Routines, Routines, Routines

For months now our routines have been disrupted with the extended stay at home order and continued progression of COVID-19. Stress and anxieties levels are high while parents and teachers navigate working from home, distance learning, and trying to find our routines in our chaotic situations.

We all depend on routines, starting with what we do as soon as we get up in the morning; what we do to get ready; what, where, and when we eat breakfast; how long we spend working with our kids; working in the home doing work work; etc. We have routines for cleaning, grocery shopping, and even for going to bed at night. Consider how “discombobulated” we feel when a sick child, an emergency work call, or a broken down appliance interferes with one of our major routines of the day! Sometimes if I get up and find out I have no creamer for my coffee, I feel like my whole day will be off!

As much as we depend on our routines to keep us sane and focused, they are even more important for children. After all, children do not have near the coping skills and frustration tolerance that we do! Most misbehaviors in children can be prevented if we have solid routines in place. It is that consistency of knowing what we are doing on any given day that can help alleviate stress and behavior issues. Young children are at the mercy of the schedule that we establish– they do not get to decide what they do during the day. They depend on us to maintain routines and give them the security of knowing what is coming next.

I think of how stressed out kids are right now with having to adjust to a new normal. Their little worlds have been turned upside down. They are trying to readjust, and need new routines to do this.

Teachers can be partners with parents in helping them create a distance learning schedule and routines that will be successful at home.

Teachers should look at their classroom routines. How can they adjust those routines to home learning? How can they teach parents to create a routine in their home?

There are 5 steps teachers use to create a better learning environment at school:

  1. They have clearly defined processes or routines.
  2. They have activities ready for children to work on.
  3. They have minimal transitions, and minimal waiting.
  4. Every routine they have is broken down into steps.
  5. Every step in their routine has a clear beginning, middle and end.

This may seem like a lot of steps to follow as a parent at home juggling so many schedules, but if we try to utilize a simple 4 step approach to our everyday routine, we may have happier children with better behaviors.

1. Children depend upon consistency and “sameness” in order to feel secure. They also need to know what is expected of them:
We need to make sure that children know their routines each day. With younger children the aid of a picture schedule may help with creating routines. It gives both the parent and the child something to refer to during the day to keep them on task, and moreover, it provides a real sense of safety and security. Sometimes adjustments need to made to a schedule that we have established; when this happens, it is super important to communicate these changes to the children ahead of time for a smoother adjustment.

2. During a task, it is helpful for children to know how they are doing:  Children need verbal reinforcement. It can be as simple as a thumbs up or letting a child know that they are doing a good job with the task that they are working on. While completing a daily routine such as cleaning up toys or doing “school time” at the table (which should be no more than 15 minutes for the typical 4 or 5 year old) provide your child with frequent positive reinforcements. This will lead to more independence with the task at hand.

3. Children need to know when they have completed the next step.
Children need to have a clear beginning, middle, and end to their activities. Major routines such as clean-up time, mealtimes, and getting ready for bed need to be broken down into multiple steps so that they are easy for the child to follow. Beginning and ending a routine the same way each day will quickly teach children to follow along and not resist the task at hand. For example, every day when it’s time to prepare for dinner, saying the same thing: “Dinner will be ready soon – what do we need to do?” and when dinner’s over, perhaps say “Good dinner!” 

4. Children need to know what comes activity comes next.
We need to build transition between activities for children. If we give them a warning between activities, it makes for a better transition. Make this warning consistent such a specific phrase, a bell, or song. They will learn to equate that to: “It is time to finish and time to clean up.” Let them know what is expected of them in a positive way by either modeling what needs to be done or positively praising them as they are transitioning. This will lead to independent children. Using the dinnertime to playtime to bedtime transitions as examples, during dinner you can review what you will be doing afterwards (“After we eat dinner, what are you going to play tonight? We’ll have just a little while before we need to get your bath and books and jammies for bed.”) At the end of dinner time, keep the routine the same as well, by saying “ Dishes in the sink, and then time to play!” Set a timer on your phone to give a warning when playtime will need to end (for children over age 5, give a ten minute warning; for children under age 5 or argumentative older children, give shorter warnings such as 5,3, and 1). As long as the routine is kept consistent and there are not daily negotiations about changing things, your child will be much more cooperative with dinner, bath, and bedtime.

Teachers and parents are now, more than ever before, real partners in education. Parents and teachers alike need to not only focus on the educational needs of the child while distance learning, but also focus on the emotional and behavioral needs of the child. Finding creative ways to help parents establish and re-enforce routines at home so that children  can learn and feel safe during the “new normal” should be a primary goal. Remember, whether you are a teacher or a parent, to find lots of resources about this topic, go to and click on Podcast #004  Routines, Routines, Routines!


Sara Beach, M. ED is a ECE Trainer, Consultant, Coach, Writer and Podcaster who specializes in creating systems for quality, social-emotional learning, mental health supports and trauma-responsive practices within early childhood programs. As President and Lead Consultant of  Synapse Early Learning Systems, Ms. Beach is currently a Pyramid Model Master Cadre Trainer for Illinois, and provides Process Coaching on the Pyramid Model to programs and school districts. Certified as an Infant, Toddler, and Pre-K CLASS Trainer and coder, as well as NHSA “Mind in the Making” trainer, and Lakeshore contract trainer, Sara does grant writing and consulting, and trains administrators, teachers, and coaches whenever and wherever there is need. 

For more information on Routines and Early Childhood Education, contact Sara Beach at Synapse Early Learning Systems.Synapse Early Learning Systems

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