Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Unschooling bedtimes

You might think that bedtimes have very little to do with how a family schools at first glance. However, if a child is in the traditional school system then the school does have control over children's bedtimes. They dictate a lot of what a family does, but for the purpose of this post, I'll keep focus on bedtimes. Many homeschoolers set a required start time similar to a formal school schedule in their own homes as well. Mom might be an early riser and she might expect/insist that the kids rise early and go to sleep early regardless of their own internal clocks.

My family is a swing shift family. We like being up at night. Bry goes to work at 1 PM and comes home after 2 AM. I usually get up anywhere from 7 to 8:30 AM, regardless of how late I get to bed. It's just the way I'm wired. I do enjoy the morning time before the rest of the house wakes up, it lets me slowly greet the day and tend to some things I prefer to do before the kids are awake and the house is bustling.
The kids come down in shifts. Summer and Decklin are usually up first. Sometimes we play a game or sit and have some tea and talk or start a fancy breakfast for everyone. Or sometimes Decklin just wants to start his day slowly and will ask to play the Wii. He is always free to do so, but he always asks first.

In the past we have practiced co-sleeping with all the kids. Typically once they started kicking and it became disturbing to Bry or myself, we'd put a bed for them in our room, close enough to me that I could hold their hand while they fell asleep, and then gradually when/if they were ready they'd move to their own room. I loved co-sleeping with our kids! And our door is always open for nights when someone wants to come fall asleep in our bed if they don't want to be in their own for any reason. Sometimes Ember will fall asleep on my shoulder while I read a book or play a game on my Iphone. Bry will usually carry anyone who falls asleep into their own beds before he gets into bed on his work nights.

At the beginning of this year we moved to a new rental home and we had all the kids beds in our bedroom because they felt most comfortable sleeping that way even after some had their own rooms in our prior house. Presently all the kids are in their own rooms and their own beds. We problem solved together with the kids and jointly we all came up with the room "assignments" as follows: 
Skylar (10) and Ember (3) share a room. They are the late risers and the ones who prefer a very tidy and quiet bedroom. 
Summer (8) and Decklin (5) share a room. They tend to rise early and don't mind a less tidy bedroom space. And they tend to like to do more active or rowdy things in their room, like jumping on beds. 

How we "unschool" bedtimes

When I originally read about unschoolers not having arbitary bedtimes I jumped into it a bit fast. It was like, hey no more bedtimes here woo-hoo (the wrong thing to do!!!). Quite quickly I became frustrated and overtired and even a bit resentful because I wanted to be able to do some things in the quiet of the evening. I soon realized we had to shift to something that was doable for our family... all of our family and that took some time to find out what exactly that was.
How that looks for us now, is that we head up to bed here at about 10 PM each night. Usually a half hour or hour before, we transition to more quiet things with something like, okay lets do more quiet activities, (less jumping and running about type of things). And I'll ask if anyone wants something to eat.
Quiet things vary from night to night. Some of those things they choose to do are:
  • Sit outside and look at the stars on the balcony outside our master bedroom.
  • Just sitting down for a snack and chatting together.
  • Gathering on the sofa or around the dinner table to chat. 
  • Playing a game on their kindle fires or a wii game.  
  • Doing a puzzle or a quick play board game. 
  • Playing a game of Uno on my bed. 
  • Cleaning up something they were playing with. 
  • Me reading to whoever would like to listen. 
  • Sometimes it means we all just sit together and talk anywhere we land in the house or outside, or they follow me into my bedroom and talk to me while I get ready for bed. 
  • Sitting with me while I fold laundry on my bed and we talk about the day, some of the kids help with the folding. 
  • Some of the above things we are doing all together, sometimes things each does on their own or some variety of the two. 

Our shower time is earlier in the evening either before or after dinner so they have playtime after, in the past we've done showers or baths right before bed and tried morning time as well. This is just working well right now. 

Most often we say bedtime prayers together sitting on my bed after everyone is all ready in PJ's with teeth brushed. Sometimes after prayers we end up chit chatting and going down rabbit trails of things from our conversations and we might end up staying up for an hour or two. Other times everyone is tired and plenty ready to get in bed after prayers.
When the kids go into their own beds, it doesn't mean they have to go to sleep or have the lights out. For them it means they get comfy in or on their beds. Some of them like to be tucked in, and some just like to relax on top of the covers. What they do in their bed varies and tends to be something like:
  • Read or look at books. 
  • Skylar likes to read the bible and journal. 
  • Play a game on the Kindle fire.
  • Play a DS game. 
  • Play with some toys in bed. 
  • Watch something on Netflix on their Fires. 
  • Pet a cat. 
  • Fall right to sleep. 
We recently realized that all four of the kids can't have Netflix on their kindles playing at the same time so they now know they have to take turns every other night if they want to watch it.
Skylar sometimes gets hungry when in bed (she tends to stay up the latest reading into the night) so she has a snack drawer in her room. She will brush her teeth again if she eats something.

When getting ready for bed, they change into PJ's, brush teeth, use the bathroom and bring a drink up from the kitchen for their bedside table. We all like having a fresh cold drink by our bedside. We tend to carry a water bottle with us everywhere we go including up to bed.

Bedtime here essentially means when we get in our beds and wind down, doing something that doesn't bother anyone else in the house or if tired, falling right to sleep. If the older three wanted to be downstairs watching TV they are free to do so, but they have no interest at this time to do that on a regular basis. From time to time they do that if they are really into a game and will stay downstairs to finish it. Sometimes the older two girls just can't sleep at all and they will go downstairs and do something together quietly. But as I said, this is pretty rare that they want to do this.
There are nights that one of the younger kids will fall asleep while we are chatting on the sofa downstairs, playing a game on the Wii or talking on my bed. Decklin will sometimes ask if he can go to bed because he is sleepy and off he goes as soon as his head hits the pillow. 

So while we don't have a strict bedtime routine with specific set rules or enforcement in place. We do have a routine that works well for everyone in the family and feels very natural for us. 
It's not, me as Mom deciding, okay lights out it's bedtime now, or you have a half hour to read and then lights out, or even it's 10 PM get in your bed now. It's all about warm, loving transitions and connections. None of the kids have problems falling asleep because they fall asleep when they are each tired following their natural internal clock. 
I'm not waking the kids up in the morning by my internal clock or by an alarm. 
If we have somewhere to go that requires us to get up earlier we plan ahead the night before and try to get to bed earlier if we can. That earlier wake time might require me waking the kids to get up, but they already know in advance it will be happening so it's not me in a nagging role trying to get a child out of bed who'd rather stay there. Most often times we just schedule whatever we might need to do later whenever possible. 

No one here is crying about not wanting to go into bed. If one of them is feeling especially grumpy one day they are usually the first ones to comment that they might have stayed up to late because they were engrossed in a book or a game. I know how that is. I've found myself up until 4 AM playing Plants vs Zombies : ). And yes I've found myself especially grumpy from my late night gaming sessions.

Following a natural sleep routine will look different for every family. With some family problem solving it's pretty easy to find a workable solution that is agreeable to everyone in the house so that every family member's sleep needs are being met.

~Sweet Dreams~ 

Sandra Dodd's page about bedtimes and sleeping


redkitchen said...

This is a great post. I am going to try this. Our bedtime routines are not as peaceful as I'd like them to be, but your ideas will help. Thanks!

Melissa said...

Thank you : ).
I look forward to reading what you come up with that's workable for your family. : )

Have you been able to catch any speakers in the unschooling summit?