Following a daily routine at school provides stability for children, allowing them to feel more secure in the classroom setting. The schedule should not be rigid; in fact, the ideal schedule is flexible and adapts to both the needs and interests of the kids, allowing for spontaneity within the structure of the school day. A regular and predictable routine helps children understand what’s coming next, what they’ll be expected to do during each part of their day and encourages autonomy, independence and confidence. Mostly, it helps children feel relaxed and free to explore the room, activities and relationships. I have also found that this structure works well for all types of teachers. It provides a framework for necessary curricular planning and allows for creative responses to “what-if” scenarios.
Generally speaking, the daily schedule should have large chunks of time dedicated to broad activities. It is far more important to have an hour scheduled for “free play” and the next hour scheduled for “outdoor time” than to include a ten-minute chunk for “transition” or “bathroom break.” The broad categories ensure fluidity and allow the teachers to meet the needs of the group flexibly on each day.
Mathematically, sticking to a daily routine allows children experience sequencing first-hand and will help when it comes time for more sophisticated math operations such as adding and subtracting two digit numbers and understanding the order of operations, the rules that define which procedures to perform first in a math equation (surely we all remember: PEDMA or Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally/parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction). The order of routine in the classroom becomes meaningful to children when they realize, for example, that they can’t sit down to eat snack at the table unless they’ve first cleaned the table of playthings (“cleanup time”). This is also true when they are working on getting dressed to go outside. First the children put on their coats and then they put on their mittens. The natural consequence of putting on mittens before coats is that for most, it simply isn’t possible to zip the zipper or close the buttons with mittens on. Encouraging “order of operations” within the classroom structures and activities by allowing the children to see, feel, and experience the natural outcomes of the sequencing hammers the concepts home in real and meaningful ways.
When creating a schedule, don’t forget to allow ample time for transitions which can be stressful to both children and adults); be sure to incorporate a realistic time for clean up, hand-washing, and dressing (for going outdoors), in addition to snack set-up and preparing to go home. Transitions are learning opportunities in their own right! However, best practice asks that we minimize transitions as much as possible to lessen the anxiety associated with them and to increase the time children spend at play.
I have seen a preschool class transition from free play to cleanup time, only to sit at the rug and wait for the whole group to transition to the washroom for hand washing. Once arriving at the washroom, all of the children had to sit against the wall and wait to have their turn washing their hands. Once they were done, they lined up and waited for all of the children to finish. They then went back to the classroom and sat at the tables while they waited for the snack to arrive. Each part of this scenario is another transition and there are far too many. How would you reduce the above-described transitions down to 2?
I have found that teachers who voice the daily routines as a part of their practice encourage this type of thinking in the children. It is OK and actually recommended that you say things like, “First we have snack and then we go outside.” Or, “After you wake up, your dad is coming to get you.” Even though you might think you say these things every day – all day long – young children do not have enough experience in their short lives to know for sure how the schedule works. They need reassurance about their upcoming activities and the way their day will unfold. You can provide that by giving voice to the daily routines in your classroom.
posted by Alison Balis Hirsch