Our top tips for establishing routine with children
While the freedom to play, explore, test and trial is so important to a child’s development, establishing a sense of schedule and routine is also key. Whether devised by you to support daily family life, or by a nursery setting, children are able to grow from the security and structure that a routine brings. Read on to learn more and discover the top tips from the Maggie & Rose Nursery team.
What are schedule and routine?
A schedule is the planning of a day, by time or activity. Children understand it as a routine. It is the way in which they learn what will, or will not, happen next. Schedules and routines are important for children: they empower them by supporting and helping them make sense of their day and the world around them. If the schedule is consistent, children learn the pattern.
Not only do schedule and routine help little ones prepare for what’s coming next, but a consistent routine will help your child and their “body clocks” with day-to-day basics such as:
Ability to take naps and sleep well at night
Ability to eat healthy, full meals
Regular bowel movements
Healthy play and outdoor time
Calm, relaxed behaviour at “down times” during the day.
Understanding what is coming next helps little ones to feel safe, secure and confident, and in their nursery setting it helps them to settle and feel at home, meaning they can focus on the important business of learning and growing through their play!
How to use routine to support and nurture little ones
Firstly, identify where you need routine and structure in the day to support your little one.
This is typically when you are moving through transitions – from home to nursery, or from playtime to mealtime. At nursery, for example, we use a 'hello' song at the beginning of the day to welcome little ones into the nursery, help them to settle and let them know what to expect from the day; the sound of white noise and the scent of lavender in the sleep room at nap time helps our little ones understand that it is time to sleep. At home, the routine could be bath and story-time before bed, or garden play and washing hands before supper.
It’s important to explain routine to children using words they understand, and that they know what you want them to do and when.
Pick a time when you have their full attention and give them plenty of notice – don’t start explaining when you need them to transition out of an activity. Little ones need lots of reminders, so be patient! Make sure that you clearly set out in advance what is going to happen and use repetition to help them grasp it.
It’s crucial to follow through and be consistent.
This can, of course, be tricky if a child is not willing to stop playing and get ready for their nap! Children who are immersed and engaged in a task will not necessarily understand why they have to stop and do something else. The key thing is to stay calm, take a moment and go back a few steps. Try to connect with them, showing you understand how they feel but making it clear what they need to do and why – ‘you’re having so much fun playing with those blocks. Shall we see if we can play some more tomorrow? Now we have to get ready for our tea-time. Let’s tidy them up and go and wash our hands before tea gets cold’.
Remind yourself why the routine is important, explain it to the child and potentially follow through with a natural consequence if they’re not cooperating – for example, ‘oh dear, we’ve taken so long in the bath, we don’t have time left for a bedtime story. Let’s see if we can be quicker tomorrow so we don’t miss out.’
Consequences help little ones develop knowledge and understanding of behaviour.
The desire is always to empower the child, not to punish, and consequences should always be ‘natural’ (logical), gentle and age appropriate. Don’t panic if your little one becomes frustrated and cries - crying is just a release of emotions and helps children to become aware of their feelings. Comfort and acknowledge their feelings until they calm down, then remind them of the routine and why it was important, and ask them what they can do differently next time.
Be sure to acknowledge and praise how well your child is cooperating and following the routine.
And remember – with routine comes the opportunity to break them and offer your child a reward! From time to time, consider flexing your routine with an extra bedtime story or five minutes extra garden play to reinforce kind, cooperative behaviour or to reward new achievements.
For more advice, read our feature on settling your child back to nursery