanks again, Julie.

  5. Monica says:

    We are a family that does not work well with schedules. I remember my midwife telling me after my second child was born that all my problems stemmed from lack of schedule. For years I tried to get us “on schedule”. It only makes me feel angry that no-one is complying (I relate to the “ogre mommy” analogy!). It did nothing for familial contentment.

    Still after 4 years of homeschooling, I find I need to at least add some framework to our week. We have explored so many avenues that our interests have mounted as high as K-2. I find it impossible to touch on all those interests each week, but even more impossible to let go of some of those interests in the name of simplifying our lives.

    If we did not have the external schedules and demands of lessons, field trips, team participation, external classes, and social events (at home or away), and the like, it seems our life would be so much easier! I sometimes long for the Laura Ingalls lifestyle of geographic isolation. Our modern life puts a lot of pressures on us with the influx of so much information and so many options. I often wish to just turn it all off and close in around my family for a contented life of ignorance!

    Nonetheless, these posts have come at a critical time for me. Thank you, Julie. I needed the reminder that the relaxed style and flexible schedules really does work best for us. Now, if I could just figure out which pursuits to abandon, I’ll be in great shape!


  6. harrygirl says:

    I have so enjoyed your last two blogs on parenting. Can you see inside my home and see the chaos? Have you heard the arguments all the way from Australia? I loved reading about your flexible routine, and was absolutely terrified by it at the same time. We have become a lot more relaxed over the years – every time another baby arrived, I got over a couple more control issues! We have six children, three of whom are homeschooling, one at school and two observers. We tend to do most of the schoolwork in the morning, (except for our 13yo, he spreads his work out over the day and night and often into the next day). I really feel like I have failed, and probably ruined my children’s futures if we don’t do all the things I think we ought to do every day. There are odd moments of joy – mostly they just do it now because they have to, and I just want to get it done, because the list of things that need doing is so long. This does not match up with the vision in my head for our homeschooling. I want us all to look back and remember this time in our lives with great affection, not a sense of relief that it is over. How did you get to a place where you could feel relaxed about it and still have confidence that the education they were getting was enough? How did you fit in things like washing and housework? I so want to do things like Tuesday Teatime, and get caught up in the fascinating world of the bug that my seven year old has just found in the garden, and not worry about the fact that we were supposed to be reading about the solar system today. How do you know they are learning what they need to in order to be able to succeed later on and manage things like University? How do you plan their work?The homeschooling lifestyle you described, is so much closer to my vision for our homeschool than what we currently do. It sounds full and rich.

  7. Julie Bogart says:

    I’ll tackle some of the specifics as we go forward in this series. It is hard to feel the pressure to provide an education while being relaxed. What’s the right balance?

    I think we need to get away from “relaxed” as the watch word. Too often it feels as though we are abdicating responsibility or it calls up the “not relaxed” times as contrast. I like to think instead about “intentionality” and “immersion.” We’ll explore some of those themes too.

    There’s also a tricky balance here. Child-led learning seems to promote the child’s interests (yet often a child is too young to even know what options exist that may be of interest!). Delight-directed seems to imply that all lessons are enjoyable (they aren’t).

    So the balance we are trying to strike that is quirky and unique to each family fits with my final line in this entry:

    “It’s the patient adding of “what works,” “what needs to be done” and “what interests” to your lifestyle over a period of time.”

    I hope we can talk about that more soon.

    1. What works
    2. What needs to be done
    3. What interests

    All intersecting with real people’s personalities, limitations, finances and emotional well-being. No wonder we’re all so tired! lol

  8. Ginny says:

    Thank you for the freedom and grace to figure out our own families patterns. This is what I try to encourage homeschooling moms to do. You express it so well.

  9. Stephanie says:

    I love this article! a friend sent it on to me and i can *so* relate! As a mom to a larger brood (seven children, from 13 years old down to 13 months), i’ve learned a lot from online egroups where moms of “many” share what’s helped them, and i finally bought a highly recommended book called “Managers of Their Homes” – it was great for helping me think about what i really wanted to accomplish in a day, and how things might mesh – BUT trying to put that huge behemoth color coded thing into practice was so discouraging! I think we were behind by the first colored square! Babies hurt themselves, toddlers need help on the potty, someone spills milk – life happens, but the schedule marches rigidly on, calling you names as you limp after it, and throw out what didn’t get done in the morning so you can try again in the afternoon.
    Today was “Fun Fabulous Friday” – if our children work hard Monday – Thursday, they get Fridays off – A few little boys had writing assignments to finish up, i had a few things i was hoping to tackle. I took a little white board (lined, for the littles to practice handwriting on – it’s about 11X17) – wrote the date, and all the things that had to happen (from the calendar) and that i hoped would happen – and then i worked through the list. I’ve been doing this for a week or two now, and getting more stuff done that i *want* to get done instead of always putting off “my” stuff – This is what is working for me!
    We’ve recently changed homeschool curriculums this year (Tapestry of Grace) and i love how our homeschool day naturally changed, too – Monday is busy as i hand out assignments etc but the rest of the week is pretty calm and self paced, with a little bit of mom injected:)

  10. Brittney says:

    I believe that finding and sustaining balance is the trickiest part of homeschooling. In my experience (4 kids ages 11 to 1 and 7 a year homeschooler) you can’t get closer to the elusive balance without defining your long term goals in the simplest terms. Then silence all of those pesky voices in your head of what if I died in a car crash and my kid had to attend public school? “Slow and steady wins the race. More usually isn’t” is laminated and hanging in my kitchen. You WILL get there but what will be the point if there’s no joy?

    I believe that you have to reconnect with the joy of sharing life with your kids and the joy of homeschooling before you make any major homeschool decisions, whether the decision is putting a schedule in stone (or in my case in lamination – my kids run when I get out the laminator) or spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on a curriculum in a box. Trust me, you’ll either make a different decision or feel better about the one you’re about to make after a joyous, peaceful day, or week or however long it takes, with those terrific little souls.

    Just because it doesn’t LOOK like learning, doesn’t mean it isn’t. My daughter spent the entire day playing Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego on the computer. She was so proud of herself for capturing Carmen in one day. In the old days I would’ve asked her to turn off the computer and do some math because my laminated schedule said that it was math time. Then I would’ve braced myself for WWIII. Her brain was hungry for computer game history today so I let it get filled to the brim with it. There will be another day for math.

    My favorite books on the subject of “relaxed” (for the lack of a better word) homeschooling:
    Fundamentals of Homeschooling: Notes on Successful Family Living by Ann Lahrson-Fisher
    The Relaxed Homeschool by Mary Hood
    Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp

    Happy homeschooling to all! Many thanks for your fabulous blog, Julie.

  11. I’m just going to quote myself here, since I rather serendipitously blogged a very similar thing just the other day.

    “I built our rhythm by trial and error, finding pieces that made us happy and discarding bits that seemed forced. I used a simple process I call ‘anchoring’. With anchoring, you take something that is already happening and already working, and chain something else onto it. Meals seemed like an obvious place to start as we were all in the same place naturally and I didn’t need to get everyone gathered in, so we added storytime to breakfast. Then, once that was working, we added something else to storytime. Link by link, a series of habits simply unfolds through our day. (Mostly.)”

    You can read the rest Getting it all done if you are interested.

    Routines and rhythms are internal whereas schedules are external. My children and I all fight schedules like the trend-bucking, normalcy-questioning homeschoolers that we are, lol. We like rhythms and routines, though.

  12. Sorry for messing up the link.

    From Julie: I fixed it for you in the above comment. 🙂

  13. Michelle Lingle says:

    Thank you, thank you , thank you!!!

    Great analogy and just what I needed to hear right now!!
    It brings me back to simpler times…

    I think I ‘ve been trying to create more of a scheduled feel because the oldest is now in middle school but it is not the character of our family. We are flexible routine people at heart. That is why I have felt so unsuccessful.

    Thank you for putting that all into words and a picture that finally articulated my frustrations!

  14. Judi says:

    I only have two children (12 and almost 11), but I so identified with what PrairiePoppins wrote and posted on her blog, and also with the tensions expressed by Monica and Harrygirl. Julie, I appreciated your response to Harrygirl and look forward to hearing more of how it all plays out in future posts. I’m all for RHYTHMS in our days, with built-in internal flexibility. My struggles are with my own lack of discipline in going to bed early enough (I’m a night owl, always wanting to reform enough to be BOTH a night owl AND a morning bird!;)) so that I can get our day started on the right foot. My children are also night owls (…and my husband is disgusted with the rest of us!) My frustrations are also with my very bright children who are masterful time wasters, and I so want to help them to develop the self-discipline and focus they need now (and in the future) to get a task done, one. at. a. time. I am so tired of haranguing them all the day long to focus, stay on task, get it done. (Especially my 10 year old son.) Life does require discipline in regards to time issues, and I don’t want to fail to teach my children success in these things as well. But I so want to have our homeschool days be rock botton deep down days of joy in learning and being together, knowing that there will always be those other kinds of moments that are less satisfying.;)
    Do you know what I mean? I am sure that for me there will always be a certain amount of tension that has to exist in this matter, due to our very natures. I’m really looking forward to hearing more on this. Thank you.


  15. harrygirl says:

    I just wanted to make a comment to Judi – it sounds as though you and I and also some of our children are related! I too am a nightowl – husband is not, and I have seen many very creative and clever ways to waste time – especially by my 13 year old. I find that the amount of work I have to put in at the moment to get some of my children to do any school work done at all, leaves me feeling like I can’t face another day of fighting. I too am waiting with much anticipation to hear what Julie, and others have to say on this time-management subject.

  16. Andrea Woolums says:

    This was just what I needed. Thank you Julie and all who have commented.
    I have been lost in the same “I created this schedule and now we are sticking to it” mode for the past year. I am now facing a whole summer of trying to finish the curriculum that I bought. I am dreading the summer and so are the kids.

    I used to be a relaxed teacher, then a relaxed homeschooling mom,but I got overwhelemed with the arrival of child number 8 then number 9 within 15 months. I quickly found a boxed curriculum, implemented the schedule and turned into that ogre-mom. I hate who I have become. We are now ready to put them all back in public school because of it.

    I have some of the same concerns as Judi with wanting to experience the joy of learning, but also wanting to instill some self-discipline. I struggle with self-discipline myself and I found that when we were focusing more on a relaxed mode of learning in our homeschool, I too was frustrated with getting my kids motivated to do some work. It would take weeks and weeks to do one writing project. I found I was spending all my time trying to direct the kids in their work. They weren’t able to do the work unless I was there leading them through it. This led to frustration since I was dealing with a nursing baby and an active toddler who needed mommy too.
    So this last year, I tossed all the fun for the schedule and the workbooks (which I said I would never use.)
    Now I find myself praying for an answer to keep my kids home and yet find a balance between being mommy and schooling.
    I have been picking up the Writer’s Jungle and the Arrow again over the last few months to try to establish the fun again. The kids love it. We have to ditch the books to really embrace the Brave Writer lifestyle again. But I think this is the answer for us yet again. Julie, thank you again for the work you do.
    I can’t wait to ditch the workbooks and the schedules to get back to the fun!