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There aren’t a ton of surprises at my house. We also operate without a schedule.
It might seem like these two statements totally oppose each other. How can you have a routine when you literally don’t have a schedule? In order to have one, you must have other. We don’t. But we do have scheduled freedom.
Scheduled freedom means we follow the same general format every day: We wake up, eat breakfast, play, go to school, come home, play, eat dinner, play, go to bed. Every day looks pretty much just like that. There are no sports or set extracurriculars. We don’t go to any groups either. In today’s very scheduled parenting style, the complete lack of those activities can seem unusual. But there is a reason I designed our days like this.
Unscheduled But Still In A Routine
As a teacher, I have witnessed hundreds of hyper-scheduled children and families — kids who have somewhere to be and something to do from sunrise to sunset. There is not a moment of the day that is unaccounted for or unfilled. Everything is rushed and they are always busy.
If that works for your family, that’s great. However, I witnessed these same kids nodding off at their desks, unable to concentrate on work and feeling mounting pressure to fit everything into their life.
For me, having incredibly scheduled days just doesn’t work, so we don’t do any traditional group activities. Instead, my kids play as they see fit as often as possible. It can seem chaotic, but it’s actually freeing. If you’d like to try having an unscheduled routine, try out my time-tested and mom-approved sanity-saving tips.
Limit Your Toys
We have toys, but not rooms full of toys. They take up a corner of our (very small) OCONUS living room in our on-base house. Most toys in our collection have been requested or selected very specifically. There aren’t a ton of electronic or noise-making toys either.
Some of the toys we have are blocks trains, plus a lot of pretend food. Dress-up costumes have slowly expanded through the preschool years to include princesses and superheroes. We have expanded to bins of small plastic toys and a Little People dollhouse. And I cannot forget the ever-popular Duplos, puzzles, games and art supplies. Lately, there are more stuffed animals than I would like, but that’s okay for now. That’s pretty much it: no gadgets, no robots, no spur-of-the-moment purchases.
Limit Your Toys
No, that’s not a typo. In addition to keeping our actual toy collection on the small side, we try to rein in the number of toys being pulled out at once. Our general (though flexible) rule is that no more than one or two types of toys should coexist in the play space. That means trains and blocks are okay, but something needs to go back before Duplos come out. This follows a modified Montessori Method practice. One toy at a time enhances focus and learning for the kids and also saves my sanity.
Go Outside Often
We live in a place where being outside is the thing to do. There’s a playground within shouting distance, and we have a grassy backyard. If the day is nice, my kids are outside, where they can play with chalk and random treasures. Mostly, they invent their own fun with sticks and leaves, creating mud pies and building forts. They’re exploring their environment and learning how their bodies work.
I will plan for some things. These are usually messier activities or things that require heavy adult supervision. Painting time is something I loosely plan for.
When I know painting is going to happen, I set my children up with the supplies and then I step back. That’s my plan. I do other things nearby in case of spills and, if requested, I can step in for assistance; Otherwise, they are on their own.
For bigger projects, like cooking or non-toddler-friendly activities, I plan those during naptime. That way my older child can have more freedom to create without tiny hands distracting us both.
Having a routine we follow helps my kids to know what is coming next. They know after breakfast, they can play until it’s time to go to school. It’s understood that they have freedom between the end of school and dinner. What happens during playtime is entirely up to them. They aren’t rushing off to soccer or Scouts — they’re just getting to be little without a minute-by-minute schedule.