The other day I recalled a conversation I had with a friend when the boys were really little. A question had been burning in my mind for a while and I needed to ask it…
“What do you do all day? I mean with the kids? What do you do?”
At the time I was a mom of twin toddlers and an infant so believe me there was plenty I could do. Yet everyday, I found myself wandering around the house haphazardly from task to task. I would cook meals, clean up messes, and try to make sleep happen for everyone. There didn’t seem to be any purpose in my days and I wanted to live intentionally with my littles.
What I was really asking her was, “what should my days look like as a mom of little ones?” What I really wanted was a pre-school schedule.
I am a doer. This is helpful in some ways and a tragedy in others. I am constantly checking off lists in my head and need a purpose put to every moment. Even if I’m sleeping, I consider that productive because that’s what I’m doing. I tend to get obsessed with progress and I’m not the only one, I know. It’s very fashionable in our day to always be moving forward. Accomplish something great or small and then on to the next thing.
Charlotte Mason had some thoughts on this subject…
“Is there not some confusion of ideas about this fetish of progress? Do we not confound progress with movement, action, assuming that where these are there is necessarily advance? Whereas much of our activity is like the waves of the sea, going always and arriving never. What we desire is the still progress of growth that comes of root striking downwards and fruit urging upwards. And this progress in character and conduct is not attained through conditions of environment or influence but only through the growth of ideas, received with conscious intellectual effort.”
– Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education (Vol. 6)
So progress in character is what we’re after and that comes from the inside, out. It comes from ideas. It comes from focusing on being in a world that tells you to focus on doing.
What do you do all day with little ones?
I have gleaned some wisdom since that phone call nearly nine years ago and here’s what it boils down to…
Little ones should come alongside you in your day to learn and grow.
If you’re cleaning up, they can be beside you with their own little dustpan. When you’re cooking, they can be on a stool safely beside you. If you’re outside in the garden, they can have their own little shovel. Little ones learn best by example.
This is not to say they should never play on their own; on the contrary, they should be allowed ample time to themselves.
In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mothers first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air. And this, not for the gain in bodily health alone––body and soul, heart and mind, are nourished with food convenient for them when the children are let alone, let to live without friction and without stimulus amongst happy influences which incline them to be good.
– Charlotte Mason, Home Education (Vol. 1)
Whether they are by your side or playing alone within earshot, the priority should be being, not doing. Your focus needs to be helping your child to become, not accomplish. For this reason, there’s not a whole lot your pre-schooler needs to be doing in his day. He has no checklist to accomplish. I love how Miss Mason says, “secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life…”. Life is his lesson. Every day brings new ideas and receiving them is enough. Doesn’t this sound like a lovely way to spend the early years? One caution though…moms of boys need to substitute the word “quiet” for “unhurried” because you and I both know there’s nothing quiet about little boys ;).
I’ve put together a sample schedule for you to use with your pre-schoolers. To be honest, this is a routine, not a schedule. I know, I know, the title says schedule but schedules can be demanding and routines are more about your day having a “flow” to it. Notice there are no set times – that is intentional. I have found that focusing on activities that follow each other works much better than focusing on the clock.
If your pre-schooler has frequent challenges out in public, I recommend completely removing outings from his weekly schedule for a while and keep your nature outings to quiet parks near home. Most children can be overstimulated very easily but our precious outside-the-box kiddos begin their day overstimulated before we add a thing. We must be sensitive to this, especially in these early years, and observe which environments our children do best in.
This schedule is gentle and flexible enough for all ages of pre-schoolers. If you have older kids that you are homeschooling, you can modify this to fit with their school day.
Tuesday: Stay Home
Thursday: Stay Home
Friday: Nature Outing/Field Trip
Breakfast & Devotional
Outside play or go for a walk
Lunch & Read Aloud
Outside play or go for a walk
Dinner & Family time
Bedtime Routine, including stories
*Sensory Play: See my post on Nurturing Your Pre-Schooler’s Body for a list of sensory play activities. We also like to play music during this time and color or draw.
If you are doing therapy with your child – perhaps an in-home therapy program – I have found a lot of success putting therapy time after snack time. This way, the child has had time to move his body outside and refueled some calories and both help him to work better.
This schedule looks pretty on paper but I’m sure you realize our week doesn’t always look like this. There is no screen time listed on this schedule but sometimes my kids watch shows during the week. I try to aim for calm, enriching shows. If you choose to let your little one watch a show, I recommend you do it during rest time or in between the afternoon snack and sensory play. This gives enough separation from bedtime so as not to disrupt sleep.
For the Mama Raising a Small Village
Now I’d like to speak to those mamas with multiple kiddos under the age of five…
Do you know what you really need right now? Besides a free nanny, housekeeper, and cook?
This is a very special season for you and your family. A very special and very demanding one. When the boys were 3, 3, and 2 or 4, 4, and 3 and even 5, 5, and 4, we had some pretty arduous days. Add two autism diagnoses and a sensory-seeking child with ADHD and let me tell you…there were days the TV stayed on waaaay too long, the house was trashed and I was crying before lunch.
While you should be gentle with yourself, also be sure to equip yourself. Our schedule may go out the window some days but I have always had one hanging on the fridge so that I could get back on track. This is especially important after holidays, a sickness, or other big stretches of time when life is a bit of a free-for-all. Truth be told, our best days are the ones when we stick closer to our routine but there is a balance between your sanity and the daily schedule that needs to happen. Try to get some help from family and friends during this time and take care of yourself. It does get easier as they get older, I promise.