Five Ways We Anchor Our Days (in a Homeschooling, Work-from-Home Family)
In case you didn't know (not being cheeky, you really might not know, haha), I have four kids. The ones that are old enough to attend school are homeschooled. They are currently my sole full-time job. My husband is a professional photographer and works from home. All of this to make the point: we are all home together a lot, more often than is culturally typical for our demographic and area. During the winter, we're home together most of the time because that's my hubby's slower season as well and it can get reeeeally cold out.
Spending that much time together and following a schedule we all pretty much set for ourselves has some serious advantages (impromptu road trip, anyone?), but it has its drawbacks, too. In order to offset some of the natural consequences of spending a lot of time together on a very open schedule, there are a few key things that we do daily to keep us all alive and well. They are currently important to us for adding structure and rhythm to our otherwise unstructured day, but I think they would also help anchor us in crazy-busy and super-scheduled season of life, too. They add calm, stability, and sweetness to our days...and prevent us from strangling each other by the end (most days...).
1) A Gathered "Start" Time.
We call ours Morning Basket, but there's not really a "basket" involved at all anymore, so the name actually makes no sense. Ha! I feel like a more appropriate name might be the "family huddle" as a nod to sports metaphors before we "break" for the day...but morning basket is fine, too, I guess. We'll live with it.
Our morning basket ritual includes us all gathering at the kitchen table around a lighted beeswax candle to enjoy a snack while having our family scripture reading/prayer and go over the day's events and expectations. It usually happens around 9am, following the craziness of breakfast/getting ready/morning chores, and lasts for maybe 10-15mins. The snack is because everyone gathers more willingly for food (riiiiight!?), and the candle is just because it's cozy and pretty; the kids have fun taking turns being the one to blow it out at the end. It marks an official "start" to our day together. Darren heads back to his work, and we get started on the rest of our morning.
2) A Basic Outline for the Day
This one might initially sound a little homeschool-centric, but hear me out. My school-age kids each have a thin coil-bound notebook (not my idea...read more about it here). Each day, I start a fresh page and write the things they'll do that day with little boxes to check off when they're completed. Most of them are school assignments, but sometimes there's a chore or two...or even just activities we've planned like "library visit." It's basically a bare-bones sketch of what their day ahead will include. Since they're pretty little, I keep the list under 5 school-specific things, and under 8 things total so it's not overwhelming.
The reason this works is because it takes the schedule or 'to-do list' for the day and makes it something we are all tackling together, as opposed to "Mom just telling us what to do and we have no idea what's coming next." It transforms the daily grind from being kids vs. the grown ups' schedule to all of us vs. the day ahead. I find this is especially helpful for my kids feeling more calm and secure; they're reassured by knowing what's expected of them and what to expect of their day and less 'at the mercy' of an adult world.
3) Afternoon Quiet Time
This one is especially essential to our sanity. It's 30 mins of everyone separate and alone doing quiet, screen-less activities, including Mom. Activities include reading, toys, puzzles, colouring, staring at the ceiling and letting their thoughts wander, whatever. It amazes me how much LESS the kids want to kill each other at 4:45pm when they've had a mandated break from each other part-way through the day. It's MIRACULOUS. Plus sometimes I need the excuse to unplug and read a book or close my eyes and rest for a bit. I'm a nicer mom after that.
4) Family Dinner
Honestly, there's just something about humans gathering around food, isn't there? This is one of those things that has scientific proof to back it up in the "helping create stronger families department." It's simply just a great time for us to regroup & catch up, practice face-to-face conversation skills, and share a meal.
Even when we are mostly together during the day, it still surprises me sometimes to hear what my kids' thought the best/worst parts of their days were.
5) Bedtime Routine
This includes all the regular things like jammies and brushing teeth and prayers and such, but what makes it special is the time to cozy up to our read-aloud book together (just finished "Red Sails to Capri" and about to start "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe") and bring back the lighted candle. After storytime, I bring it around to each bed as I go say goodnight and spend a minute or two chatting quietly with each kid (and tryyyying not to rush through it). The last kid gets to blow out the candle (taking turns of course or it'd be mutinous around here). It's nerdy, I know, but there's something poetic about a lit candle to mark the beginning and ends of our day.
You guys, I used to hate bedtime and just want it OVER already because I was emotionally done for the day. There are still days like that, make no mistake, but it got so much sweeter when we intentionally added little things to make it lovely. I think the key was winding down with a good book together that I also enjoyed reading aloud to them. Adding something sparkly to the monotony with the candle reminded me to slow down and enjoy the process more. Watching that flickering flame with the kids still hasn't lost its magic!
And just to reality check: we still have awful & grouchy days! These wonderful things are not the whole picture...but somehow even coming to each of these familiar points during the day helps push the reset button sometimes, adding high notes to the low ones in our daily family rhythm.
What are some of your family's essential daily things that keep you happy and sane? Breakfast together? Walks to and from school together? After school snack chats?