20 minutes to make our day

I found myself becoming guilty of one of the things I said I would never do as a parent, and I’m not referring to driving a minivan, though I am guilty of that, too. What I’m referring to here is that I became a barking, angry, stressed out parent in a world of chaotic breakfasts and bag forgetting and orders to get your shoes on NOW again and again. No matter how early I got up in the morning, it seemed that those last five minutes until we had to get out of the house in the morning on our way to preschool, to a homeschool  trip, or even on our way to the homeschool room in our own house by our early scheduled start time turned into a rush. And a rush was not a good way to begin our day. It left my kids confused, disappointed, stressed, tired, and it left them with their needs not met well from their mama at the very beginning of a busy day, and chaotic mornings left me feeling defeated and tense, before any schooling or cleaning even got underway. That was not for us, so we stopped doing that and tried something different.

And now what we have is 20 minutes of bliss. We don’t have perfect days. We don’t always go according to plan. And we certainly don’t do everything all sweet and proper and correct, but we do our best around here to get a calm, quiet start to the day now. At first, this was a bit of a challenge, as a new routine often is with small children, but after a couple days, we began to begin our days in a much better way. After teeth are brushed, beds are made, breakfast is cleared away, and we are all dressed for the day, I set a timer for 20 minutes, and the four of us all go to different parts of the house to do something quietly and calmly on our own. Everyone gets to choose what they do, but I give them suggestions and tell them that electronics (other than tag reader pens) are off limits; television and video games make my kids way to jittery and/or spacey in the morning to be a good idea before school.

Morning quiet time choices include reading quietly to yourself (a good book that teaches you something), writing or copying a letter to a friend or relative, working a puzzle, playing a board or card game (yes, kids can do this by themselves….quite creatively, actually…), playing with blocks or manipulatives, sitting doing nothing, or working on an art project. And I have to say that a little organization goes a long way with kids’ games.

We put our broken game boxes in the recycle bin, put game pieces in labeled zippered bags, and then used address label stickers to label the boards of games. Now it is more reasonable to keep the kids accountable for only getting out one thing at a time and then putting it away neatly. Sigh.

I use our 20 minute morning alone time to lesson plan for the day, catch up on letters or emails, and really, just to breathe in my favorite room in the house with a cup of something warm. This doesn’t mean the kids don’t have access to me. Of course they come to me with questions about a word in a book or for help with a puzzle piece or even for a hug, but in theory we are all doing something on our own. I think it is good for them to have time to be alone, but not entirely alone. I’m right there if they need me, and they know that, and I think they even like that a little.

So when the timer goes off, we start our school day relaxed and ready to join back up together. The kids actually all look forward to doing something together again. Imagine! A little quiet can go a long way. I don’t think it is necessary to homeschool children in order to make morning a time for meeting kids’ needs and preparing them for their days by filling them up with calm and love and security, but the decision to homeschool the kids has certainly made it easier to slow down our mornings. I’m sure there are many great mothers out their who keep their cool in the morning when heading out the door on a tight schedule, but for me, it was difficult on many mornings to be sweet and chill when the clock was ticking and there was a kid who was panicked about not being comfortable in her shoes, while another was in need of a new diaper at the last minute, and yet another was needing to talk about something super important to her in that moment. So for us, we made our mornings work better with a clear early morning schedule and 20 small, sweet minutes. And I hope this time is a step towards our kids learning how to spend time with family in a home, while not always doing the same thing. Quality time doesn’t have to be all or nothing, as in we are either talking to the person next to us or we are ignoring the person next to us and talking to a friend on the Internet. How about just sitting and enjoying someone’s company without always feeling a need to fill up the silence with something? I know I am pretty old-fashioned and probably have a silly, dreamy view of after-dinner time with my family, all the girls sitting in different parts of the room, one embroidering a pillow, while one plays cards with her daddy, and another reads a book of poetry…..BUT even if we can’t go back in time to a slower paced world and my girls may never learn to embroider seat cushions like Jane Austen characters, we can still learn to share a house and enjoy each other’s company, whether we are doing something together…or not. Clearly I have big hopes for what our 20 minutes in the morning will teach us as family. Not sure if they will all pan out, but for now the 20 minutes are working out pretty well for our mornings, and good mornings tend to make good days. Right?