Rhythm is an important element of our days – for our children as well as ourselves. Yet as parents with young children know, despite rhythm’s importance and the benefits it provides, a smoothly flowing rhythm does not always come naturally! This has certainly been the case in our family. My sons thrive on rhythm, and so do I. However, problems sometimes arise when attempting to coordinate our various rhythms into one that is understood and works for all involved.
During my sons’ first year of preschool, we began having rough afternoons with crankiness, conflict and a lack of direction. One school day I faced an afternoon filled with a list of things I needed to get done. I was dreading the battles I was sure would come, and spent that morning pondering what I might do to help our afternoon go more smoothly. I thought if there was some way to lay it out so we could all know what to expect and have something concrete to come back to, that might help. Lists are what I rely on when I’m feeling overwhelmed, but my sons weren’t able to read. This gave me the idea of drawing a plan – an illustrated list – for the afternoon: nothing fancy, but a cartoon of sorts. I drew it in boxes with stick figures acting out the major events. It was something they could see and understand, and that we could all revisit when we needed a reminder of what to do next.
It worked, and my sons began requesting that I bring a plan with me every day when I picked them up from school. Even though the plans are often the same with only slight variations, it has become an important rhythm in itself, and gives us a moment to pause, become grounded and reconnect before moving forward again.
While we don’t make plans for each (non-school) day, we have found them very useful for out-of-the-ordinary days, days that have a lot of parts to remember, or times when rhythms are changing. Drawing a plan could also be helpful in easing conflict and encouraging a smoother rhythm in specific times of day such as bedtime or morning routines. As we moved from school days to summer break last year, I wanted to establish a weekly rhythm for our time together, and so drew a weekly plan that included the major recurring events for each day of the week, such as time with Grandma and Grandpa, or music class. This way we could honor the more flexible rhythm of our summer days, while also maintaining a basic underlying rhythm and understanding of what to expect.
The actual process of drawing your rhythm is quick and easy! Let go of the need to make beautiful pictures, and go for it – grab some paper and a pen or pencil, and draw some stick figures and simple forms that will symbolize the actions. For example, I draw very simple figures, but vary the hair and height to help identify who is who in our family. Some common actions included on our plans are eating dinner (I draw a simple table with the four of us in our seats), getting ready for bed (a simple sink with toothbrushes set out) and going to bed (each boy in his bed). At times I will include choices on the plan: for example, a plan might include going home from school, then either reading together or solo play time. This allows a little flexibility when possible, while still setting expectations. I also write a basic description of the action underneath.
If your children are old enough that they are drawing simple shapes, perhaps it would be helpful sometimes to allow them to have a hand in drawing the plan. If there are certain plans that you find yourself using over and over, perhaps you might create a more detailed or colorful drawing of your rhythm on thicker paper, or protect it with laminating sheets so that it can be reused. There are many ways to adapt this basic idea to your family’s needs! As we find ourselves once again at the transition from more structured days to the more open and perhaps changing days of Summer, I hope this tool can prove helpful for you, as it has for us, in creating a visible, grounding rhythm for your days.
Annie Demko lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and twin boys on a small, historic homestead where she spends her days caring for and playing with her sons, cleaning, cooking, creating, and attempting to coordinate and accept the chaos. You can find her reflecting on her days at her blog Moon in the Window and selling her creations in her store on Etsy.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.