As parents many of us want to support our children to express themselves and discover what the world has to offer. It can be difficult to know when and whether routine and structure have a role to play.
In my training as a Steiner teacher rhythm and repetition were emphasised for young children both in daily life and relation to the cycles of the seasons. It was done in a very beautiful way for example the transition from one activity to another was marked with a special song. This seemed to add to the feeling of calm which permeated the kindergarten.
Offered with love
If offered with love a certain amount of predictability can be reassuring for a child and can help us create positive habits which make daily life easier. Neurons which fire together wire together, if we do things in the same order every evening before bed for example pyjamas, tooth brushing, making the light softer, story, cuddle the child will automatically associate these things with sleep. If we have indoor play time, tidy up then go to the park end of play time will become associated with tidying up which will become associated with the positive experience of going to the park. Humans have a tendency to form habits so it is a good idea to be conscious of these and whether they serve us.
The authors of “Hold On to Your Kids” state “Structures need to be created for meals and for bedtimes, for separations and for reunions, for hygiene and for putting things away, for family interaction and closeness, for practice and for homework, for emergent self directed play and for creative solitude. Good structures do not draw attention to themselves or the underlying agenda, and they minimise bossing and coercion.”
Developing life skills
In this way we can help our children to find their place within the family and grow in responsibility as they become more mature and capable of doing so. As a natural at D.I.Y. I love to give my son practical tasks to do and notice that sense of pride he feels in being able to contribute. He can also bake a mean loaf of bread and cook meals for the household. I am also protecting him from the bossy or resentful version of myself which arises when I override my needs and try to do everything.
I have a treasured memory or a time when Seb was six and I left him with a friend for a couple of hours. I returned home to find all of my laundry had been folded – it was a bit wobbly but on the whole pretty good. I asked him if he had done it, his reply was “yes, I didn’t enjoy it but I wanted you to know how much I loved you”. He was able to show care by completing a task that made a difference to me.
Freedom and play
Routine and structure have a role to play and it is important to balance them with opportunities for your child follow their own curiosity. Peter Grey, in his research on play, talks about the importance of self directed play in helping them to feel in control of their own lives which is linked with reducing anxiety + depression later on. It also brings them joy, encourages the development of problem solving abilities, creative thinking and social skills.