Monday, September 12, 2011
Finding Our True Rhythm
I've been thinking a lot about what we mean when we talk about rhythm. Grace wrote a great blog piece about it here and I am completely in agreement with her. I think of rhythm as being the living, breathing part of our days, weeks, months, and years.
Rhythm is the big pieces ~ waking, eating, bathing, activity, rest. It is also the turning of the seasons and the special days that punctuate the year. We don't choose the beating of our hearts, and while we can impose structure to our breathing with conscious effort, as we get caught up again in daily life it will quickly fall back into its own rhythm. We don't choose the weather each day or when spring arrives. We are not in charge of when the leaves turn color or the first snow falls. We can ignore hunger or fatigue but they always arrive and need to be sated.
But rhythm is not the same thing as routine or schedule. Gathering for the evening meal is rhythm; serving chicken soup each Tuesday is routine. Waking each day is rhythm, setting the alarm clock is imposing schedule on the rhythm. It isn't bad to impose schedule or routine; indeed, many of us need it. For me, routine creates the space and calm I need to function as a human being.
When we first started homeschooling I thought we needed a very strict routine and I attempted to create that and impose it on our rather relaxed, yet solid rhythm. They didn't mesh well at all.
This is what happened. For grade one I started with the idea that our homeschool day needed to look just like Donna Simmons describes in her books. I was absolutely convinced that we had to do our work in the morning because the syllabus said that was when we were freshest for learning. I imposed a schedule on our morning: wake, eat, dress, walk, circle, lessons. I tried this consistently, was met with resistance, and had kids that fell apart in the afternoon.
Why wasn't it working? Other experts and books all said the same thing: we should do lessons (or head work) in the mornings. But Enki also suggested that we begin by staying home and observing our natural rhythm. So we did; I observed and saw what was happening. After the long separation of sleep my boys wanted to play with each other. They might stop to eat breakfast, but play was necessary for them. After an hour or two things would start to get contentious and that was a good time for me to bring in structured activity (a walk, a short lesson, reading out loud, crafts, etc.). Then we'd have lunch and quiet time (quiet time evolved so nicely from napping that I think of it as part of our overall rhythm) and settle into lesson work. It worked beautifully.
Can you believe I jettisoned the easy rhythm and routine again later, starting once again in the morning thinking that the experienced educators must be right and that I must be wrong? And that I tried to tell myself that it was working? My boys are older now, and I can make a morning crammed with lessons work, but it is usually at the expense of harmony. It is far better to allow our days to flow around our natural rhythm and to give up the idea that anyone else knows what is best for our family.
I think finding our true rhythm is a big part of successful family living. Knowing whether someone is an early riser or a night owl. Knowing when hunger arrives, when the need for sleep arrives, when we require quiet or activity. Sometimes I will talk to a mom who says "we have no rhythm at all" and I gently suggest that yes, they do. They wake, they eat, they sleep. Note when that happens (or needs to happen) and fill in from there. What time does each family wake and how does each person meet the new day? Are people hungry immediately upon waking or do they need to wait a little while? When do the children play harmoniously and when do they need direction? When are the parents at their most overwhelmed and when are they at their best ? What home chores are done daily and are they happening in a way that makes sense for the family?
Observation is a gift. When we pay attention we see the reasons behind behavior and are more likely to approach our children with compassion. Just today after lunch T-Guy fell apart while washing the dishes. He touched a hot pan (he wasn't burned, just surprised) and it was just enough to let the flood gates open "I don't know how to do this!" (He does, and it would have been more accurate for him to say that he didn't remember how.) I had been observing all morning and had noted that he was tired and a bit lethargic. Papa himself came down with a cold yesterday evening. Putting it all together I guided him to his room to lie down, telling him that I would help him with the pan later when it cooled. I offered empathy and a solution (rest). An hour later he was much better, happier, and more resilient. He got dressed and noted that he had probably been dressed too warmly for such a hot day. We washed the pan together, the incident fully behind us. He wasn't simmering and thinking that I had been unfair and I wasn't worrying that I had a recalcitrant child.
Close observation helps us discover our true rhythm. It's there, pulsing underneath everything that we attempt to pile on top of it, waiting for us to acknowledge its course and work with it rather than against it. Our homeschool year will start soon, and I will remember that my children need to connect in the morning before I require lesson work from them. We will wake, and eat, do our morning chores, play, and then move into our lessons and practice, knowing that some of it will happen after our noon meal and quiet time, and not worrying that anyone thinks we are doing it wrong.