I will start out with a confession: I have not been very good at creating daily rituals in our family. In fact, although I recognize the value they hold, I have been pretty poor at enforcing any kind of ritual, however infrequent. There have been many we have started and enjoyed, but few, if any, that have held. Part of this comes from being transient for many years, such that acquiring real consistency has remained mostly an intention- just out of our reach. Having been in the same place for four whole years now, and finally completing a house of our own, the environment is finally a bit more conducive for creating the kinds of day to day ( or month to month/year to year) rituals I have always craved.
To be clear, consistency and spontaneity have equal value in my mind, and I believe it’s just as healthy to break a routine when something compelling and time-sensitive pops up. In fact, I think it’s necessary, to keep things fresh and to cultivate an appreciation for the calm security that rituals and routines can provide. Otherwise, in my opinion, they are in danger of feeling stale or boring. I have always believed that for kids, consistency means knowing in their bones that they have their caregivers unconditional support at all times, not always doing the same thing at the same time every day!
With that said, there is unmistakable magic to starting off your day with a beloved routine. Many of us engage in this kind of ritual with a morning caffeinated beverage, some read or listen to the news, and other (healthier?) folks may start their day off with a walk, run or other invigorating exercises. When I raised milk goats I savored the ritual of pulling on the muck boots and walking down the path to the barn, milk pail jingling at my side, first thing each morning. It helps to clear the mind and set the tone for a fruitful day.
Many educators have discovered that the same benefits apply to start the school day off with something consistent and rewarding, something that engages both the students and teacher. Homeschooling, especially unschooling with its an emphasis on interest-led learning, is the perfect environment to create such rituals. Each family will need to find the right activity for them, or sometimes individuals will have different routines. The key is to find something that is both invigorating and calming to the mind; like a gentle warm-up for the brain muscles. There are as many options as there are homeschool families, but I have put together a quick list of some of my favorite ideas. I hope you can use one or more, and put your own twist as them as well!
Birdwatching is the perfect morning activity, for many reasons. For one, songbirds are generally more active in the mornings- especially in the hour or two after dawn, but even in the later morning, there is often more activity that midday. It can be done in almost any environment, rural or urban- in fact, many urban neighborhoods are home to a greater population of songbirds than rural areas due to trees being planted in residential areas. If you don’t have a natural congregation of birds in your yard and would like to be able to view them from the comfort of your kitchen table- installing a bird feeder is a great way to ensure more avian activity. If you turn your attention to your resident birds daily, it won’t take long before you not only recognize species, but individual birds that spend a lot of time in the area (you may even end up naming them!) Keep a field guide and pair of binoculars handy and encourage the kids to start an observation journal. As you observe, notice what kind of activity the birds are engaged in: are they feeding, singing, tussling with other birds, or something else? In certain seasons there may be a couple working on a nest, young birds just learning to fly or sing (listen for odd or “wrong” sounding calls), or small birds chasing ravens, crows or jays away from their nest. The world of birds is very exciting (and dangerous!) and tuning into them is a profoundly grounding and rewarding activity to start your day off.
2.) Weather Charting
Whether charting is another great way to tune into the environment around you and begin your day with a fun observation ritual. There are many ways to chart weather, from simply jotting down the temperature and barometric pressure to drawing charts of the clouds. Kids of all ages can really enjoy creating their own journals for tracking, and adding sections such as comparisons to historic temperatures and other weather patterns, what the weather is like in other parts of the country or world where they may have visited or have family, or how the weather patterns for the day compared to the predicted forecast. Depending on the season or interests, you can also add things such as a garden chart, snow chart, or the presence of various birds or other common animals.
3.) “1 Grateful Thing”
This is my personal favorite, in terms of a daily/morning ritual for any group (or just yourself). Even if it’s not connected to your school day, I would recommend this as a rejuvenating personal practice for anyone. I have been a part of groups that do this every day, and even without the presence of any particular spiritual belief or doctrine, it has a powerful effect on the attitude and mental space of everyone involved. When I have done it with kids, there are inevitably some who snicker or scoff at the idea at first, but after a week or so those are often the ones who become the most enthusiastic or creative. The concept is simple ( and the name rather self-explanatory), as each person simply states one thing they are feeling grateful for that day, or that moment. If you have a small family or want the process to last longer, you can add more. It should be clarified that nothing is said to the exclusion of others- sometimes people feel compelled to state their gratitude for their family each time, for example. The idea is that over time, the items become more creative, and spur thoughtfulness in terms of what one really has in their life, or what factors go into getting them what they have (for example, I’ve heard kids say things like “I’m grateful to the people who made my cereal”, or ” I feel really grateful for my pillow!”) You can also add an intention for the day, something the child would like to learn about, etc.
This goes into the “I’ve always thought this would be a great idea” category. While I haven’t had the discipline to inspire a family yoga session before school, I know some families who have, and they seem to love it. It can be the perfect way to get oxygen flowing to the brain, feel more energized and increase focus and memory retention, even if you only do it for 15-20 minutes. Yoga has far more health benefits than I can list here, and can be modified to any level, athletic ability or age. There are myriad resources for getting younger kids interested, and for older kids, the challenge and focus can be exciting. Getting them motivated to start, of course, can be a different story, as can motivating anyone for any kind of physical activity. Humans are definitely prone to the principle of inertia (at least when it comes to inactivity) and the urge to remain at rest is strong. As with another exercise, however, once the routine is created, the rewards, feeling more energized, calm and focused, will become a much more powerful draw. In fact, I know from periods of my life when I had more discipline that once a practice is established, you will feel off on days that it’s missed.
If yoga doesn’t seem right for your family, try another kind of exercise, such as walking, jogging or interval training. Your school day, as well as any other aspects of your life, will benefit greatly.
Before my kids learned to read, we started every day with me reading a story of some kind. As opposed to reading instructions or academic information, reading a narrative story was a sweet, grounding way to start our day. After they were reading on their own, I realized that I began to miss that ritual. That was when we discovered the joy of taking turns reading to each other. Though limited at first by their reading ability, they have gotten better at the skill and can now read aloud at their grade level- if only for short periods. Especially when we are able to find interesting biographies, historical fiction or memoirs, the pleasure of following a story together is bonding and gives us something to look forward to at the start of each school day.