Home and Classroom Routines

Whether at home, preschool, child care or any other location a child finds herself during her day, routines are established to bring order out of chaos and make tasks and transitions manageable. We tend to follow patterns as we go about the tasks of our daily lives—we get dressed the same way, we prepare and eat meals the same way, we greet children as they come into the classroom in the same way.

While we might think of these routines as simply times to be managed, often—especially for children who have delays—everyday routines provide a framework for teaching and learning skills from cognitive to motor. Because similar routines occur at home, at school, and in the community, opportunities to reinforce learning and generalize skills are increased. Here are some ideas about learning that can be embedded in and reinforced during routines:

Cognitive/ Representational
  • Anticipating an event
  • Sequencing events and materials
  • Imitation
  • Attending to task
  • Reading/following symbol or written word cues
  • Requesting
  • Responding to cues
  • Using sign or spoken language
  • Joint attention
  • Initiating communication
  • Turn-taking
Motor Skills and Movement
  • Getting from one place to another—walking, moving equipment (wheelchair)
  • Feeding
  • Dressing
  • Hygiene
  • Responding to facial or verbal cues
  • Turn-taking
  • Imitation
  • Joint attention
  • Initiating

You can and should plan to embed movement, cognitive skills and knowledge, language, and social skills into existing routines by using activities from children’s emergent interests or a theme if you use one. For example, children can have experiences with recognizing and matching colors and learning color names by being directed to sit at a certain place at the breakfast table with a color you name or that matches a color card you give them.

The major tasks of the early childhood 0-5 years are to establish that the world and the people in it as well as your own skills can be trusted; that the world is a pleasurable place that supports your success; that you can do things as independently as possible; and that your skills and abilities will earn you the admiration and approval of the adults and other children around you.

Completing these tasks—creating the personal attitude that ‘I am a competent person’ with a growth mindset–leads to functionality.  Children who can do the tasks needed to complete an important routine—such as tooth-brushing, eating, getting ready to go somewhere or change activities—tend to see themselves as more competent and confident and this extends to their learning in other areas. Successfully completing a needed routine also eases the frustration of adults who are responsible for setting routines and enhances the relationship between the adult and child whether the adult is the parent, a teacher, or child care provider.

Planning to Use Routines

Although lots of learning opportunities occur serendipitously as you go through your day, when you plan for learning the probability that children will use the routine to gain or practice new skills and knowledge is greatly increased.  Think about:

  • What are the things that occur daily—children arrive, go to circle, move into play activities, eat, etc?
  • What things  occur regularly but not daily—library time, field trips or, at home, visiting relatives, church, going to restaurants, going to therapy?
  • Are there skills or knowledge that your group of children need. Knowing about body parts might be a good example.  Is there a routine that requires use of different body parts (any hygiene, feeding, or dressing routine will do.) What fun thing can you plan for the children to incorporate that information?  (a song about putting on a coat [You put your right arm in, you put your right arm out, etc.)
  • Are there skills that only one or a few of your children need to work on. What routine might offer the possibility of learning or practicing that skill? Are there fun ways I can incorporate that skill or information. Some are obvious—a child learning to drink from a cup can do that during an eating or drinking routine. Some not so obvious–when we use visual cues like schedule charts, process charts, or step-by-step recipes for cooking or doing a task (like brushing teeth) children are making the connection between words and symbols—needed for reading.
  • Are there routines that the group or an individual child has difficulty with? Task analyze what is involved in carrying out that routine; determine where the child is having the difficulty; and then teach or provide appropriate cues for that part of the skill. For example, a child may have difficulty pouring his milk at lunch time. Pouring is a very important and very functional skill—it comes into play in many facets of our lives. What supports might he need to accomplish and build the skill for the task. Might he need to be shown how to hold the cup in one hand and pour with the other? Might you need to assist him by holding the cup or holding his hand as he pours? How can you help his family teach and reinforce this new skill?
  • Do your routines include opportunities for children to interact with each other—those vital communication and social skills—initiating, responding, joint attention, turn-taking, requesting? What supports can you provide so that these skills occur during routines. For example, during a meal having children request the food they would like to have passed to them; taking a turn in a greeting or good-bye routine. You can also provide opportunities to learn about leadership by having one child or a small group of children demonstrate for the others what the expectations are?
  • Do children need to use gross or fine motor skills in these routines? They say that getting there is half the fun—it can also be half the learning.  Navigating the classroom or the rooms of the house to get to the place where the routine is performed requires skills beyond mobility. It’s an opportunity for a basic geography lesson (young children begin learning about geography and the characteristics of places at home and as they move out into the community.) You can make the connection to reading also by placing visual clues to where they are supposed to go (fun, even if they already know the way to the sink) such as arrows on the floor (also promotes directionality.)

A Few Things to Think About

  • What are my/the family’s expectations during this routine and how do I convey and reinforce those expectations with the children?
  • What routines are enjoyable for the family/child/teachers?
  • What are adults doing during this routine?
  • How are adult expectations conveyed?
  • Is there a cue for the beginning and ending of the routine, e.g., can children tell when it starts/ends?
  • How many other children participate in this routine? Sometimes having the whole group may make it difficult for the child who has difficulty following the directions. She may need less stimulation.
  • Are there routines that are common between the classroom and home? Are there common concerns around these routines between the classroom and home?

If you’d like more information about weaving learning opportunities into routines at home and school look at the FACETS (Family Guided Approaches to Collaborative Early Intervention Training and Services) Archive. The archive contains training modules that include information on using routines as teaching opportunities in the classroom and at home. It also contains a variety of handouts you can use to think through how you might want to use a routine. The Family Guided Routines Based Intervention (FGRBI) has useful information on working through routines with families. Project TACTICS provides similar information in its modules with an emphasis on how families, teachers, and therapists can use routines as teaching opportunities.

Here are Some Fun, Fall, Leafy Activities You Might Use to Incorporate Lots of Other Learning Opportunities in Your Routines

On your regular, routine WalkAbout (you do do this, of course) have children collect items they think represent fall—leaves, seeds, grass, rocks, fruit, feathers—to bring back to the classroom.  Meanwhile, you can make a tree for a wall (or a smaller one for a bulletin board) by cutting one out of brown (or white if you favor birchbark) paper or by twisting paper bags or butcher paper into a tree trunk and branches.  Children can use their fall collections to decorate the tree and create the ground or grass underneath.

Use some of their leaves to create leaf ribbons for dancing.  Glue or staple their chosen leaf (or you could use multiple leaves) to the end of a ribbon (could be a cloth ribbon, a plastic ribbon, or even one made out of a long piece of paper.)  Provide some music and enough space for them to move, twirl, and swirl like dancing leaves.

Another way to create dancing/falling leaves is to draw a spiral on a circle of construction paper.  Have the children cut out the spiral (or, for children whose cutting skills are not yet that sophisticated, you can take a pattern wheel and outline the spiral—children can then press it out.) Glue or staple leaves along the spiral and use for dancing or hanging from the ceiling.

Other Things to Do With Leaves:

  • Match them by shape, color, kind—then graph them.
  • Make a leaf book—find pictures of the trees they came from to put in the book.
  • Talk about the parts of a leaf
  • Look at them in a magnifying glass
  • Press them between sheets of waxed paper
  • Make collages
  • Use them as painting brushes
  • Boil them and use them to dye fabric.

Sing a leaf song to the tune of Frere Jacques:

Red leaves, yellow leaves
Brown leaves, orange leaves
See them fall,
One and all.
Bare trees gently swaying,
Everybody’s saying,
Hello, Fall!
Hello, Fall!

This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter.