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Routines and Rituals

Our home life provides us with routines and rituals that bring predictability to our lives. From the time our children were babies, most of us, as parents, provided some type of routine to their lives. Naptimes, feeding times and bath times gave structure to their day as well as for us as parents. Later as our kids get older, routines expanded to getting ready in the morning, completing chores or doing homework. What we know is: consistent routines provide security to children as they learn what, when and how to expect their days. Predictability brings a sense of calm, comfort and stability.

Rituals are a different kind of predictability. Rituals can be those day to day events or traditional events that connect us and provide meaning in our lives. There are family rituals such as simple as how we greet one another or say goodbye. Families may have rituals such as giving someone a kiss and a hug when they greet or say goodbye. It may be a call out of “I love you” when someone leaves or a “See you later alligator”.

Rituals also provide the connectedness that we experience on special celebrations. Families have rituals for the coming together on occasions such as Thanksgiving or summer vacations. Some traditional rituals may be the way we open up presents, what we eat at special meals or how we always sit around the fire and roast marshmallows when we are camping. Rituals provide shared traditions that over time become so important to who we are, as we engage in and reaffirm our connections to our family, co-workers and/or friends.

In the book “Creating the School Family”, Dr. Becky Bailey, the creator of the Conscious Discipline Program supports with research that rituals affirm our connections to one another. She identifies the following as to some of the reasons why rituals are important.

  • Gives us time to reflect, mentally slow down a hectic pace
  • Place to be playful, to explore and build relationships
  • Helps us preserve human ties
  • Promotes positive
  • Helps to initiate healing from loss.
  • Express our values and beliefs
  • Help us to learn more about each other while promoting celebrations of accomplishments and life transitions

So how does all of this relate to school. If you have read any of my earlier blogs, you will know that we at C. Ian McLaren School are working to create our “school family” and so it stands to reason that rituals and routines are important here too. As we have all been to elementary school, we all know that, just like at home, elementary schools have a routine and a predictability to the school day: calendar, show and tell, story, reading and writing, recess and so on.

Schools can have rituals too. One example of a very important historic ritual at C. Ian McLaren has been the Grade Six Farewell we have every June.  We as a staff have been working together to create other authentic rituals at our school. We considered what Becky Bailey says are the four key components to rituals:

  • Eye contact
  • Touch
  • Presence
  • Playful or trusting setting

Here’s how we have started. As mornings are a great time to connect with students, morning routines have naturally turned into a Routine and Ritual Time in our school. Students are greeted at the door with eye contact. Sharing times now include, “I wish you well times” when students are absent. Young students have come back to school and told their class how they could feel their class wishing them well when they were home sick. Other morning rituals in our school include circle sharing time, a fun “energizer” game where we can laugh and connect or a song to sing or dance to. We also engage in some deep breathing to calm our brains and create a commitment to our day. These routines and rituals have been extended to school wide assemblies where we sing, breath and commit just like we do in our classrooms.

Rituals become the bond that holds the School Family together in shared, meaningful experiences. Rituals in school create a safe place to heal, change and rework relationships so academic learning can be the main focus instead of policing for safety.

Some might say, “My children get the ritual piece at home. We already have rituals that our children can count on.” We would counter that just like at home, rituals create “families” positive relationships at school.

The most important people the school serves by providing a safe and caring environment is our hurting children. These are the children who do not have the privilege of being raised in a caring and predictable home. These students can be identified as relationship- resistant children as they come to school hurting in some way. When children are hurting, they act out. They have problems with eye contact, touch, play and attention. The most seriously hurting children view friendly adults with deep distrust. On first meeting, they seem to talk to adults easily but soon demonstrate negative behaviour. They come to expect rejection, believing they need to push you away before you can do it to them. They have learned to manipulate and control. This is not uncommon at our school because we do have a Inclusionary program for children with social/emotional needs.

How does a relationship- resistant child form? Conscious Discipline research says that “during infancy and the first years of life, humans develop systems that enable us to form and maintain emotional relationships that allow us to care, support and help each another instead of distrust, hurt and harm each another.”  Experiences that promote the security of children’s social/emotional needs, during this early, vulnerable period are critical to shaping the capacity for healthy relationships. If children do not develop this support system within their family, they will have difficulty creating bonds with others outside their family. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association now has a diagnosis for this called “Reactive Attachment Disorder” in their Diagnostic Statistical Manual.

For students without “Family Privilege”, “School Privilege” becomes that much more imperative.  These students are crying out a place of stability, predictability where they can create and preserve human ties. Schools must create the connectedness and the rituals that teach children how to form and preserve relationships. Relationships are necessary for us to survive, learn, work, love and live in harmony with one another. Rituals are a piece of creating healthy relationships. It is the most connected children who thrive.

Students who already have “Family Privilege”, will be strengthened by School Family.  Those without “Family Privilege will benefit even more. At C. Ian McLaren, we are creating routines and rituals within our School Family to help children create bonds and strengthen relationships that provide for connections to home family, school family and society in general.