How To Start The School Year In The Best Way Possible
Consistency plays a major role in your child’s ability to function well at home and at school. To maintain consistency, you need routines. For young children, almost every experience is new. This can be exciting, but can also be very stressful. If you can create a scaffold of consistent routine for your children, you can help them to deal with new experiences with the support of a strong, safe, supportive base.
Everything in a young child’s life consists of change, including the changes in their own bodies: Babies have to give up being breast or bottle fed, from constantly being held to walking on their own two feet and often being ousted as the baby of the family. All these changes are outwith the child’s control.
Children, like the rest of us, handle change best if it is expected and occurs in the context of a familiar routine. A predictable routine allows children to feel safe and to develop a sense of mastery in handling their lives. As this sense of mastery is strengthened, they can tackle larger changes: walking to school by themselves, paying for a purchase at a store, going to sleepaway camp.
Unpredictable changes such as a divorce or the death of a close relative can leave a child feeling anxious and less able to cope with the changes in their life. Of course, many changes can’t be avoided. But that’s why we offer children a predictable routine as a foundation in their lives — so they can rise to the occasion and handle big changes when they need to.
While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well. Structure and routines teach children how to constructively manage themselves and their environments.
Children who come from chaotic homes where belongings aren’t put away never learn that life can run more smoothly if things are a little organized. In homes where there is no set time or space to do homework, children never learn how to sit themselves down to accomplish an unpleasant task. Children who don’t develop basic self-care routines, from grooming to food, may find it hard to take care of themselves as young adults. Structure allows us to internalize constructive habits.
Why do children need routines?
Routines give children a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.
Humans are afraid of many things, but, for most people, “the unknown” edges out everything except death and public speaking.
Won’t too much structure dull our sense of spontaneity and creativity?
Sure, if it’s imposed without sensitivity. There are times when rules are made to be broken, like staying up late to see an eclipse, or leaving the dinner dishes in the sink to play charades. But even the most creative artists start by mastering the conventions of the past and find the pinnacle of their expression in working within the confines of specific rules.
There’s no reason for structure to be oppressive. Think of it as your friend, offering the little routines and traditions that make life both easier and cozier. Not only will your children will soak up the security, they’ll internalize the ability to structure their own lives.
Should infants should be put on routines as early as possible?
No. Infants tell us what they need. We feed them when they’re hungry and change them when they’re wet. Over time they learn the first step of a routine: we sleep at night. Forcing an infant to accommodate your routine is not being responsive to your infant’s needs. She is not capable of adapting to yours yet. If her needs aren’t met she has to resort to drama to try to meet them.
One exception to this is toilet training. You can start toilet training at birth. You remove his diaper and hold him over a receptacle: toilet, potty, bowl. This is done at the various times that you would use the washroom throughout the day: on rising in the morning, after a meal, before and after a nap, and before going to bed.
There is no expectation of results. As with everything Montessori, the process is more important than the product. But one day there will be results and then you can do your little happy dance! Using this method, your child can be toilet trained at 12 months or younger.
As your infant moves into babyhood, she will establish her own routine, settling into a schedule of sorts. Most babies settle into a fairly predictable pattern. We can help them with this by structuring our day around their needs. For instance, we make sure conditions are appropriate for her nap at the time she usually sleeps. Gradually, over time, we can respond to her natural schedule of eating and sleeping by developing a routine that works for her and for the whole family.
7 Benefits of Using Routines with Your Children
1. Routines eliminate power struggles
Routines eliminate power struggles because you aren’t bossing the child around. The activity (brushing teeth, napping, turning off the TV to come to dinner) is just what we do at this time of day. The parent stops being the bad guy and nagging is greatly reduced.
2. Routines help children cooperate
Routines help children cooperate by reducing stress and anxiety for everyone. We all know what comes next, we get fair warning for transitions and no one feels pushed around, or that parents are being arbitrary.
3. Routines help children learn to take charge of their own activities
Over time, children learn to brush their teeth, pack their backpacks, etc. without constant reminders. children love being in charge of themselves. This feeling increases their sense of mastery and competence. children who feel more independent and in charge of themselves have less need to rebel and be oppositional.
4. Children learn the concept of “looking forward” to things they enjoy
This is an important part of making a happy accommodation with the demands of a schedule. He may want to go to the playground now, but he can learn that we always go to the playground in the afternoon and he can look forward to it then.
5. Regular routines help children get on a schedule
Regular routines help children get on a schedule, so that they fall asleep more easily at night.
6. Routines help parents build in precious connection moments
We all know that we need to connect with our children every day, but when our focus is on moving children through the schedule to get them to bed, we miss out on opportunities to connect. If we build little connection rituals into our routine, they become habit. Try a snuggle with each child when you first see them in the morning, or a recognition ritual when you’re first reunited:
“I see you with those beautiful gray eyes that I love so much!” Or a naming ritual as you dry him after the bath: “Let’s dry your toes…your calf…your knee…your thigh…your penis…your tummy…”
Rituals like these slow you down and connect you and your child on a visceral level. If you do them as just “part of the routine” they build security as well as connection and cooperation.
7. Schedules help parents maintain consistency in expectations
If everything is a fight, parents end up settling: more TV, skip brushing teeth for tonight, etc. With a routine, parents are more likely to stick to healthy expectations for everyone in the family — because that’s just the way we do things in our household. The result: a family with healthy habits, where everything runs more smoothly!
For more inspiration on how to structure a routine that works for your family, check out the links below:
At the Montessori School of Wellington, we have routines in place to help ensure your child starts their school year on the right foot.
In the Montessori pedagogy, we like to encourage freedom within those routines. E. M. Standing, a close friend and assistant to Maria Montessori, once said:
“One of the first essentials for any adult who wishes to help small children is to learn to respect the different rhythm of their lives instead of trying to speed it up, in the vain hope of making it synchronize with ours.”
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at how we can use routine to better prepare our children for success in every aspect of their life.
Routine At Home: In the Morning
Remember: Children can sense stress. Have a morning routine laid out for your child. From eating breakfast to brushing their teeth to getting dressed, try to always do things in the same order.
If, however, your child refuses to eat breakfast, brush her teeth or get dressed, that’s fine! Pack their stuff into a bag and send it with her to school. Our expertly-trained staff will take care of the rest upon arrival.
Routine At School: During Drop-Off
When you drop your child off at school, say goodbye at the front door.
We understand that this is especially difficult at the beginning of the year for parents of younger children. We know that you want to be with your child right up until the last moment – it’s natural.
However, there are a number of reasons why saying goodbye at the front door of the school is best for both your child and the other children at the school:
- Our hallways have limited space and are quite hectic in the morning.
- The presence of mom and dad, and other adults, can be distracting to the children and cause anxiety.
- It helps establish routine.
- We always have one of our staff at the front door greeting each child upon entry. This not only creates routine, it reduces the anxiety a child might have before entering the school.
Lastly — and this might be easier said than done — try not to cry. It’s not unusual to have a child go from being calm and curious about their new surroundings, to being hysterical at the sight of a parent crying. It’s perfectly normal to cry once you’ve seen your child walk away on their own into the school — but try to save your tears until they are no longer in sight.
Routine At School: During Pick-Up
Keep your stress levels low.
We understand that you are busy and that there are places to be and dinner to eat, but adding stress to the pick-up will not encourage your child to move faster. In fact, it will make things worse. Help your child through the process of getting their outdoor clothes on and their belongings together and remember the E. M. Standing quote above!
We also encourage parents to keep questions about your child’s day to a minimum. Imagine coming home from a day at work and your partner asking you rapid fire questions about your day. It would get annoying almost immediately.
Children are natural storytellers and they love to share! They’re going to share with you important details about their day if you give them an opportunity. Instead of asking questions, start telling him about something that happened during your day and then they will probably start asking YOU questions. This is how to build conversation skills.
Routine At Home: In the Evening
Again, you should do your best to maintain your child’s routines.
Even if dinner is at a different time throughout the week, keep the order that everything is accomplished the same.
We wrote a blog titled, “Extending Montessori Into Your Home”, and it’s a terrific resource that will assist you in creating an environment at home that’s designed to help children help themselves.
The main takeaway from this blog is to see your home through your child’s eyes.
If, as an example, your child frequently gets up at night and calls for you to help them go to the washroom, perhaps making light switches and the toilet accessible to your child will allow them to find their way to the washroom without having to disturb you.
Should you have any questions about how to start the school year off on the right foot, or if you are interested in learning more about our school, don’t hesitate to contact us.