Rhythm Over Routine: A Work of the Heart at School and Home

Have you ever wondered how a Heartworks teacher can get ten preschool children to sit around a table for lunch or fall asleep for nap en masse?  From playing cooperatively with their friends to learning side by side, preschoolers peacefully follow the Heartworks “Rhythm of the Day.”  We’d like to share some of our philosophy here, so that parents who are interested can establish their own rhythms at home.

The foundation of the rhythm is speaking respectfully and also following through with children on expectations and directions. It is important to set such boundaries at home so a child will know how to have polite and respectful social behavior towards all adults and other children. It’s easy to assume that teachers have established a precise routine that children follow, arriving on a carpet square by 8:35, falling asleep on cue, and generally following the clock throughout the day. However, for a child, the numbers on a clock have very little to do with when they are hungry, tired, or curious. 

In fact, the term rhythm might be better understood as an order of experiences. The activities that children participate in throughout the day at Heartworks have an order that is repeated every day. For example, three-year-old class will begin with Circle upon arrival with the learning block starting at 8:35, this may be followed by Explore, Snack, Outside, Second Learning Block, Enrichment, and Story by Heart. Our goal is to create a predictable pattern to a child’s day, thus lessening anxiety as well as providing less instruction of what to do next as they already know.

Similarly, where to sit, where shoes go, and how to take turns is gently modeled by Heartworks teachers. Teachers are also attuned to the fact that children move through these experiences at a pace that they feel comfortable at. By sending the child who may need more time putting boots on to the shoe area first, children are in harmony in the classroom, with no undue attention to our friends who move more slowly.

The subtle difference between routine and rhythm makes all of the difference. Routines are set by clocks, rhythms by patterns. While we strive for snack to be eaten at approximately the same time each day, the expectation of what happens next is what comforts children. Routines can connote tedium, but rhythm is a pattern which can account for individual variance and life’s unforeseen delays.

The Heartworks’ rhythm includes traditions that reflect our values; we gather for a meal by singing a blessing, and we complete a meal by saying thank you. By planning a day’s rhythm, we have an opportunity to weave in what we value in a respectful way rather than rushing to stay “on time.” Similarly, part of our rhythm is to take a moment to rest and acknowledge the quiet.  

Our purpose in sharing our philosophy is to encourage interested friends and parents to reflect and create their own rhythm. Consider daily experiences such as giving thanks that may be important to you and activities that are necessary, such as washing hands or brushing teeth. Remember that each child or member of your family will generally move through an activity at a different pace, so taking that into consideration is helpful. Once you establish a rhythm, a flow chart with pictures is helpful for young children. Even though you may want your child in bed by 7:30, it’s important not to watch the clock. Consider adjusting the next day’s rhythm by eliminating activities rather than allowing the stress of being on time interfere with the enjoyment of each activity. Take bedtime, for example, sometimes bedtime routines can become too elaborate, creating stress the longer they go on and the later it gets. In order to establish an enjoyable rhythm, perhaps you and your child can pick three activities, as well as their order, to do each night before bed. A picture flow chart that you create can add an element of fun, too!

We hope this is helpful.  Heartworks is truly a work of the heart, just like your family!