I think rhythm with grades-aged children (which I consider children in grades 1-8, so ages seven to thirteen or fourteen) can become trickier. As children grow, chances are that you are not only juggling one grades-aged child but perhaps children that are older (teenagers) or younger (the littles, as I affectionately call them) with children that are in these grades. There can also be an increased pressure to sign up for activities or increased pressure at school as a child advances toward high school.
Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 1-3:
- Seriously think about how many structured activities you need outside the home! I wrote a post about choosing time outside the home wisely in which I detail how many activities I really think a child in public or private school, versus homeschooling children need. Remember, it is almost impossible to have a healthy rhythm if you and your children are gone all the time scurrying from one activity to another. Children under age 9 deserve a slow childhood with time to dream and just be (without screens) and I would vote for no outside structured activities for these tiny ages. Mark off days to be solely home with no running around!
- Being outside in nature in an unstructured way is so very important, along with limiting media. I suggest no media for these ages. There are many other healthier ways for children to be spending their time that promote great physiological and psychological health rather than being a passive recipient. First through third graders need an inordinate amount of time to be outside, to swim and play in the woods or sand, to ride bikes, to climb trees, and just be in nature.
- For those of you who want to homeschool through many grades, I do suggest getting involved in a homeschooling group or finding a group of homeschool friends for your child. This usually becomes a much larger issue around the latter part of age 10, post nine-year change for many children (especially melancholic children and typically girls over boys around the fifth grade year) and for those who are more extroverted. However, one activity is plenty for third graders in anticipation of this “coming change” as a ten year old.
- Rest is still the mainstay of the rhythm – a first grader may be going to bed around seven, a second grader by seven thirty or so, and a third grader by seven forty-five. This may sound very early for your family, but I would love for you to give it a try. If you need ideas about this, I recommend this book.
- In short, I do not think the rhythm established in the Early Years should be changing too much in this time period.
Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 4 and 5:
- Rhythm begins in the home. What are you doing in the home? I find sometimes fourth and fifth graders are anxious to go, go, go because there is not much happening in the home. No rhythm is being held, preparing for the festivals has fallen by the wayside, and they now see being involved in things such as preparing meals and such as work instead of just part of a rhythm of breathing in and out. This takes time to develop again by being home. Be home!
- All the things in the first through third grade section above applies. Rest is still very important and fourth and fifth graders may need help in this area – both in resting and in having a reasonable bedtime. Children this age should be getting 10-11 hours of sleep a night, plus time to rest! Most children this age are still going to bed around 8 or 8:30.
- I do not believe fourth and fifth graders really need structured outside the home activities, especially for children attending public or private school. I have seen some fifth graders who really relished one special activity. Many homeschoolers will find their fifth graders really wanting a homeschool community and friends at this point, so I think that might need to be honored.
- Media! I have written many posts about media. Fourth and fifth graders do not need media or their own phones or their own tablets. Think carefully about this. There are other ways they should be spending their time that are much more important to development. The reason media is important in the context of rhythm is that it generally is used as a time-filler – so if the pull to media is strong, that typically means the rhythm is not strong or that the child needs help in finding something to do – handwork, woodworking, and other activities can help that need to create and do.
- Being outside in nature and developing the physical body is still of utmost importance. Setting up good habits for physical activity is important in this stage because most children feel very heavy and clumsy when they are in the sixth grade and changing around age twelve. Having great habits in this period of grades four and five can really help with that.
- This is a great age for games in the neighborhood – kickball, foursquare, etc. – and general physical activity of running, biking, swimming. Free play is probably one of the most important things fourth and fifth graders can do!
- Keep your yearly rhythms strong. This may be easier with younger children in the household, but never lose sight of the fact that a fourth or fifth grader is in the heart of childhood themselves and therefore should certainly not be treated like a middle schooler. This time is very short, and needs to be treated as the golden period that it truly is! Keeping the festivals, the times of berry picking and apple picking and such, is the thing that children will remember when they are grown up. If everything is just a blur of practices and lessons and structure, there is no space and time to make those kinds of family or community memories.
Here are some ideas for finding rhythm with children in grades 6-8:
- Rest! Rest and sleep are very important components of rhythm. Sixth graders who are twelve are generally sluggish, and teenagers have rhythms regarding sleep that begin to change. This article from the New York Times details many of the changes for teenagers (seventh and eighth grade). In order for these children to get enough sleep, and since the starting time of public school middle school may be later (but probably not late enough!), I highly suggest limiting late night activities. Again, choose your activities outside the home carefully and with much thought.
- This is a prime time to nurture life skills and responsibility around the home. If you are running everywhere, this time of learning, which is really the most important thing when children grow up and have to live on their own, cannot happen. Life skills and home responsibility deserves a place in daily and weekly rhythm.
- Media is harder to keep at bay for most families. Remember, media impacts rhythm and vice versa. It is often a time filler, and can prevent middle schoolers from solving their own problems of what to do when they are “bored” (or just being bored; there is value in boredom as well!) and tapping into their own creativity. It can derail any kind of “doing” rhythm. Hold strong standards about media! Some ideas: use a Circle to manage time and content across devices ; strongly limit apps (because every app you add generally leads to more time on the device) and do not allow social media. We introduced the computer in eighth grade (which I know is not always feasible for public or private school students who are using technology as part of school from an early age) as a tool for school work more than a plaything, and I think that attitude also made a large difference. If you allow movies/TV shows, I recommend using Common Sense Media , but I also feel this needs to be strongly limited (and I would vote toward not at all or extremely limited for the sixth grader/twelve year old) since these middle school years are ages where children feel heavy, awkward, clumsy, and don’t particularly want to move. So, more than anything else, I think watch what you are modeling — are YOU moving and outside or are you sitting all day on a screen? Modeling still is important! If they are sitting all day at school and with homework, it is important that they move vigorously when they are home from school and on the weekends! With both things that unstructured in nature and as far as structured movement..
- This is a great age to pick up sports if that hasn’t already happened, although many children will say they feel they should have started much earlier. Again, this is such a symptom of our times that everything earlier is better, which I often find is not actually the case. There is a big discussion right now about sports burn-out for middle schoolers who have started in elementary school. If you want to see more of my thoughts about sports, take a look at this post that details the last pediatric sports medicine conference I attended.
- I find the artistic component often needs to be increased in these years to really counteract some of the headiness of school subjects and media exposure. It is a healing balm for middle schoolers, even if they complain they are not good at drawing or painting or such. Keep trying, and do it with them or as a family. Keep art and woodworking activities out, provide craft ideas and help them harness some of that creative power! That can be a part of the weekly rhythm for your middle schooler.
- Remember that your middle schooler is not a high schooler. The middle schooler does not think, move, or act like a high schooler. Please don’t force high school schedules onto your middle schooler. There should be a difference between the middle schooler and high schooler.
Last tips for rhythm with children in grades 6-8:
- Where is the family fun? You should be having tremendous family fun together. Family is where it is at! Family is more important than peers – you can look back to the book, “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate if you need further confirmation. Family fun can be part of all levels of rhythm – daily, weekly, and yearly! It is an attitude and an action!
- Where is your rest, and your inner spiritual work? I think you need this, especially as you enter the middle school years. Children can have a lot of emotion during this time period, and you have to be the steady rock. If you need a reminder about boundaries and parenting, try this back post.
- How is your home coming along? By now, with children in these upper grades, there should be pretty steady rhythms and routines regarding the home and the work that it takes to maintain a home.
- How is your relationship with your partner or spouse? This is the time to really start thinking about date nights if your relationship thrives and deepens on that.
Carrie, This is such an excellent, thorough, clear post! Thank you so much!
I really cannot thank you enough for this (and others) post! Wonderful and thorough and helps a lot with my school year planning. Ditto on rest. This was the thing I missed the most last year and it will be the centerpiece of our school year that is about to start. Thank you once again!
I am so happy to hear this, Anya! Have a wonderful school year!
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The one thing i could not get my head around – how to start the day, if everyone gets up at 9am – there is not enough time in the first part of the day for waking up, slow breakfast, circle time, Head and Heart activities and also being outside for at least an hour…
The real solution would be changing bedtimes from 10 to 7-8ish, i guess ☺ almost impossible in our extended family household at the moment, but at least something to strive for..
Is 7am the usual wake-up time for 2-7yo kids in homeschooling families?
Hi Zane! I would say possibly for families with multiple children, although I have known families who got up later, did what they needed to do in the afternoon and did school in the afternoon. I think with small children, the answer for you might be more around having a shorter rhythm to your day if part of your family culture is to go to bed later. There is a book called “The 7 o’clock Bedtime: that might be an interesting read for you just to see if it resonates with you. As a homeschooler, though,i think it is more important to fit things to your family, not to change your family to fit something if that makes sense. Blessings, Carrie
I have been following g your posts for years now and just wanted to say thank you and that I am so grateful for all your wonderful posts. I dont think I could have made it through the messiness if parenting without your calming words. I have 3 children and they are all so different and with that of course my parenting style has changed for each. My last child is 6 and I’m having such a hard time with her. Shes super energetic, wants to know everything about whatever she sisters are doing and has such a hard time centering herself by herself, she always needs her sister to initiate their play. She also fights everything that I try to start, such as our circle time etc. I get really impatient with her and seem to just lose my patience with her so much faster than any of my other children.She has always been a strong willed child. Could you guide me to some parenting help/tipes for parents with children like her. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much for your very kind words. I think the first thing to do is to do your own inner work around her and issue of disrupting school and her energy level. What do you observe? What is worse when? What do you do in your best moments and what is the most wonderful way that she could respond? Have you done any meditation or journaling around your feelings? What would be the ideal way to respond? Then I would move on to looking at her physical/willing level – how much sleep is optimal for her, how much physical exercise, do you do school with her first and do any of her older siblings join in? Does that help or hinder? Do you feel that sensory challenges, a lack of warmth, or something else plays into everything? Does she need more? Could you change up circle and do verses with lots of work instead of a circle? What kinds of work or artistic work does she respond to? Can she ride a bike, jump rope, roller skate, etc does she have good endurance for a walk? Does she have responsibility in the house for anything? Does she have a part in the rhythm of school each day…. On the feeling level, how are you connecting outside of school with just her? Can you find some one to one time with her? I think at 6 too, she is not too young to hear how her actions are affecting your day and what the rules of the land are. I have a back post somewhere about the rules I made in first grade and how we went over them each day. On the head level, is she ready to hear longer stories with longer trials and tribulations?
Just a few thoughts – feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to dialogue further…
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