It's important to be flexible and to teach our children flexibility, but the young child thrives on a predictable schedule. While young children have a hard time remembering what we say to them, their body memory is very strong. They will not remember with their brains that bedtime is 8:00, but if every night bath time starts at 7:00, followed by a snack and a story, their bodies will settle into the rhythm. When the rhythm is established, the child will just know it's bedtime, and arguments about bedtime will cease.
A rhythm can be hard to establish in the beginning, and may feel mundane to us adults, but provides our children with the ease and security of knowing what comes next. When a child does not know what to expect, it creates anxiety and that is often where undesirable behaviors come in. Once we establish a strong rhythm, that rhythm will begin to live in the child's body. We can drop our expectations that they will remember to clean up; rather if clean-up follows free play every day (of course this requires a little help in the beginning), the child will naturally follow suit. It's amazing how much establishing a steady rhythm will eliminate arguing, fussing, begging, and overall undesirable behavior. Children begin to relax into their daily schedule and transitions begin to flow smoothly. It's important to have a balance in the schedule, allowing for what we call in the Waldorf world "in breaths and out breaths." Examples of in breaths include circle time, structured crafts, story time, naptime, etc. Examples of out breaths would be outside play, walks, park time, and free play. It's best to alternate these activities. An example of a daily rhythm can look something like this: 7:00-Wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast 8:00-Morning walk 9:00-Inside for cooking/crafting/circle time/stories 10:00-Free play until lunch-errands/outside time can fit here too 12:00-Lunch 1:00-Naptime 3:00-Outside play/walk/errands with mom 4:00-Free play or help with preparing Dinner 5:00 or 6:00-Dinner 7:00-Bath, snack, story 8:00 Bed Children need more sleep than we may think. My 6 year old goes to bed at 7:30 (shhh, don't tell him daylight savings time exists). He sleeps straight through until 7:00 a.m. For young ones, the earlier, the better. Often times they will still sleep until their normal waking time. This also allows time for mom and/or dad to have a breather before our own bedtime.
Establishing a rhythm may take some time and invoke some resistance, but hold fast, it will be worth it for both you and your child. Once it is established, we can all settle into it and life flows with more ease.
Tessa Wood, WishGarden Category Manager