Evening Routines

{Children} {Nightly Routine} {Bedtime} {Bedtime for Homeschoolers}

Obviously, this is an old picture…and I think it’s the only time they’ve ever slept together.

(Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, February 6, 2013.)

When my kids were infants and toddlers, I followed the common advice for parents to have a “nightly routine” so that the children could begin to relax and understand that it’s bedtime. This is supposed to make it easier to get them to sleep, and every parent knows that sleeping children are like manna from heaven.

As they got a little older, however, my boys became skilled at the fine art of stalling, and I learned that no matter what I did, bedtime gave them an extra dose of adrenaline. It was the last hurrah of the day, and there was no way to fight it without a lot of stress. I learned that it was better to start the evening routine early enough to include their antics.

Learning to be flexible about bedtime helped too. As homeschoolers, it doesn’t matter what time we get up in the morning, but for some reason I had this idea that since every other kid on the block was going to bed at 8:00p.m., mine should too.

It never worked out that way, and I let it bother me for a while. Then like everything else in my preconceived idea of what parenthood should look like, I let it go. Flexibility is one of the reasons I want to homeschool…why was I so worried about it?

We’ve had some crazy nighttime routines. When my eldest son was a toddler, we would breeze through about 20 books on his nightstand before saying goodnight. Later, he wanted to play games and then read his books. Later still, he wanted to run up and down the hallway with his little brother and occasionally his parents too. Sometimes we would pretend we were cheetahs or another animal.

Some days, this was the only time that both parents were focused on the children at the same time, so I know the boys capitalized on this. Whether they could verbalize it or not, having both their parents play a game with them for a few minutes meant a lot.

Some nights we played Simon Says or Hide and Seek, and other nights my son would make up a game for us to play. One was very similar to charades where we’d have to pretend to be an animal and the rest of us would have to guess what it was.

And then, finally, we could read a book. I’m not sure how we transitioned from one routine to the next. I do remember telling my son ahead of time when we had to only read three books instead of twenty (because he got old enough for me to actually read them), and then we went from three books to one (because he got old enough to read longer storybooks).

When I started the ritual of storytelling with my eldest son, that became our nightly routine, and it still is (no more games, thankfully). We brush our teeth, and then my husband puts my eldest son to bed while I read two short books to the three-year-old. Some nights I can overhear some good conversations between my husband and six–year-old, and it makes me happy. Then my husband and I switch. I tell a story to the six-year-old, and my husband will scratch the three-year-old’s back for a few minutes.

Sometimes this nightly routine can seem to drag on for too long, but it’s quieter now as I lay with my son in the darkness and tell him a story. Then we talk. I always ask him what his favorite part of the day was and if there was a part he didn’t like. Sometimes he has questions for me. If he asks good questions I don’t know the answer to, they become part of our homeschool day. Other times my answers lead to more questions.

Now that we’ve had six years of “nightly routines” I’ve learned that what used to stress me out is now my favorite time of day. I feel with certainty that despite our “designated school time,” this is when my six-year-old does the most learning. He is relaxed and willing to listen, and he also has our full attention for his questions.

Over the years our nightly routines have caused frustration, but making it part of our (the adults) daily routine has been key to making it less stressful and even enjoyable.

Tell me about your evening routine.

9 thoughts on “Evening Routines

  1. We are in the process of trying to establish a night-time routine for our Little Bird. He’s 11 weeks old.

    Would you mind sharing what your routine was at that age, and how you did it? Email me at dad at littlebirdsdad dot com if its easier.

    Thanks for your blog, nice writing!!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Little Bird’s Dad.

      At nighttime when my boys were infants, I took them into their rooms, and I fed them (I breastfed). I had a comfortable rocker to sit in, and I either turned out the lights or kept the room very dim. My first son would always fall fast asleep while feeding, and there was no waking him at that point. I could just put him into the crib. Around one-year-old, and after I weaned him, we began looking at books in that same chair, and I mentioned how that progressed in my column.

      As an infant, my second son didn’t fall asleep as heavily as the first, so I would rock him and sing to him at night. Again, we didn’t start looking at books until he was one or two. I rocked him until he fell asleep, and then I put him into the crib.

      Many people say that you should make sure an infant falls asleep in their crib or else they’ll never learn to fall asleep on their own. Well, I had no choice with my first, and that didn’t work with my second, but once they got to be 1~2 years old, they had no problem going to sleep by themselves in their bed! I firmly believe that if your children need you near them and need the extra security, go ahead and give it to them. Follow your instincts, of course. Sometimes a child does need a nudge into the “independent” direction, and sometimes they need more from you. Only you can determine that.

      Basically a routine is anything that works for you and your family. It shouldn’t cause anyone in your household any undue stress, although you’ll have to allow for the inevitable frustrations that can occur with children and especially an infant’s special needs, which, unfortunately, don’t mesh with an adult’s needs!

      I think what frustrated me the most was having this idea of what bedtime was supposed to look like – from my own childhood and hearing other moms’ stories. When I finally just went along with what my children wanted and needed and realized that we were all getting the sleep we needed, I relaxed and realized that all families look different!

      I hope I answered your question. Good luck!

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  2. I have recently been joking that we should call what we do “Bed-schooling” because so much learning seems to happen in the hour or two before bed. It seems to be the best time of day to get my 6 year old’s full, focused attention, and we always have lots of interesting and educational discussions – which often lead to us further pursuing/researching a topic the next day. Our current bedtime routine goes: take bath, get pajamas on, do a few workbook pages, read books for about an hour, talk for another 15 or 20 minutes. Oh, and sometimes we draw or write on the wall using the awesome “Glow Crazy Distance Doodler” my brother got them for Christmas. It’s a light-sensitive vinyl panel that sticks on the wall, that you write on with a light pen. (I’m so excited to have found something that gets my reluctant writer interested in practicing writing!) We used to be pretty strict about sticking with an 8:00 bedtime but now it has drifted to as late as 9:30 or even 10:00 sometimes.

    Anyways, I too am very thankful that we are able to follow our own schedule and (usually) don’t have to worry about getting up in the wee hours of the morning to be anywhere. If my son were in school, his teachers wouldn’t even have access to him during his most productive learning hours of the day!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jennifer. It’s great to hear from somebody who has also let bedtime “drift” to 9:30 or 10:00. It sounds like we’ve had such a similar experience. And you are so right when you say, “If my son were in school, his teachers wouldn’t even have access to him during his most productive learning hours of the day!” …What a boon for homeschooling!

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  3. What I appreciated most was your comment about how routines need to shift and change depending on what stage your children are in right now. When people ask what our kids’ bedtime is, I’m always not sure how to answer. We have more of a routine than a bedtime. We just don’t say it’s 8 or 9 or 10 so now you should be in bed, we go on how sleepy everyone is feeling. Right now my kids are almost 7, so they’re good to stay in their rooms reading or quietly playing for however long they want to if my husband and I get tired and want to go to bed. Whenever the kids or we are starting to feel sleepy, we start our routine of baths if it’s a bath night, or some quiet games. Then it leads into pjs, snacks, and teeth brushing, followed by a long reading time, songs and prayers. Sometimes the kids fall asleep after that, sometimes they stay up to read or play quietly, or sometimes they drift out and finish watching a movie with us. It all depends. But the routine, especially reading together, is so important to them. We love to travel, and that is always a part of bedtime no matter where we are in the world. And who know how it will change 5 years from now?

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    1. Christina, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comment about bedtime routines. I love how you let your children decide when they’re ready to go to sleep! You’ve created a routine that works for your family, but you also let them have a say in it, and I’m sure you probably don’t have any fussing about bedtimes because of it! Thank you for sharing this!

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