7 Tips to Establishing a Family Routine Without Losing Your Mind

Photo courtesy of the Baehr family

How to Establish a Routine for Your Family Without Losing Your Mind

By Peirce Baehr, Contributing Writer

Amidst the worldwide colossal changes of the last few weeks, and the biggest sociological, psychological, economic, and environmental experiment in world history, with literally billions of people in lockdown, life at Pilgrim Hill goes on pretty much as normal. Yes, normal.  

We continue to work and school from home and host guests: shuttle travelers to farms, run dinners, clean toilets, reset beds, stoke the boiler, tend the gardens, raise our kids, and disciple travelers. The Tassie government has officially ordered all tourists out of the state by 1 April, but our travelers fall under the exclusion for workers and will remain. (We confirmed this with the premier’s office to be doubly sure). To hack Dickens: it was the most abnormal of times, it was the most normal of times. 

But we know for many of you, life is not normal. The transition to working and schooling at home is not easy. It took us years to work out best practices, and you’re trying to work it out in days. How do you do computer work or make business calls when the three year old is screaming, the five year old needs discipline, and the one year old needs a nappy change? How do you stay sane when you don’t leave home for a week? How do you manage media so that the kids don’t become monsters? How do you even tidy up after the whirlwind of mess from a day at home?  

These are valuable skills, and not nearly as easy as they sound in print. Finding the right rhythms and routines for a family takes time. Let me encourage you – it’s ok! You’ll get through this! The mistakes you make today can be awesome lessons for having a go at a better tomorrow. And God is with you. His mercies are new every morning. 

Tips for working and schooling from home

Recently, a few friends have specifically asked us how we schedule our time to do schooling and work. One friend kindly mentioned what we do might be a help to others. So, while we are no experts, in the spirit of passing on gained wisdom and helping each other carry burdens, here are seven of the things we do to make school + work at home function well. Feel free to use them IF they’re helpful to you (or just enjoy reading them to understand more about how we run things): 

  1. We get dressed before breakfast. And we do everyone’s hair every morning. Two small things which we find make a big psychological difference to how we face each other and the day. Try it.
  2. We keep a routine rather than a schedule. Some clock watching is inevitable, but we try to focus on the pattern of the day, and let the individual bits expand and contract as needed. This creates a lot less stress for us, and lets us take advantage of the moment.
  3. We give the children a lot of choices within the pattern. We want our kids to grow up into capable, independent adults who love their vocations and have a deep personal relationship with God. So our day has a structure but the kids have a lot of freedom within that structure. During their study time, we choose the subjects but they choose the order of their studies. During their fruitfulness time, they choose the activities they focus on. In their Bible times, they choose what passages to delve into.  And for things like languages and music, they choose what to learn. In all this, they need to be faithful in their studies – they can’t flit from thing to thing absent commitment, but they have freedom.This also gives us freedom, in two ways. When everyone is at home, parents need kid-free time for other tasks. Providing resources and giving the girls freedom to arrange their time lets us step away and do other things. It also frees us from the time involved in planning activities for them, like play or craft projects. We never plan craft projects (or play), it’s not our thing. If you’re like us, be encouraged — you are not a bad parent for not planning crafts. Kids are naturally creative on their own — give them access to resources, and they’ll make their own crafts. Plus, many real life skills (making muffins, mending torn clothes) are excellent craft project substitutes.
  4. We do the same structure six days a week, and take one rest day. You don’t need to have a separate plan for Saturday when everyone is at home. You’re going to lose days anyway every week to things you didn’t even know were going to come up. And you’re going to lose days through the year to holidays and special events. Planning for six days and being flexible – most likely you’ll get four or five good days in each week. We are taking cues from the biblical pattern here, and we find it works well for our family, it encourages people to see learning in all of life, and it helps the littles with consistency.
  5. We don’t do much formal education before 8 years old. There are many good studies recommending delayed education. For many tasks, you could teach a four year old over the course of a year, or a six year old in a week, but an eight year old in just 15 minutes. For example, there’s a hand movement in harp which follows this trend. While you could take the year to train a four year old, it’s not an ideal use of anyone’s time. The human brain does a lot of maturing in those first 7 years, and many of the best lessons at that age are life lessons – playing in puddles, folding clothes, helping to cook, building with lego, learning not to wee on the floor, etc. Our only formal academic goal for our under 8s is teaching them to read by the time they’re 8. They join in with more than that, but for the joy of it, not with any formal requirements.If you have little ones, I’d recommend taking it easy – not trying to stuff in curriculum. Don’t worry, they will learn what a circle is without a worksheet. Rather take this time to instill the joy of being together and learning together.A good pattern if you just have littles might be: up and dressed, simple chore, breakfast, morning basket time (reading a few books together, maybe singing songs), a nature walk, free time, lunch, lego or coloring, make something for someone, video-call family, free time, supper, tidy time, bed. It’ll go quicker than you think. And tag team between mom and dad for best effect.
  6. We involve our kids in our work. There are a lot of artificial divisions in modern society – it’s easy for all of us to silo ourselves by age group and activity into zip-locked compartments. But when you’re working and schooling from home, you have the awesome opportunity to do away with some of the compartments. Kids love learning by doing with their parents. We involve our kids with all kinds of tasks at the hostel, from site care and landscaping and errands to cooking and evangelism, so that they can work and learn with us. I’m not sure what that might mean for you if you’re an accountant working with spreadsheets – but I reckon it’s worth thinking about how to creatively include your kids. This is such an awesome chance to show your kids / involve your kids in what you do all day. Who knows, they may be able to do some of the excel spreadsheets for you if you train them!
  7. Finally, we don’t sweat it when we forget to cover things with our kids. No one learns everything in grades 1-12. There are things all of us missed and learned later. Do you know what happens when you realize later that you forget to learn something? You can learn it. Take two weeks and brush up on that forgotten thing. And the same goes for your kid, when you bring them up with a love of learning, capable of self-direction, they’ll be able to right themselves. 

 Hopefully some of the above will encourage you! It has taken us a lot of time, over many iterations, to refine a system that works well for our family, balancing freedom and responsibility. Don’t worry if you try something and it doesn’t work at first. You can try something else till you work out a path that best suits your family! God is with you! And the virus won’t last for ever (though maybe you will get a taste for the crazy joys of homeschool life). And, if you have any tips for us, we would love to hear them!

After working on the Camino De Santiago in a Refugio and in a Christian hostel in the red-light district of Amsterdam, Peirce knew his mission was to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to travelers through hospitality. When Peirce met Christina, the two shared this vision. Now, years later, married and with seven kids and one on the way, Peirce and Christina run Pilgrim Hill, a ministry to travelers in the Huon Valley in Tasmania, Australia. Peirce is the son of Movieguide® Founders Dr. Ted and Lili Baehr. 

This article was reprinted with permission.