Routines and Rhythms at Home

By Michelle Rogers

My name is Michelle and I am an Early Education Consultant and a Mother of a very busy 2-year girl, Alexis.  Like you, I am spending time at home with my little one and to make sure we both don’t go crazy I have developed a rhythm for our day. This supports Lexi’s needs for some control over her day as well as assisting me to keep the day moving in an enjoyable way.

Of course, there are days when the wheels fall off and I throw everything out the window because it’s just ‘one of those days’ but mostly I can use this rhythm to form a flow of the day.  Before I share this with you, I think it’s important to give you a little more information about routines and rhythms.

Why is routine important for young children?

“Building routines with your children helps them feel safe. They know what to expect during their day and it provides clear boundaries, expectations and consistency.” (Dani Kaufman, Melbourne child psychology)

Now when I say the word ‘routine’, I don’t mean one that looks like this:

  • 6.30-6.45am – Wake and change nappy
  • 6.45-7 am – Read stories
  • 7-7.15am – Get dressed
  • 7.15-7.45 – Morning play etc etc etc.

I think we all know that in the land of the toddler this a total impossibility anyway so why stress yourself out with this kind of rigid routine?!

There will already be some parts of your days that slot into an easy routine such meal and bath times so by having a flexible routine and clear expectations you can have a much more enjoyable day and your child will be grateful for consistency you are creating for them.

What does it mean to have a Rhythm of the day?

Rhythms are a concept taken from the Waldorf Philosophy; the day is structured into periods of ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’, meaning that there are times the child is encouraged to participate in a more structured experience or routine and then other times when they are encouraged to enjoy unstructured play.

Mari Yamaguchi, a Teacher at a Waldorf early childhood centre, says “As Waldorf early childhood teachers, one of our fundamental tasks is to offer the children a breathing-like rhythm to our day together – breathing in, as with listening to a story or resting, and breathing out, as in running, playing and roughhousing. In and out, in and out, throughout the day.” 

 (https://blog.waldorfmoraine.org/2018/05/waldorf-education-the-importance-of-rhythm-in-early-childhood/)

Can they work together?

The short answer is YES. 

Taking a calm and relaxed approach such as breathing in and out and partnering this with your already established routine times will make for a fun-filled day you can both enjoy.

For example:

Time of Day Experience What to consider
Early Morning Waking Up - getting Dressed

Set the tone for your day here, can you wake up slowly? Can you read a story in bed together?

Do you have to get dressed straight away? By remaining calm and slow (if possible) you set that pace for the rest of the day.

Breakfast First Meal of the Day

Is this always structured i.e. is it cereal and then fruit and then yoghurt for example?

Having some clear guidelines around meal times will make them easier to manage and more enjoyable for you all.

Mid Morning Playtime - Movement - Outdoor experiences

This is the busy part of the day. Your child will need to move so this is a time for outdoor play if you can.

A range of experiences can be provided during this time and they can be indoors or outdoors.

The more engaged your child is with experiences and movement the more willing they will be to eat and rest afterward.

Morning Tea Healthy morning snack This is a refueling time. Your little one is busy right now so a snack outside while they are in between play experiences will keep them moving
Late Morning Play and Discovery

They will start to wind down slowly (usually) so it’s a great time for some more engaging experiences.

This might be a nature walks, playdough, painting, stories, drawing, etc.

Lunch Mealtime When you eat with your little one you set a great example and it can be a lovely experience.
Restime Sleep or Relaxation

Depending on your child’s age they may not have a sleep or rest in the middle of the day.

Think about darkening their room, putting on relaxation music and perhaps reading a story before sleep time to calm your little one

Early Afternoon Movement and Exploration

All children wake up differently so depending on your little one’s temperament.

You may need to get stuck straight into experiences or you may need to take some time and slowly ease them back into play.

Afternoon Tea Afternoon Snack This is another refueling moment and if possible, I think it’s great to have this one outside on a mat.
Late Afternoon Play

If you can spend some time outside during this time it’s great.

Think about the weather, if it’s getting cooler quickly then a short play outside filled with lots of movement before coming indoors for a few quieter experiences.

Dinner An enjoyable meal with Family Sitting at the table together eating a meal is a wonderful way to connect. Sometimes it's not possible depending on the needs and age of your little one so just go with their routine.
Bathtime Let's get clean and calm

Bath time can be a fun and enjoyable experience. Leave plenty of time for the bath as water is calming and relaxing and it's now the last part of the day so its time to unwind and slow down.

To make bath time more fun think about what you can add to the bath.

Add a little blue food colouring, some flowers you found in the garden, some toys, cups, spoons from the kitchen, dolls, cars, etc.

Early Evening Quiet Activities

You are preparing for sleep so this is the time for stories, drawing, puzzles and relaxing music in the background.

This will set the tone for this time.

Bedtime zzzzzzzzz

Snuggles, story before bed, bottle or fee - whatever your routine is here take your time and enjoy this very last part of a fun-filled day.

Before you know it your little one will be putting themselves to bed and this special time will change.

  

A day in the life of Alexis (the very busy 2-year-old!)

 Now I want to share with you my little one’s day. This is an example and each day varies depending on her mood, the weather, what is available, and her current interests but we do follow a pretty similar rhythm to support her sense of security.

 Early Morning – Waking up slowly!

 Lexi likes to wake up slowly most mornings so we take our time.  She enjoys stories in our bed if we can each morning, she chooses at least 3 stories and we lay in bed all snuggled up to read. This gives us both a chance to wake up slowly and we start the day feeling calm and relaxed. Lexi enjoys a little quiet playtime in the morning as well. Here she is writing her shopping list while still in her PJ’s 

 

Lexie-1-Drawing-W
Lexie-1-scribbles-W
Lexie-3-High-Chair-W
Lexie-4-high-chair-

 

 Breakfast – the breakfast window

There is always a pattern to this part of the day. She has choices but the choices are always the same. Toast or cereal first then yoghurt.
The idea behind providing choices is to assist Toddlers to have a sense of control over their lives. The choices you provide should always be similar and get you to the goal you need, for example: “Are you going walk up the stairs or would you like me to carry you?” “Are you going to use the fork or the spoon for your dinner.” “Would you like blue or purple nightie tonight?” As part of her transition from play to breakfast, she continues to draw in her high chair.

  Mid-Morning – Let’s get playing!

I break up this part of the day with movement activities, outside play, games, art experiences, etc. If weather permits I get Lexi outside for some movement play. Running games, playing on the swing set, riding her scooter and car, etc. This morning we started with an obstacle course she has learned from Circus school, then the mat turned into the floor of her cubby house. She chose the dolls, blankets, cushions, etc. and set up her dolls for sleep after they had enjoyed a swing.

Something to remember – you can always bring the inside outside! I often get Lexi to choose items from inside play and bring them outside for her. Just by setting up existing resources in a different place, you can create a new experience. Lexi’s babies love having a swing.

 Morning Tea – Healthy fruit snack

I go with the flow at morning tea time as I want her to love and engage in play but am also conscious of the hungry toddler beast emerging, so I follow the rule of offering food every couple of hours and I make sure Lexi has a full water bottle near here at all times. This meal is usually fruit and depending on how much she has been moving and growth spurts, I add some bread, crackers, rice cakes etc.

 

Lexie-1-equip-W
Lexie-2-Dolls-W
Lexie-3-Mat-Roll-W
Lexie-4-big-tent-W

 

Late Morning – a little more structured play

After a snack, I usually try for a little more structured experience if she is interested. Today we enjoyed playdough but some other ideas include drawing, painting, collecting things on a nature walk, collage, chalk drawing on the pavement or all of the above! 

 Lunch – Get them fed and ready for bed

 At lunchtime, I try and offer something more substantial as she has exerted a lot of energy during the morning playtime. I sit with Lexi at lunchtime and enjoy a meal with her. Each day is different and I offer either a hot meal or sandwich followed by some fruit, cheese, and crackers usually. It all depends on her needs and likes/displaces so I try and make this meal fun. Rice cakes with faces on them, frozen mango pieces are a favourite of hers, a little grated cheese on top of a hot meal makes it more appealing to her. Sausages, meatballs are a hit with her as well so when I make meatballs, I add a heap of veggies to the mix.

Rest Time – let’s have a snooze

Lexi isn’t always willing to sleep so I make this transition as fun and enjoyable as I can. We get her room ready together (soft lighting, relaxation music, favourite sleepsuit, cool drink, etc.) she then gets to choose 2 stories and we snuggle together and read before I put her to bed.

 

Lexi-story-W
Lexie-Milk-2W
Lexie-Milk
Lexie-Playdoh-W

Early Afternoon – slow wake-up and outside explorations

In the early afternoon, Lexi enjoys some dramatic play in her kitchen on the back deck. Giving young children everyday household items, cutlery and crockery extend learning in a meaningful way. You can simply use a small coffee table and all your kitchen bits and pieces. I love dramatic play with Lexi as I can see how much she is learning and watch her imagination and creativity blossom. As a parent and partner in this play, your role is to ‘play along’ and enjoy the fun. Perhaps you can ask your little one to cook for you and make you a cup of tea. They relish in your engagement as you play alongside them.

 Afternoon Tea – That important little snack before dinner

Lexi loves having afternoon outside when we can and if we have been playing in her ‘kitchen’ she will happily snack as she plays. Lexi enjoys some fruit, cheese, crackers, rice cakes, cucumber sticks, carrot, pickles and olives. If she hasn’t eaten very much during the day, I use Afternoon tea as the main ‘top-up’ meal for her.

 Late Afternoon – Lets Play

After her snack, its time to play again and I like to get her moving where possible. Bubbles and music are a great combination and Lexi loves bubbles just as much as she loves music. I add instruments into this space as well so she can make her own music but you can also play some fun children’s music as they run around chasing bubbles.

 Dinner - A meal with the Family

Lexi can either love or loath dinner as I’m sure many of you can relate to! We try and eat together where possible but often it’s too early for us and Lexi needs to eat. Dinner and bath time are not always at the same time in our rhythm as I assess her needs at the time. If I think she waits a little longer for dinner we have a bath first, if she is covered in bubble mixture we will bath first as well

 

Lexie-1 Bubbles-W
Lexie-2-snack-W
Lexie-3-Rest-W
Lexie-4 Bath-W

 

Bath time – clean and relax time

Usually, this is a fun time for Lexi but sometimes we have to get a bit creative with what’s on offer in the bath. I use some natural food colouring sometimes and add a few drops to make the water a fun colour for her. We have also had babies in the bath, collected flowers from the garden, had cups, spoons and in this example – buckets!

Early evening

After the bath, I like to play quietly inside. We are lucky in that we have a playroom and so we spend quality time together as a family to end the day. We read stories, do puzzles, play with the dolls house and Lexis favourite thing at the moment is to put all her babies to bed. She puts them on cushions and then I have pieces of spare fabric she uses for blankets for them. During this time, we play relaxation music.

 Bedtime – let the day be done

Bedtime is a similar time every night and we worked hard to establish this routine for Lexi. I always provide some warning for her ‘its 10 minutes until we pack up and get ready for bed.” We finish our play then pack up. Packing up with a toddler can be near impossible but my advice – just keep trying, you will be grateful for the effort in the long run. After pack up time its PJs, nappy, warm drink and snuggles. Well done Mummy and Daddy – you made it!!!

Well, there you have it – a day in the life of Alexis. I hope this has helped offer some guidance and ideas as you navigate this brave new world and just remember – we are all in this together and very rarely will everything go as planned so relax, all your child ever really wants is to spend time with you. So if in doubt – just give them a cuddle and breath. xxxx