Structure—such a beautiful word, and such an essential concept! A structure is a framework on which to build. A skeleton is the structure your body’s muscle and flesh hang on. A curtain rod is the framework that enables soft draperies to hang at your windows. The frame of your house—whether it is stone, brick, steel beams or wooden 2 x 4’s—is what the walls and ceilings and floors are built on. Nobody would argue that structure is not absolutely necessary.
Likewise, structure is essential to a child’s day. Homeschooling is a lifestyle in which we enjoy a lot of freedom to choose our activities and learning subjects, but structure is still vital. Consider structure in your home: do you have a good framework for your child’s daily activities?
Mealtimes should be the most reliable event in your dally life. There is plenty of research that verifies the fact that family mealtime is critical to a stable family life, good transfer of family values, self-esteem in children, reduced drug use in teenagers, less teenage pregnancy, and more. Pick a time for each meal and let those times become the anchors of your day. All other activities should arrange themselves around mealtimes. It gives the family a chance to come together, to talk, to nourish their bodies, as well as socialize and love each other. If the family can be together at meals, it will really pay off in the long run.
Waking up and going to bed routines are very important. With them in place, children know what to expect. Family life feels reliable. Children are well rested and don’t have so many emotional breakdowns. Mom can cope better. Sometimes I see children late at night out in grocery stores, just a-crying and losing it, and it really is no wonder. I listen to the parents scold them, but really it is the parent’s fault that they are crying. Children need to go to bed at a regular time and expecting them to behave properly when their bodily reserves are expended, is expecting too much. 8 o’clock is a good bedtime for little children. Older children can go in their rooms and quietly read, but the home needs to quiet down at night. Off with the TV and the music. This can be a real challenge, but it makes a big difference! Any day in which we don’t keep our waking up and going to bed routines is termed “vacation” at my house. Staying up late, not having a dependable bedtime, sleeping in, not knowing when the day is going to begin—these can wreck havoc in family life! Plus, sabotage your homeschool.
What is a “waking up” routine? Alarm clocks set (except for Saturday, our sleep-in day). Personal prayer—your first “good morning” to Jesus. (I teach my children to slide out of bed onto their knees in the morning). Scripture study first thing, still in pajamas, and before chores or breakfast. That’s our waking up routine. Learning to take responsibility for one’s self, contributing to the family’s happy function, is a priority in the morning: grooming, chores.
Bedtime routine: Stories or games together, the house settling down and getting quiet, scripture reading, quiet talking alone with each child privately about their day for a few moments. . . these activities end the day and get children ready for sleep.
God’s word can take any form you like, but getting it into our children’s minds and hearts before they sleep and when they wake has made all the difference in my family. It gives them a stable set of standards and conduct to live by.
Now that structure has established the framework, we have those lovely long hours in between for some creative thinking and freedom! This doesn’t mean freedom to do nothing. This means freedom to pursue interests, to choose to use your time wisely. Kids depend on mom to order their day, and as they grow, they learn to govern the use of their time and order their own day.
I think an ideal homeschool day would look something like this:
Chores (while breakfast in being prepared)
School time (3+ hours to enjoy learning!)
Quiet Time (some nap— including Mom, some finish up school work)
Afternoon time: service, outings, activities, play, hobbies, work projects, errands
Never underestimate the power of structure in your home, and in your homeschool. It gives us order, establishes a framework for children to rely on, and frees up time to enjoy life more fully.