Preschoolers crave structure and routine – whether they know it or not. An ordered life provides a sense of security and helps teach about boundaries, expectations and how to follow a routine.
Why are routines important? Routines can help children learn healthy habits, such as brushing their teeth, washing their hands after going to the bathroom, and getting regular exercise.
Family routines can also strengthen relationships between parents and children, or between siblings, whether they’re built around fun or spending time together. Reading a story together at bedtime or sharing a special snack after dance class or swim lessons becomes a special time for parents and children to connect. Completing a chore, such as feeding the dog, with an older brother or sister helps strengthen bonds between siblings. It also gives both children a sense of accomplishment – the older child in instructing the younger child, the younger child in completing a task that “big kids do.”
Daily routines also help set our body clocks. A regular bedtime allows a child’s body to “know” when it’s time to sleep.
Structure and routine are good for families, eliminating power struggles. By developing a set of expectations – “That’s what we do at this time of day in our house” – there’s no debate about who gets to decide what activity comes next.
Routines reduce stress. For example, when children know the order of evening activities, (bath, brush teeth, story, bed), there’s no sense that parents are arbitrary about what needs to get done when. There’s comfort in that.
Preschoolers learn that life runs more smoothly when things are organized and predictable.
So structure is great except when it’s not. Preschoolers also need time that isn’t mapped out minute by minute. Unstructured time is important to a young child’s development; free time to think, dream or simply relax.
It’s an idea that’s backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). In a report titled, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds the AAP says, “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children.”
The report notes that, “Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.”
So, while structure and routine are important, balance is key. Provide structure and routines to help them feel safe and secure, but give them freedom to explore.
Here are some areas to develop routines with preschoolers:
- Getting ready in the morning, including activities such as going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and packing a snack for preschool
- Going to bed at night, including putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story together
- Regular playdates, which can include time with friends or activities such as going to a library story hour or music time, or visiting a playground on a regularly scheduled day
- Eating meals, which helps children learn conversation and communication skills while building family bonds
- Regular play and talk times with a parent each day
- Story time, both during the day and at bedtime
- Quiet time each evening