Structure in a very unstructured world. Why our kids need schedules, predictability and order.

I will never forget the day a teaching consultant came into my classroom. It was my first year teaching. I was 24 and had a group of fourth graders in Y’bor City, Florida. I had gone to graduate school for education, but honestly had no idea what I was doing. The consultant was middle aged, well dressed, and her sophistication seemed out of place in this small, unkempt school. Imagine a principal at a private school, or an ad for Talbots ( that’s the vibe she was putting out).

She came in unannounced, yet I knew she was a figure of authority and so carried on with my lesson as if she wasn’t there. I struggled through my plans and then transitioned my kiddos on to their next teacher. We sat her and I, and she introduced herself as a teaching consultant ( a position I had no idea existed). This was seventeen years ago, and I still remember the main takeaway she planted on me; order. Kids need order. Kids like having parameters, and rules, and knowing what to expect next. In addition to this, kids also like organization and having everything in it’s own spot, no clutter. They can think better. They can focus more, and in the end, it is just easier to learn in an atmosphere of order.

Throughout the next ten years of my teaching career the need for defined expectations and organization became more and more evident. Frequently visiting other teachers’ rooms who were lacking any form of order and noticing the children’s energy. Papers everywhere piled up on all flat surfaces. Books on the ground, coats in corners, food by the sink. These teachers would inevitably always have poor classroom management (code for, “Your kids don’t listen to you”). What they didn’t know was that the lack of physical order and organization was also a reflection of the lack of established rules, and expectations. The kids were never taught what was acceptable, or were taught, but never held to the standard. This all led to an atmosphere of chaos.

Messiness leads to feelings of being overwhelmed

Kids Need Order

Kids will be kids. And they should be kids. Kids should be able to scream, and yell and laugh and run and play and have fun, and do all of the things that kids need to do. But as our parents have said, there is a time and a place for that, and that time and place should not be whenever and wherever they feel fit.

Setting parameters teaches children what they can and can not do, and yes kids like this. Kids like knowing what to expect and what will be expected out of them. They are kids after all, and will push the boundaries at any given moment. So it only makes sense to let them know, that you know what they could do, and what they should do.

It is actually quite a miraculous process. Imagine a trip to Target. Before entering you set the stage: “We are going into Target now, we will not be buying anything for you. You will need to walk quietly next to the cart. There is no running in Target. There is no yelling in Target. If you see something you love, we will take a picture. If you struggle with this, next time you will not come to Target with me. I know that you can do this and are a capable and smart child”

Vs. Entering Target with no discussions. Your child sees every single toy they could possibly imagine and asks for each of them, repeatedly. They may possibly begin yelling, or running up and down the aisle (this may just be my children) with their sibling. The chaos continues until it is time to leave. There may be tears and you are exhausted.

The former seems better, yes? It’s at least worth a try!

Kids Like Organization

This may sound crazy, but it’s so true. A disorganized house and space for kids only leads to feeling overwhelmed and often bored with the toys they do have. Disorganization also makes finding things very difficult which may cause children to become frustrated.

I like to say that “everything has a spot”. No, my house is not tidy all the time. No, things are not always put away, but yes we sure do try. For me, it is always easier to use the strategy of – before you get another toy out to play with, you must first put away the one you are using. This is hard. It takes time to get children used to the idea of picking up while playing, but it works. When I have let things go and the play room floor is blanketed in toys, my kids don’t know what to do. Truly. Making a decision of the toy they want to play with becomes difficult, in addition to the fact that they have no where to play.

In no way is this what my playroom looks like

Kids like to know what to expect next

Have you ever been out with your children running errands and you realize you have one more place to go? Announcing to the children that you “need to make one more stop,” the moans and groans are simultaneously echoed throughout the car. My son may even proclaim that he “will not be exiting the car”, and attempt to claim his authority by declaring threats beginning with “Fine, then when we get home, I get to…(usually something to do with electronics)”.

Of course things come up and our schedules may not always be clear. There is always going to be those times when we have one more errand to run, but whenever possible, letting kids know exactly what is on the agenda next will help them process and accept the day at hand. Kids are not in control, parents are, but allowing them in on the schedule gives them ownership in what simply must get done.

Having kids is hard. It is never ending, always changing and a rollercoaster of emotions for all parties involved. If we are able to navigate life a little easier with a few minor changes, then I say it’s a win.

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