Familiar routines help anchor us

By Lower Elementary Teacher Amy Fujimoto

A toddler matches up socks

I loved Mister Rogers Neighborhood when I was a kid. I especially loved how Mr. Rogers would take off his coat, hang it up, put on his sweater, walk down his steps and then change into his indoor sneaker shoes. It was always the same, he sang the same song and it transitioned into the show. The pace of how Mr. Rogers talked and moved riveted me. I find myself as an adult with similar rituals like Mr. Rogers. Every day when I come home from school, physical or remote, and change into my “cozy clothes.” Maybe that is why.

Muscle memory is not only a part of how I learn, but also how I can mark time. Since I do laundry usually on weekends the action of folding clothes cues my brain that it is the weekend. In my new life with work and weekend at home these muscle memories or physical actions are limited. Trevor Noah has a daily podcast of his Comedy Central show where he commented on how hard it is to distinguish the difference between work days and weekends when we do everything at home; his punch line was that he had his “weekend chair” that he would wait until the weekend to sit in. It is funny, and yet true that these physical reminders help mark the moments and passing of time.

An article in the New York Times, “8 Ways to Set Boundaries Between Work and Kids” by Leah Chernikoff said, “As much as adults’ work schedules will have to be flexible, it is important to try to maintain kids’ routines.” Regularity “ensures their daily life reflects what is familiar to them and gives them anchors to tolerate new frustrations,” Laura Guarino said. It might seem silly, but packing up a backpack and lunch or any other part of their usual routine could be useful. “It helps to make what’s going on more visual and create a sense of agency.”

I love the idea of packing up my teacher bag and getting ready for school each day. I have a variation of that where I keep my teacher bag with binders, laptop, pens, scissors and a ruler. Each morning I unpack the bag onto my dining room table and when my work day is over, pack it back into my teacher bag. I can see how packing and unpacking a backpack for children could help them have both a physical and mental cue to begin the “school day.” I can imagine even pretending to walk through the door both in and out with a backpack as a physical manifestation of starting and ending the day.

The work day is over so I am going to close up my computer, pack up my teacher bag, change into my cozy clothes and sit in my weekend chair. I hope you are going to be in your cozy clothes soon too.