By Shari McMinn
When I speak with parents who are raising unique children and they share their struggles with me in hopes of getting some helpful guidance, often the first thing I ask them is, “Have you established a steady routine for yourself and your household?”
Routine is good for adults and children. It is essential for families with unique learners who are living ‘outside the box’ of the ‘typical’ family. A rhythmic routine — which means there is usually the same ebb and flow each day — helps parents and children alike know what is expected. It develops felt-safety, resilience, and trust, which are all crucial for being able to focus and thrive.
What do you think of when you hear the word “rhythm”? Exercise, music, poetry? Rhythm is the consistent beat that makes life flow smoothly, just like your favorite tune you can clap along with. When our natural course of each day is based on a rhythmic routine, we can flourish in life.
I was raised by my loving parents who provided an expected daily routine. My childhood was idyllic because of it. I trusted them, knew what to expect, had felt-safety, never lacked for essentials though we lived modestly, and had a foundation of Christian faith. It built me into a resilient person who loves life, works hard, swerves at curveballs, and serves those around me both willingly and cheerfully.
Little did I realize how important that foundation of resilience would become in my adult life as I raised 11 children, several highly traumatized by the loss of their birth parents, others stressed by the trauma drama that played out daily with such siblings. And then came the unexpected deaths of my husband and teen daughter, which further complicated our lives and got us off track. We desperately needed a rhythmic routine if we were to survive and move forward in a positive direction.
When my kids and I were stressed more than usual, I made sure that the basics of clothing, food, love, and shelter were provided. I ensured our daily routine of Bible study, three meals a day plus snacks, homeschool lessons, and outdoor exercise carried on. If we had time and motivation for art, hobbycraft, and music, those were bonuses greatly enjoyed!
Because we had established such a routine over time, it came naturally when times got tough. Getting it all accomplished — along with meal prep, laundry, personal hygiene, and lots of creative play — did not add to our stress but helped mitigate it.
Yes, we did have to slow down and eliminate everything but the essentials during the worst crises. My kids didn’t have lots of outside-the-home commitments, just weekly piano lessons and monthly 4-H and homeschool co-op meetings, and we missed a few of those during the roughest times. As an added bonus to getting off of the rat race treadmill, our unique students became more relaxed, had more efficient brain function and greater productivity ,and our lifestyle gave me more patience to deal with their most challenging behaviors and days.
Here are a few ideas that help us continue to enjoy a smoother running home and homeschool:
- Character: Include character training as part of school, and focus on the fruit of the spirit in relationships: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22); rules are important but relationships are more so.
- Consistency: Have the same expectations day in and day out, at-home and away; slight variations throughout the seasons of year and life may be needed, but keep it much the same every day.
- Exercise: Take walks outside or do calisthenics inside every day as a family.
- Home as a refuge: Filled with peace and joy — uncluttered, organized, picked-up daily, cleaned weekly — with rooms for both togetherness and individual solitude.
- Individual ability: School work at ability level not grade expectation — for both struggling and gifted students.
- Meals: Serve at the same time every day — with school, chores, and playtime in between — nutritious and delicious with plate appeal to entice even the pickiest of eaters.
- Nurturing: All children (and adults) need nurturing attention, comforting when they are upset, and understanding that they are worthy of our time and attention; slow down your life to allow more margin in your day for dealing with emotional meltdowns as they occur.
- Sleep: Get up and go to bed at the same time daily; allow for 8-12 hours of sleep.
- Teaching: Work on math and English individually in the morning when everyone is well-rested. Do other subjects as a group during the afternoon while littles nap (or are in their room for quiet time) and use curriculum at the level of the oldest student with read aloud and hands-on activities.
Conscious decisions to implement these strategies for a more natural, expected, rhythmic routine should have positive effects over time. These aren’t a quick fix, but nothing worth doing well is.
I hope these blog posts encourage and edify you while homeschooling your Unique Learner(s). If we parents show up every day to do the important job of raising our children for Christ, He will provide what is needed to do the rest. Afterall, this is what Jesus said about our Heavenly Father’s care for us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 ESV)
Update: The Unique Learners’ Column will now be published monthly on the 4th week of the month.