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The power of rhythm (not routine)

I’ve seen them. You’ve seen them. I even have one, of a sort. I’m talking about the daily homeschooling timetables, with maths at 10am, science at 11, complete one exercise from the workbook a day. Don’t get me wrong, having a framework for the day can be super helpful, especially in unusual times. Some people will love a timetable (I’m quite partial to making one – less so to following it). Some will buck against it and refuse to even contemplate the idea. And regardless of preference, most of us will have at least some things that are fixed in time and can’t be flexed.

Either camp can end up with a wonderfully productive, connected day. Or maybe a day that went totally off the rails and left you feeling slightly panicked at all the things that should have been done and weren’t.

The secret is not in the timetable. It’s not the strict routines, or the getting dressed by 9 am, or making sure everyone has done chores after breakfast. It’s not watching the clock or trying to match a workplace or school based schedule.

The secret is in the rhythm of your days.

Have you ever been in a drumming workshop, or heard a Djembe drum performance? The sounds and the energy can vary, but underneath there is always a beat. You can riff on top, everyone with their own additions as the mood takes them; you can be loud or quiet, steady or frenzied, even slow things down and speed them up; but the beat is there, guiding you and providing an anchor to come back to. It’s not usually a steady metronome, but a repeated rhythm, the pattern that plays again and again and just feels right.

This is what we need – and usually have, whether we’re aware of it or not – in our days. It’s not the fancy timetable on top, it’s the patterns that repeat and we can always come back to. They’re different for every family, but they’re there. Maybe it’s in the pattern of mealtimes – a rhythm of getting things out, sitting at the table, clearing away together. Maybe it’s the rhythm of reading after breakfast or before bed. Maybe it’s turning on a story or music while cooking dinner. Maybe it’s saying goodbye to a parent who goes out to work – or up to the bedroom to log in for a conference call. Maybe it’s setting out toys on a blanket, or clearing the table and getting out the schoolbooks. The rhythm can be as simple as the way you always look up and greet someone as they enter or leave a room.

These are the things that anchor a home. These are the rhythms you can riff off, and add in your maths curriculum or read aloud list or time outside over the top of, the things you can speed up or slow down or go frenzied for a while and then settle down into.

And sometimes, when things change up, the rhythms take a while to settle in again and appear. Sometimes one person needs to take charge, find a beat that works, and stick to it strongly for a while, until the other patterns fall in and start to get free to mix in around it. Sometimes it’s all a bit off for a while and you feel it in your body and soul because the rhythm is too discordant.

Stick with it, strip back to the rhythm if you can, and emphasise those key beats if you still need to be frenzied on top. The new rhythm will show up soon.

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