Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Value of Routines

"Some parents, instead of being rigid about routines, feel they are helping their children become more flexible human beings by never 'imposing' a routine upon them, but this usually has the opposite effect. In our experience, we have found that children who have no consistent patterns in their lives tend to grow up into adults who are constantly seeking security and stability, and who, due to their fear of instability, are often unable to be truly flexible and creative. Consistent routines which are based upon the child's real needs provide a sense of security which frees the child to develop a strong sense of self-esteem" (, "Oak Meadow and bedtime").

This reflects my intuition toward implementing a flexible but more purposeful schedule and providing a more specific focus to our homeschooling as I explore the subject of unschooling. How can this make sense, the idea that unschooling led me to reinforce the importance of a routine? Aren't these diametrically opposed concepts? According to Oak Meadow, it's quite the opposite. It's common sense that children, and maybe teenagers especially, feel more secure when they have certain things in their days that they can expect, and when they are clear about their family's values and boundaries. Consistency for children was a key Montessori concept.

Beezy is so used to being read to at bedtime that it is almost inconceivable to her if it doesn't happen--such as because a parent has a sore throat or we stayed up very late watching fireworks. This ritual makes her feel secure, as do prayers at meal times and before going to sleep. She seems to feel similarly secure when we have a designated "school" time, and she wants to be finished with it by the time the school kids get off the bus. Then again, she gets excited for those days when the family takes a field trip on a Friday instead of doing school. It appears that both routines and variety are the spice of life!

I think that the key is balance. Routines don't have to be rigid, and they don't have to signal boredom, either. There can be a great deal of flexibility within a schedule--a new food to try at dinner, a new ecosystem to explore in your science studies, a different park to visit, a special feast day to celebrate or saint's life to learn about. Being spontaneous is perhaps more fun when it represents a break from the usual routine! I always had the same bedtime growing up, so it was exciting to get to stay up later for a special TV show. Certainly some rules should be broken (ie. Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of the bus), but other limits actually provide the security needed to safely explore increasingly greater autonomy. There is no such thing as freedom without limits in this life. People can't fly of their own power because they don't have wings, just as snakes can't walk for lack of legs. Unlimited freedom can become its own cage, with children who grow up to be adults lacking in a sense of self-discipline and self-worth. I'm glad I had a curfew when I was a teenager, and I'm glad that when I turned 18, my dad granted my request to have it extended an hour. He could trust me not because I had always been given limitless freedom, but because I had shown self-discipline within the imposed limits.

I don't think unschooling is about letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want. Unschooling is about giving children what they need.

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