Why Routines Matter for Young Children and How to Create Them
Routines help children feel in control…
As an adult, it might be difficult for us to understand why a child needs a routine — after all, it may seem that they have nowhere to be, no deadlines to meet, and no daily chores to run. However, the reality is quite the opposite.
Research shows that routines support healthy social-emotional development in early childhood. In particular, children with regular routines at home develop self-regulation skills, which are the building blocks of good mental health. A consistent routine helps children predict their day and feel in control. It can also help identify and manage feelings and behaviours, which prevents them from feeling overwhelmed.
Young children who learn to do this well at home or school are better able to adapt to everyday challenges, stressors, and new expectations. It may sound like a lot but children do not learn to do this all at once. Just like learning any other important skills, such as reading and writing, self-regulation, too, comprises a set of skills that build over time. Each stage includes age-appropriate milestones and important actions parents can take to support children's development.
So, how can parents begin to set a routine for children? Here are some ways:
● Begin by ensuring a soothing and calm environment for the child. Self-regulation for anyone requires them to be away from stress. The same goes and is vital for children. Keep negative or commanding language at bay.
You could use peaceful background music whenever the family is at home to ensure a relaxed environment. Also, try and avoid discussing personal and professional stressors around children. They are directly impacted by the energies of the adults around them.
● Understand the child’s interests. A routine, in no way, is meant to impose adult expectations or tasks on a child. A consistent yet flexible schedule that accommodates each child’s natural rhythms and temperaments gives them a sense of security and stability.
This creates trust between the child and parent/caregiver and builds independence as children engage with their environment. Each routine is built around daily events and caregiving routines that value children’s active learning.
● Always include outdoor play in your child’s daily routine. It is also best when the child is familiar with the exact time they’ll play, for example, after their afternoon nap. The best and most natural way for children to learn is through open-ended outdoor play. Young children are at an age when much of their learning is transmitted through their large muscles. Their learning goes from “bottom-up” i.e. from their feet to their head. Movement is natural for young children and is crucial for their overall development.
I strongly believe that young children need many opportunities for physical activity. Include at least an hour to two hours of outdoor play. Children need to run, jump, climb, push and pull as they explore. As they play, they develop the ability to take risks while testing their emerging abilities. They naturally seek new challenges as they master old ones.
Natural play spaces also stimulate children’s imaginations and engage their sense of curiosity. The outdoors provides opportunities for them to learn through their senses. When children play with sand, mud, water, observe bugs, feel the wind, watch shadows cast by the sun, they are taking steps in understanding math, science and language — all while building their understanding of their world.
● Plan a set time for storytelling. This could be 10–20 mins. Being read to helps children become familiar with ideas, words and language which lays the foundations for early literacy skills. It helps spark their imagination and stimulate their curiosity. Through stories, children learn to value books and associate them with joy.
● Lastly, always have a bedtime routine for your child. This may include a bath, followed by a nutritious dinner, a conversation with family, and then, a story. This time at the end of the day when spent in a warm and caring way will ensure sound sleep and prepare them for the next day.
At Learning Matters, we believe routines and structures are important for young children and can help them immensely with their mental, emotional, cognitive, and creative growth. We follow a routine so children can feel in control and predict the flow of their day. Within the routine, we allow for flexibility so children and their needs are honoured.
If you have a fun activity you include in your child’s routine, do share it in the comments!