I often write about our physical space at home, and how we are making it simpler and more peaceful. But we are also intentionally structuring our schedules around this same idea. It is getting more difficult as the kids get older, especially since they leave for school at 8am and don't return until 4pm. But family experiences are sacred to us, so we have a few unwritten rules that help guide us:
1. Severely limited screen time: since we moved overseas, we do not have television. It started accidentally with our TV not being able to accept the kind of cable connection used in the Netherlands. We still have the TV, so we hooked a hard drive to it and have a few shows and movies we are able to watch. But because of the move and the inability to get television, we basically broke the kids of the TV habit. They now watch TV maybe once per week (sometimes more in bad weather or during holidays), and they are able to play simple games on iphones for up to 20 minutes. But now that it takes more effort to watch something, we usually just don't. And the kids somehow always find a way to entertain themselves.
2. One extracurricular during the week: with school taking up the majority of their waking hours, the last thing I want is to rush the boys from place to place every afternoon. After school time should be down time, unstructured time. One boy takes gymnastics, which he actually needs to address some sensory issues, and the other boy is patiently waiting to turn old enough to join the same class. He wanted to play soccer, but we aren't yet willing to commit to a practice during the week and a game every Saturday. And he's ok with that. He's still so young that his interests shift weekly. Saturdays are for family time. For now.
3. Daily outside time. One thing I love about the kids' school is the 3 recesses they get every day, with one of them lasting 45 minutes. It's the Dutch way. And it's awesome. During our brief stint in the states, my kindergartener only saw the playground a couple times a week. This is one thing I do not compromise on: KIDS NEED TO MOVE. It makes them think clearer (works for adults too!), it makes them sleep better, and it develops critical motor and neurological skills that will last for a lifetime. Obviously, weather sometimes dictates what we can do outside, but we also allow our share of couch jumping, wrestling, and pillow fights. Hopefully they know not to do all that crazy stuff at other people's houses.
4. Downtime after school: when the kids get home, I want them to get their homework out of the way. But if I insist on that, it usually turns into a huge battle that takes three times as long as it should. When I am smart and let them chill or have a snack first, the homework is done in a breeze. Just no screen time before homework, which is rarely an issue since we don't really watch TV or play video games.
5. Lots of unstructured play: Yes, we make a lot of forts. So many that i created a semi-permanent one with a table and a wall in the play/guest room. I have also been known to let them borrow my spatulas so they can open up their own diner and take lunch orders. We are not lacking in the creativity department, but a lot of that comes from me stepping out and letting them play in unconventional ways. Which is also why we don't have a ton of toys. Most of our house is theirs to play with. We do, however, make them ask before they use something that doesn't belong to them.
6. Flexible schedules: Since we live overseas, we try to explore something every Saturday. But we have learned from experience that filling our schedules to the brim just leads to frustration. So, unless it's a big trip (an entire day or more), we usually just plan one thing and wing it from there. Sometimes we don't leave the house for more than an hour; other times we're gone an entire afternoon. Sometimes we see all kinds of unique things; other times we see a playground and the clouds. Often we change the schedule to accommodate the happiness of the children, but if they aren't happy, who is? The point is that we spend the time together as a family.
There are many more things that govern our philosophy of life, and many more details for daily living, but these are fairly steadfast. It keeps us happy, peaceful, and functioning smoothly together.