Back when my husband and I were in the midst of fertility treatments- which for us was mainly waiting punctuated by annoying doctor visits-I had several strategies to keep me connected to the hope of motherhood without despairing over the possible alternative. Most of these strategies basically consisted of acting as if I were pregnant. I created a registry, and filled it up with every adorable toy and trinket that made my heart sing. I studied sleeping and feeding schedules and scoured mommy blogs for what parents did when the schedules “failed.” I created possible daily routines I might have with a baby or two (I not-so-secretly hoped for twins). I had a schedule for 0-3 months, 3-6 months, and so on.

I know I sound like a crazy person to most, but the truth is that these practices soothed my soul. And even though I still haven’t ever been able to use the registry, or the sleep and feeding tips, or the daily schedules, I don’t regret making them. In those moments, when I was imagining how I would structure my life as a mother, it was as if I was living through them. And it was lovely. Plus, all of my research and planning has been useful as a teacher and in my work with families. Though I work with children ages 6-7 now instead of babies, the use of tight routines and schedules is no less imperative. For everyone. Humans need structure. And the happiest among us seem to be the most adept at creating that structure for ourselves and our offspring.

Right now, parents around the globe are home with their children. They are responsible for actively parenting them. This includes providing them with some replacement for the intellectual engagement they would receive at school. My advice? Create a schedule. Or find one! The resources are abundant. And not just for your children, for the whole family. Having a plan for the day instills us with purpose, and motivates us. Think about your needs and preferences and shape your day into the beautiful thing you want it to be. A sample schedule for a human who is neither an “early bird” nor a “night owl” (most of you out there), and who has dependents…

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  • 8:00am Wake up, work out (have the kids join you!)
  • 9:00am Breakfast, shower (have the kids help you make breakfast and clean up!)
  • 10:00am-1:00pm Work/learning
  • (Kids should have their own learning schedule punctuated by breaks, just like your work schedule. They should also be instructed not to interrupt adult work time except for very specific purposes. This rule should be explicitly stated-perhaps written down-and enforced. See sample schedule below for age 6/7.)
      • Read for 20 minutes, movement break, continue reading for 10 minutes
      • Play a reading game or work on a reading app for 20 minutes, movement break
      • Do math on an app or with printed worksheets or workbooks, children might also create their own math story problems or games and share them with a sibling (40 minutes), movement break
      • Write stories or poems or teaching books (30-40 minutes), movement break
      • Research a favorite science or history topic in a book or online, write about it or create something to model it (30 minutes)
  • 1:00pm lunch/nap or rest (for everyone)
  • 2:00-6:00pm Work/play (remember the no interrupting rule)
  • 6:00-8:00pm Family dinner/family time

    8:00pm Bed-time routine for kids (bath, teeth, stories, lights out)

    9:00pm Family time continued without kids (talk to your partner!)

    10:00 pm Bed-time routine for adults (teeth, reading, lights out)

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    You might hate this schedule or find it doesn’t match your preferences or reality. It wouldn’t work for me. But that’s the point. We are responsible for our own days, and if we have children, for theirs. So, dream up a day. If nothing else, treat this like an experiment. Schedules are not meant to be served but to serve, so don’t feel indebted to your routines. Expect that necessary changes will need to occur throughout the day and embrace them. And even if, like my old schedules, you are not able to use your planning as you imagined, it is still a worthwhile exercise, and a joyful one. Play with routine. It isn’t the joyless monotony it’s made out to be.