Bedtime

This was a guessing-page, in case people were looking for information on bedtimes, but it has started to gather its own notes. The main information page on how many unschoolers have dealt with sleep is: sandradodd.com/sleeping.

Kelly/kashultz responded to a mom who had let up on any bedtime rules or routines at all, and was having a hard time of it:

We have three children, 8, 5.5 and 2.5. The older two can be quite energetic and loud at the exact time that the youngest might be needing to go to bed. Here is a combination of tactical and philosophical ideas, from our experience.

I've learned to try and talk to the older two earlier, for example, right before or after dinner, to see what they might want to be doing that evening when the little guy needs to go to sleep. We will come up with ideas, maybe Barbies, maybe painting; always the evening movie is on and available. I try to help them understand what his sleep timing might be, since it varies depending on whether he's taken a nap. It's at this time that I might remind them if we have some plan for the next day.

I am often alone with my children at night, but when my husband is home, he is committed to being with the older two when I am nursing our son to sleep. He will help them on the computer, play with them, get them a snack, whatever, and then I join in when I am able to. I think the key thing here is that, after a certain point in the evening (and at our house, it's actually pretty early), we are both committed to being with the kids so that nobody is left totally alone to figure out what to do. And even though we do not have 5 children, there are still different sleep "shifts", in that everyone tires at different times. Is your husband able to be with the older kids on YouTube while you get the toddler to sleep? Or could he read to the 5 and 7 yo while the older ones are on the computer nearby? Or watch a movie with all of them if he is totally wiped? If he is right with the middle kids until you've got the little one down, then he can assess their sleepiness and maybe get them started on the path to bed, or when you are done, you can come and start to engage them on their bedtime readiness, do they want to brush teeth and then come snuggle some more, etc. Even if this doesn't happen every night, but a few a week, a few calmer nights a week is better than none, right?

There seems to be an energy burst time in our home sometime between dinner and bedtime. Often, the best scenario for us is to have a big tickle-fest on our big family bed right after dinner. When this seems likely, I'll just ignore the dishes and go play for a while. This usually has the double benefit of connecting us all in a fun way and getting that energy out a little bit earlier rather than later, when myself and dh might be too exhausted to really participate or enjoy it. This doesn't always happen, but it is usually great when it does.

I have learned to let go and even enjoy the energy when the older two get the little guy going. Often these are some of the best times that they spend together, and in reality, it is brief. He might play with them for a half hour to hour jumping around on the bed, but eventually he will say that he needs to go nappy.

I would consider your situation holistically, too. For example, what are your days like now? Are they jam-packed with activity, or empty (and thus giving the kids lots of extra energy at night). Do you have flexibility in changing plans the next day because people are tired? If not, should you build in more flexibility? Is there something that you can change so that you are not quite as drained at the end of the day, perhaps. I ask that knowing that you are about to give birth, and also that maintaining everything for a 5-child family is more than a full-time job, but it is worth thinking about. Now is the time to cut out all the time-wasters and energy-drainers, if ever, so you have time for both the new baby and the other kids.

If the kids do get overtired and everyone is crabby, there will be opportunities to discuss why they are irritable and how you can figure out how to get enough sleep to prevent that, and avoid the yucky feelings that come with lack of sleep. Do you observe and comment on how you feel in the morning? Do you comment to your toddler when he/she is seeming sleepy?

This (and the new baby coming up) is a huge opportunity to open the door for deep communicating on non-academic type things, and if you are new to the idea of radical unschooling, this could be a relatively new concept. How does the change in the bedtime affect all of you? What have different kids liked, not liked? What would make things more comfortable when they get tired? What kinds of quiet things can they get into when the newest family member arrives, etc. If we were not unschooling, I doubt that these kinds of things would ever enter our heads, but we have learned over the last 3-4 years to converse in a different way with our children than others do.

The comments on limits have also been illuminating. As a newer unschooler (3-4 years ago), it was easy for me to see the big opportunities (kids with choice becoming more self-defined and happier individuals), but I did not have that internalized set of principles that would help me to navigate through the details in each of the big areas (food, tv, sleep, etc.). We didn't have huge controls in place, mostly because our kids were little and we were just trying to be responsive parents, but we hadn't thought through everything and how it could work differently than the mainstream norm.

As a result, the concept of limits for me was a bit daunting too (and can sometimes still be). I was loyal to these new ideas, but unsure in some cases of how to apply them while being respectful to individuals and the entire household. I like to think of the experienced unschoolers as being kind of like zen masters who have practiced so long that it is clear to them which are the bogus limits that need to be cast off, which are the ones that are real, and which are the ones that are somewhere in between that need to be evaluated. It wasn't so clear to me up front, but is becoming a lot clearer, and with practice, I am becoming much better at thinking through situations and guess what, since I talk with my kids about everything too, they are getting really good at thinking through the situations themselves!

I sense that you are posting at a time full of change, excitement, fear, hormonal overload. I think it is important for you to really step back and think through what is coming, and what can you do to make the transition to this new lifestyle more comfortable for both your children and yourself, and again, it is not just a sleep matter, it is everything about your life that adds together with the bedtime, that will make it possible for you to be on top of becoming an unschooling mother, rather than besieged by the change.

Good luck.

Robyn Coburn wrote:
I like this bit:
I have learned to let go and even enjoy the energy when the older two get the little guy going. Often these are some of the best times that they spend together, and in reality, it is brief. He might play with them for a half hour to hour jumping around on the bed, but eventually he will say that he needs to go nappy.
I have noticed this a lot—I mean the brevity of the energy burst type rowdiness. Sometimes it feels like it is going on and on, but if you look at the clock, it isn't very long.

Over time I have learnt not to trust my own time perception or memory and to actually time and document events. It was noting our sleep/wake up times on my calendar that led me to seeing Jayn's sleep pattern. It was timing how long certain household tasks took me that let me see how fast they really were. And conversely it was seeing a sudden radical increase in how long Jayn was rowdy and emotionally disorganized before sleep that allowed me to make a connection to stressors in her life last summer.


More on sleeping and Late Night Learning , a Sandra Dodd article documenting some of the best conversations, "after hours"

Parenting issues and Principles