New beginnings evoke contradictory emotions: on the one hand offering hope, opportunity, new experiences and friendships, and, simultaneously, also involving uncertainty and trepidation of the unknown. It can feel hard to be out of our comfort zone. The new school year is no different: the buzz of excitement in seeing old friends and making new ones, buying new stationary or locker décor, and the ‘clean slate’ of the pristine new exercise book or planner, may all be somewhat offset by other emotions as we adjust to new routines and expectations.
Seasoned teachers know how important these first few weeks of term are for outlining their expectations for the year, and creating routines. Known routines create a framework of order and calm, especially in moments of change or transition. These routines may be as simple as knowing that no shoes are allowed on the carpet in Mrs. Covello’s class, or how the class is expected to line up outside the door, or having a checklist for starting a piece of work. Rather than being prescriptive, these elements of classroom life are the intentional ‘big rocks’, allowing the unexpected and spontaneous to be welcomed without anxiety.
Establishing consistent routines may be particularly important for young children, but they are valuable for all of us. According to the Child Mind Institute, “a ‘bedtime routine’ might seem like something for babies, but having a predictable structure in place can be reassuring and helpful even for older kids (and adults!).” For all of us, routines build habits which can reduce stress and support overall health.
However much we know that routines, big or small, can ground us in our busy and chaotic daily lives, maintaining them is not always easy. When called away on business, or if an unexpected invitation pops through the door, the best of intentions can fly out of the window. Ensuring that lunch is ready and packed the night before school quickly goes awry when your teenager has eaten the last of the bread, the bedtime routine can be thrown off by an urgent work call, my own avowed resolution to drink more water fails because I just forget!
Parents and caregivers don’t always have to shoulder these responsibilities. Short term, it might be easier to do something for your child, such as hanging that bag on the peg, or putting toys away, but in the long run you end up creating more work for yourself! We explain explicitly that homework is not their parents’ responsibility, though we can co-create an acceptable and consistent routine for getting it done. Allowing children to do things for themselves can feel scary, and slightly uncontrollable. Making a sandwich for the first time might be messy – but the more children do independently, the more we realize what they are capable of.
I appreciate how much my current lens is informed by my many mistakes along the way and somehow, despite this, my children are (mostly) now functioning fairly well as adults. In time, I have learnt to step back as they set their own routines, that work for them. This summer, my youngest went backpacking in Asia, and he insisted on taking resistant bands with him. I understood this – he knows how much his exercise routine supports his wellbeing, regardless of what else is happening in life.
This year, I too have transitioned to a new schedule as I adapt to life across both campuses. Assimilating new information has seemed a little overwhelming at times but I will get there! Having experienced frequent, and often unexpected change in life, I am much better than I used to be in recognizing daily routines that create calm: tea, exercise and taking a breath; these help me to weather change.
In spending more time at our South Loop Campus, I feel fortunate that I can continue to observe the growth in students that I have known for a number of years. It may reassure the current Year 6 parents to know that the students who transitioned to South Loop this year already seem comfortable and ‘at home’ in their new environment. They understand the one-way system around the second floor, they know how to read their timetables to be in the right place at the right time, and are supporting each other as well. They are embracing the qualities of Mrs. Adaptable as they incorporate new routines into their daily lives – these the ‘big rocks’ that will help them to thrive.
Director of Inclusion, South Loop & Lincoln Park Campuses