Kids thrive on routine. They need to know what to expect and what is expected of them. Think about it this way – as adults, we have a lot of context about what is going on around us. We have knowledge about the world around us, at least some sense of what is coming during the day, week, or months to come. And we have basic foundational knowledge such as a sense of time and how long things will take. Kids, on the other hand, don’t have access to this. They often just move through the day and week with no sense of what’s coming or what’s going on. Routines help kids have a sense of control and predictability in their lives.
We encourage families to create routines with a simple schedule that allows for flexibility. Start by setting the events that never change into stone – such as bedtime routines, meal times, and any other consistent events. Next, work with the child to create a simple schedule. Be sure to build in lots of free time for play!
With schooling at home, think about the most productive time of day for your child to complete his/her work. For younger children, this will often be earlier in the morning as they often wake up earlier. Older children who sleep in later or go to bed later may be most alert in the afternoon.
Schedule in blocks of time that are dedicated to connection – reading together, playing a game or working on a puzzle. These blocks of time help the child feel connected to their caregiver. They also give you time to do what you need to do, and you can tell the child, “I’m working on something else at the moment, but in 25 minutes we will be doing story time together!”
Be sure to schedule in anything that you notice the child ask for repeatedly, such as snacks, going outside, or a specific activity. If it’s in the schedule, you can let them know when they’ll get to it. If it’s not in the schedule, they’ll continue to ask repeatedly.
Once you have routines in place, you’ll notice the child start to adjust. Repeated requests, statements like, “I’m bored!” and constant needs for your attention will decrease. We encourage you to try the routines for a week or more before making adjustments, unless you immediately can tell that it’s not working. Give the routines opportunity to take root before making big changes. After a week or two, ask the children for input. See if they’re happy with the way the schedule is working, or if there’s anything they would add or change. Of course, some things won’t be able to change (they can’t remove school work time and go to an all-play schedule!) but you may be able to switch things around to meet their requests.
Think of how much we as adults crave routine and need to understand what’s happening in the world. We like knowing what is expected of us every day when we go to work, and we like knowing what’s happening on the upcoming weekend. Children need the same sense of structure in order to thrive.