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.