Daily Routines

Daily Routines

I love summer with its more flexible routines, but at times I also feel too adrift. This got me thinking about how we often resist routines even though we –and children– can benefit from them so much. Routines are important in classrooms for two reasons: psychological comfort, and mental efficiency.
Most people, including children, are more at ease when they know what to expect during their day. It is stressful for all of us to be in settings in which we don’t know what will happen next. This may be a great way to spend a few minutes on a roller coaster, but for daily work, it is unsettling and even frightening to children.
We may be concerned that children will get bored with a stable schedule and routine. They won’t, because the routine is the skeleton of the day. The activities you plan that fit into the skeleton need to keep the children active and engaged, but the skeleton needs to stay stable.
The second reason that routines are important is to help us use our mental resources efficiently and to develop self-control. If we are using our attention and mental processing to think through what we are going to be doing next, or how to hang up our coat, or move from the rug to the desks, we don’t have that mental processing available for other thoughts. Once routines become established, we don’t have to put as much thought into what we are doing. We can go into “autopilot” and our minds are available for thinking about other things. They also allow children to learn how to act in social situations, delay gratification, control their impulses, and plan their actions.
Routines are an important part of adults’ lives as well. The rituals and routines of religious services are a powerful example. These rituals are designed to help us feel comfortable and safe. Sporting events are another example of routines functioning in the adult world. The people who attend know all the procedures to follow because they keep the same pattern – for example, we stand for the national anthem, applaud at the end of the song, then sit down for the game to begin.
Stable routines are particularly important at the beginning of a new academic year, or when a child enters the program. Big changes in a child’s routine – both at home or school –can lead to adjustment difficulties. It can be helpful to encourage parents to keep their daily routines as home (such as eating and sleeping times) as much the same as possible during the time that children change to a new classroom.
We can use strategies for creating rituals in our own classrooms. The daily schedule is very important and should remain as constant as possible. We can be flexible about the amount of time spent in each activity, but the order of activities gives children stability. The activities within this schedule should vary, however the basic outline of the day should be predictable and routine. Administrators do not always realize the importance of this for young children, and you may find yourself in a position where the time of “specials” such as art, music, or gym change from day to day. If at all possible, however, schedules of preschool and primary grade classes should be the same from day to day.
When creating a daily schedule, consider how long children can sit and listen. This will be affected by their interest level, of course, but even college students get restless when they have to sit for long periods. The best way to determine how long children can be sitting (whether at circle time in kindergarten or doing journal writing in 2nd grade) is to watch the children. When there are signs of restlessness, you know when it is best to move to an activity in which children can move around, talk, and become more active. Balancing active center times with more passive seat work is important in primary grades. In preschool classrooms, children should be primarily active, with very short periods of sitting. The most common behavior problems I see in all age groups happen when children are sitting for too long in teacher-directed activities.
Young children don’t understand time the way adults do, so it’s also helpful to post your schedule in a graphic form and point it out to children throughout the day. In many preschool and kindergarten classrooms, teachers take photographs of the different activities throughout the day and post these on the wall in the order they occur. In this way, children can have a visual reference of what happens and what comes next. In primary grade classrooms, the daily schedule can be written on a chart in the order it occurs. In classrooms in which the daily schedule must change each day, it is important to have a concrete, visual reminder for the children of the schedule. Eventually the children will come to know the schedule well and rely the visuals less. Here are a couple of examples:

In a future post, I’ll consider the challenges of transitions within the schedule. In the meantime, enjoy the flexibility of summer, while keeping your routines stable enough to ensure comfort!

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