You glance at the clock. It is almost bedtime! You sigh a breath of relief. Because you've been diligent with implementing a bedtime routine, your child follows along without throwing a tantrum. Studies have shown that a bedtime routine is associated with increased family functioning and improved sleep habits.
“It’s time to take a bath” is like a gentle alarm call and your child knows that it's the beginning of the bedtime routine. Your child comes running all smiles and asks if there is still bubble bath soap left.
Your older toddler turned 4 recently and you notice how much more inquisitive and vocal she is. You’ve also noticed a certain question being repeated daily. Your child is always asking, what are we going to do next? Your child has always been so good at making up her own games and imaginative play but now she seems to be getting bored and maybe you’ve realized just how much she has grown.
Your child is no longer a young toddler but a preschooler now and it shows in her constant questions.
So if the bedtime routine is successful why not create other daily routines for your child?
As your child's first teacher you can help in so many ways at home.
As an educational expert for over twenty years and a parent, I’d like to share with you my recommendations for implementing routines with your preschooler.
The importance of routines for your preschooler
Because bedtime routines are predictable, they make children feel safe and comfortable.
As a result, they may become more independent and want to become more involved. This is a perfect opportunity to allow them to pick out their pajamas, go get their favorite towel or pick out their bedtime story.
Routines are predictable and will help children:
- Know how to do a task by repetitive observation
- Feel comfortable and at ease
- Feel a sense of normalcy
- Transition better
As your child grows she can follow more multi-step directions and independence will start to blossom.
It is important to clarify that routines are not rules. Rules tend to have consequences if not followed. Routines are habits that come with reminders.
How to implement new routines for your preschooler
Less is more.
Give your preschooler bite-sized chunks at a time. Start with one activity first which is the focus for the week. Talk about it with your child before, during, and after the activity at their developmental level.
Whether you homeschool or work and have mornings and evenings with your preschooler here are tips to instill routines.
What if you were to wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual to start your morning routine?
The morning can set the tone for the day and the last thing you want is for you AND your child to feel frazzled because you were in a rush to leave on time for work.
Waking up your child can be so sweet (when you’re not in a rush) You can cuddle up with them as they start to wake up
Gently whisper “Good morning”
“Big stretch now” and stretch together
Play music. An upbeat song like Baby Shark or gentle music to slowly wake up to
Begin the day with a prayer of gratitude.
Here are a few short ones:
Lord, thank you for a new day.
Please go before me and clear the way.
Thank you for protecting me.
Thank you for guiding me,
In Jesus name, Amen.
Father in heaven,
I am grateful for
the life you have given me
And for bringing me to the start of a new day.
Let your strength and your power
guide my steps and renew my heart.
Talk about what comes next, then give your child options.
“Do you want to grab your bowl and spoon or grab the cereal?
Make time to sit and talk with your child during breakfast. Bring your coffee to the table and talk about the day. If your child goes to preschool or daycare, ask about their routines. Did you sing a morning song yesterday? What book did the teacher read yesterday? Did you like it? What books do you like to look at?
Any moment can be a teachable moment.
If your child asks why you can’t have sugary cereal anymore you can explain how sugar affects the body. Any question can become a teachable moment.
If your child takes a backpack to preschool or daycare, start talking about what you put in there. Have your child help you pack the bag with 1-2 items like their water bottle and snack.
If you homeschool your child, get in the habit of having your child put away their dirty dishes in the sink, wash their hands and then go look at their schedule.
Children pick up on environments just like adults. As adults we don’t go to the gym to read a book, the place sets the tone of the activity. When school-aged children go to the library they learn that that environment is to read quietly. Environments are important to learning. Just like your child knows where she can play with toys she should also know where she can do quiet table work.
Here are some quick tips to set up a good learning environment:
- Find a place with as much natural light as much as possible -- this signals your brain to be more alert
- Get a plant (even an artificial one)- a dose of nature can make a positive difference. Opening blinds to see the trees is also good
- Scents-- natural scents have been reported to boost productivity, try orange or lemon
- Declutter-- have bins for easy storage so your child only focuses on what's in front of her
- Table and chairs that are child-size. If they are physically uncomfortable their focus will shift to that
If you are homeschooling your child you can draw simple pictographs so your child can understand what's next.
Don’t try to follow a school's schedule. At this age, 20 minutes of focus time is adequate. Then alternate between energizing activities and focus time on core subjects.
If you’re a working parent who needs to pick up your child from daycare or preschool time and energy will be the biggest struggle.
But remember routines make for easier transitions.
Again focus on one activity for the week.
When you get home, what is it that you would like your child to ideally do?
Do you want her to have outside playtime or help with dinner?
Everyone's schedule is different but here are a few ideas assuming you get home before dinner time.
Play is still very important at this age! Outside play is recommended. In the backyard or front yard. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes or more.
If you pick up your child from a place that has a nearby playground go to it before heading home, weather permitting.
What if it’s too hot or too cold outside?
It is really tempting for tired parents to put on the television so they can rest for a bit or cook dinner. Instead try playing music and have your child dance with their toys or dolls. If you’re not too tired, join in as well.
Routines to add on
To build on that, consider your child helping with dinner. It may sound more stressful than helpful but think of simple and safe things your child can do before, during, and after dinner.
- Setting the table
- Putting food items back in the refrigerator as needed from cooking
- Handing you the kitchen towel as needed (while she watches you, cook)
- Saying grace before eating
- Helping put dishes in the dishwasher
- Reading 3 books to a favorite stuffed animal
Schools tend to have bins for organizing things. This can be done at home too.
Remind your child that if they play with toys from one bin when they are done with them they must put it away before taking out a new bin.
Also, consider rotating bins of toys every two months. Once you notice your child not playing with certain toys like cars, pack them up, put them in the garage out of sight, and then bring them back out while swapping them with other items. This will help with decluttering your areas as well.
Tip: If your child struggles with cleaning up, make it a game. Hold the bin or bag and tell your child, “Let's race and see how many toys you can put in here for the next two minutes, GO!” Then set a timer on your phone.
Congratulate your child afterward, “Wow you were so fast! Thank you for being so helpful and responsible.”
Implementing preschool routines may seem time-consuming in the beginning but the payoff is worth it.
Your child will have predictable activities throughout the day and not just at bedtime.
Routines are important but talk to your child about being flexible. Many children this age may get upset if things are out of routine or schedule. It can stress them out at this age just ask any substitute teacher about how students overreact when things are done differently.
Talk to your child at their level of language. For example, Routines are important but sometimes things happen that change our schedule, and that's OK. Maybe, I’m feeling sick or we have a doctor's appointment or we are going out to dinner or to visit someone, and things will be different but I will let you know what to expect and everything will be OK if it is different.
Having routines makes the days go by easier for your child and your family.
Need more ideas of things to do during free play time? Check out my other blog
- US Department of Health and Human Services
- Hemmeter, Mary Louise; Michaelene Ostrosky, and Lise Fox. "Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: A Conceptual Model for Intervention."School Psychology Review 35(4) (2006): 583–601
- Arlinghaus, K. R., & Johnston, C. A. (2019). The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(2), 142-144. https://doi.org/10.1177/1559827618818044