A typical day in an early learning classroom has a rhythm of ebb and flow to it that is part art and part science. Days should have routine and structure, but also have periods of time that are flexible and allow children to make choices: all sandwiched together with smooth transition times to keep the day running smoothly. A schedule for the classroom is the big idea of what is happening daily in the classroom environment while a routine is the pattern and predictability of the day within the schedule (Ostrosky, 2007).
Things to consider when planning the schedule include:
how many opportunities during the day should children engage in free-choice activities?
When will outdoor time occur and what do you need to consider when planning for outdoor time?
What type of large group activities should be included for the age group you are teaching?
When should teachers include small-group activities?
How will transitions be managed in the environment?
What will the routines be during the schedule?
How is my schedule communicated to staff, children and families?
Children need many opportunities throughout the day to engage in play and follow their interests. The most effective way to meet this need is to include free-choice time in your schedule. According to research studies, children are more involved in activities that allow them independence and the opportunity to make choices. In free-choice time, children can also be engaged in social interactions with their peers (Vitiello, 2012). A substantial part of the day should be set aside for free-choice time and can be included in both indoor and outdoor environments.
Both large and small group activities should be considered when planning your schedule. Large group activities are generally initiated by a teacher and could include instructional pieces (such as learning how to tell time, talking about the weather, counting days of the month or week) but are also opportunities to read books to the entire group, sing songs with movement, encourage children to share about themselves, and build classroom community. The amount of time spent in large group activities is very dependent on the age of the children in the environment. Small group activities can allow a teacher and child to focus on a personal goal and gives children the personal attention of the teacher at that time.
Transitions occur in the day when children move from one area to another. For some age groups, transitions can be the most difficult part of the scheduled day. As a teacher, it is a good idea to have a plan in place to minimize the number of transitions and the stress that transitions have on both children and staff alike. Having a routine, song or chant that signals a transition can help to keep children focused during these inevitable times during the day.
Routines are a very important of the daily schedule. Routines can help to manage people and create a sense of comfort for children, families and staff. Planning is a very important part of designing routines and should take into consideration the developmental needs of the children in the environment. The best routines will have clear beginnings and endings. For example, for a mealtime routine, children should know a script of expectations. It might sound like this: “I wash my hands, sit at the table, sign a rhyme with my friends, eat my food, clean up and brush my teeth”. Having this routine that is followed consistently helps children build confidence, independence and minimizes frustrations for the teacher.
Some of the most important times of the day to have routines include arrival to the classroom as well as departure from the classroom, diapering and/or toileting times, mealtimes and snacks, cleanup, rest, or nap times. You might also consider using the same transition routines daily so that children get auditory signals about what comes next.
Communicating your schedule and routines should be clear to all staff working in the classroom, as well as the children and families in your classroom or program. A schedule is also something that (in Washington State) is required to be posted for licensed childcare facilities. Some teachers find that posting both a printed schedule along with a visual schedule is helpful for some children and can also encourage pre-literacy skills in young children.
What are some transition ideas you have for preschoolers? Kindergarteners? School age children?