The importance of a predictable routine in preschool

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on January 6, 2012

in Classroom Management, Daily Routine/Schedule

I often get asked to share the daily schedule we use in my preschool but I find it is difficult to share our daily schedule for several reasons…

  1. Our PreK students come 3 days a week and our Threes come only 2 days a week for 3 hours each day. The changes in numbers of children on each day affects our daily schedule.
  2. My outdoor classroom is closed during cold weather months or stormy days  (we have no closed windows in the outdoor classroom) which also affects our daily schedule.
  3. And my daily schedule may not work for your situation due to varying factors such as length of time in class; number of children in class; size of classroom space; age of children and so on…

Starting our day with morning circle...

Our daily routine

I think it is best to describe our daily schedule as a daily routine. We follow a daily routine that is adapted to the children’s interests or needs. The length of time we spend during one part of our day may change from one day to the next but the pattern or order of events throughout each day are consistent and predictable…

Reading a story during morning circle time

A daily routine is very important in the preschool classroom.  Whether you are at home or in the classroom, predictability is something preschoolers need in their lives.  Can you imagine if your spouse walked in and said, “Come on honey – load up the kids and get in the car, we have somewhere to go!”  And then expected you to drop everything, no questions asked, just to stop by the gas station and come right back home?…

Time to play in the indoor centers

Without a predictable routine, we are essentially expecting kids to drop everything and do whatever might come next without having a clear understanding or expectation of what that is. This causes stress and anxiety for young children just as it does for adults and can lead to some unhappy or chaotic transitions throughout the classroom day…

Indoor Center Time

A predictable routine helps children understand what is coming next in their day…

Snack Time

A predictable routine helps children understand what they will be expected to do during each part of their day…

Headed outside for outdoor play and the outdoor classroom (weather permitting)...

A predictable routine helps children be more responsible, independent and confident…

Outdoor play time

A predictable routine helps children be more relaxed and cooperative…

Outdoor Center Time

Our daily routine is essentially as follows…

  • Morning Circletime
  • Indoor Classroom Centers (Children generally choose from math, language, writing, reading center and additional planned activities in art and fine motor skills are at the tables.)
  • Clean up and Wash Hands
  • Snack time
  • Outdoor Play
  • Outdoor Classroom Centers (Children generally choose from sand table, water table, blocks, sensory window, play dough and additional planned activities in science and nature are at the tables.)  
  • Back to Indoor classroom
  • Afternoon Circletime
  • Large Group Activity (or small group activity – splitting the threes and Pre-K into two separate groups depending on the type of activity)
  • Free play in some of our easy to clean-up centers until time to go home.

Afternoon Circle Time

Afternoon Large Group or Small Group Activity (Math Day)

Afternoon freeplay till time to go home

That pretty much sums up the daily routine in our classroom. If you have specific questions or would like more details, you can leave a comment below and I will do my best to provide additional information for you…

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Comments on this entry are closed.

1 pammypam January 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

i agree that children thrive with predictability. i also like to ask them if they want to do something differently (change the schedule around a bit) on a certain day and they are usually agreeable. that’s what i love about kids: they usually think any idea you have is great.

2 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:29 pm

That is wonderful that you consult with the kids on changing the routine or schedule. It keeps them in the loop and makes them enjoy the change rather than feeling lost throughout the day!

3 Leeanne A January 6, 2012 at 10:02 am

I am the same way – we definitely have routine – but no definative schedule – I go with the flow of our day – our interests – emotions and the events which unfold!

4 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I like to have a routine in place – it helps me stay organized and helps the kids be more independent and relaxed. But within that routine, like you, I stay flexible. If the kids are loving car painting – then by all means, I let them paint!

5 Jen January 6, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I am a pre-k teacher and we are required to have a class schedule posted in our room with corresponding times. As a result, I have never thought of it like a routine before with flexible time even though we follow the same routine each day. I love your outlook and will think of my schedule differently from now on.
I am a fairly new follower of your site and would LOVE to see pictures of and hear more details about your outdoor centers. This is also something I have not seen before and would love to explore the possibility of adding something similar to our school day.

6 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I have been thinking of writing on just the outdoor classroom because my students LOVE it. It will have to wait until the weather warms up a bit because right now it is FREEZING in that room:)

7 Shelley January 6, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Very helpful post. I always enjoy your posts but especially the ones on organization and lesson planning.

Thanks again.

8 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Hi Shelly – I will probably spend much of the summer on those kinds of posts since that is when my school is not in session. I just kind of wing it though to tell you the truth:)

9 Karen January 6, 2012 at 6:55 pm

I am curious about what you typically do during circletime. Is it a story and songs or a whole group lesson or something else? Thanks for your ideas.

10 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 6, 2012 at 9:22 pm

This is a great question Karen. Well our morning circle time is fairly routine…

- A short morning routine of hello song, morning calendar/weather, and our Name Game (a name recognition activity).
- Our Take Five and Exercise (five seconds of jumping jacks then arm twists and whatever gets us moving)
- A book that generally sets up our planned daily activities during centers.
- A few fingerplays or a couple of songs
- And then it depends. Sometimes I follow up with a flannel board game or something specific that usually extends the story we just read.

All this runs about 15 to 20 minutes depending on how engaged the children stay with me.

Afternoon circletime is generally music time and on some days, another book..
We also do…
-A book or simple group game I have prepared on Tuesdays;
-Our Weekly Readers or Scholastic Readers on Wednesday (Prek Only Day);
-and our “math bags” on Thursdays

11 Katie January 10, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hello. I absolutely LOVE your website! I have used so many of your ideas of things that I have in the classroom already, but never knew how to put them together. I have been teaching preschool ages 3-5 for 6 years now and am still learning new things. I was looking at your morning meeting and was wondering if you did calendar and weather type things with your 3 year olds as well?

12 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. January 10, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I do a short calendar and weather time each morning Katie. My threes are not big fans of calendar time so I keep it very short and simple. We run through the month and date; count the numbers on the calendar up to the current day, sing the Days of the Week (To Adam’s Family tune), and then we have one child run to the window and tell us what the weather is. The children choose two words (sunny and cold) or (cloudy and warm) and we put that up on the weather board in pictures. Then we move on with the rest of our morning circle. I used to do more but cut back with the threes when the started complaining! LOL!

13 Robin Smith February 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Hello, my name is Robin Smith and I teach pre-k in Texas. Our school is a Pre-K to 12th grade school. Right now we are having a discussion on Departmentalized vs. Self contained classrooms (Pre-K -2nd) At the moment we are departmentalized and I have children hiding and not wanting to go to the other classroom. I was wondering what your philosophy or stand is on this topic…. or even where I can go to get some other resources on this topic. Thank you so much for your time and what you do.

Robin Smith-

14 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. February 24, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Hi Robin,
I have experienced both types of programs and find there are pros and cons either way. For Prek children (well any age really) the problem with moving from one classroom to another is that it causes more interruptions and transitions in their day which can be stressful for young children. It also can, depending on the situation, make it difficult to give students freedom to fully explore their environment because schedules are usually more rigid and there isn’t opportunity to be as flexible because of having to clean up and move to another classroom. Also, younger children need the security of their classroom environment and each new space can leave them feeling insecure – depending on the child.

On the other hand, having each new classroom focused on a specific type of learning opportunity can be a positive thing. For example, we have our outdoor environment where the children go to explore sand, water, science, and so forth and our indoor environment where the children go to explore math, reading, writing, and so forth. Each classroom is uniquely designed to cater to each kind of learning and the children love it. If children are going to different classrooms, those classrooms should not look the same or have the same materials. They should be uniquely designed to provide a unique and inviting experience for the children. Having each classroom uniquely designed will help children be excited to go to them and remove some of the fear or insecurity.

When your students rotate to new classrooms, do you go with them? If the children are having to cope with having a new teacher in class – this can also be very stressful and bring up greater feelings of insecurity and powerlessness. The main teacher should accompany their students in every classroom – especially for young children.

I hope this helps – or feel free to email me if you have other questions.

15 Robin Smith February 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hi Deborah!
Right now our schedule looks like this…
7:45-8:00 Bathrooms to start the day
8:00-8:05( most days) in homerooms putting coats away, etc
8:05- switch homerooms and get backpacks put away
8:10-9:40 class time/instruction/centers/ craft for letter of the week & more
9:45 switch back homerooms and prepare for PE
10:00- PE
10:30 Lunch
11:00 Music-
11:30-11:40- bathrooms in another hall to prepare for nap
11:45- 12:50 NAP
1:00-1:55 class time/instruction/centers/ craft for letter of the week & more
2:00 SNACK
2:30-3:20 centers and one on one/small group time – sometimes outdoor play is included
3:25 dismiss for home

We departmentalized in the 1st place because our principal, at the time, feared we would lose enrollment. Several parents had approached her to tell her that they would go somewhere else if their child didn’t have me for a teacher as opposed to my co- teacher. She encouraged the school board to put into effect, departmentalized teaching. That way, parents could have the comfort knowing that I would see every child. When the new principal came, the thought it was odd that the Pre-K thru 2nd switched but wasnt sure( coming from HS/JH principal and band director) what the best plan was. But with more and more talk, decided to call a meeting and discuss it. Every article I have found, says it is not recommended in the lower elem. We have another meeting set up on Wednesday. Thank you for your time and love for children. I have been teaching for almost 9 years and have loved every minute of it. In the last year, though, I have felt discouraged and overwhelmed with what they are asking our 4 year olds to know and do.

16 Robin Smith February 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

con’t …. Thank you again for what you do… You are appreciated!

Robin Smith

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