Schedule vs. Routine

Any classroom I enter has a schedule posted. Typically, depending on the program, it looks something like this:
7:30-8:30 Greeting/Free Play
8:30-8:45 Breakfast
8:45-9:00 Circle
9:00-10:00 Indoor Free Choice
10:00-10:15 Clean-up
10:15-11:15 Outdoor Free Choice
11:15-11:30 Clean-up/Wash hands for lunch
11:30-11:45 Lunch
11:45-12:00 Brush teeth/Potty
12:00-2:00 Nap
2:00-2:15 Potty/Mats put away
2:15-2:30 Snack
2:30-2:45 Circle
2:45-3:45 Outdoor Free Choice
3:45-4:00 Clean up
4:00-5:00 Indoor Free Choice/Departure

Does that look about typical? There are a few things that always surprise me:

First, does it ever really take you a full 15 minutes to clean up? If the children are helping, it actually only takes 5 minutes. I don't even put clean up on my schedule.

Second, why is lunch the only time we have to schedule a hand washing? Again, I keep it off, but if you must put it on, make sure you put it on for every meal; and you really only need another 5-10 minutes.

Third, again, why is it only at the times surrounding nap that we have to schedule "potty" time. If the bathroom is in the classroom, do you really need to schedule this? If the bathroom is outside the classroom, shouldn't you have more than one potty time scheduled?

Fourth, if our purpose of brushing our teeth is to do so after a meal because that's the healthy practice, shouldn't we have it scheduled after every meal? Ideally, this wouldn't have to be scheduled. You would have the children get up from a meal, clear their place, then they would, as part of the process, get their toothbrush and brush on their own.

Last, I find that many classrooms don't stick to the posted schedule, especially in the afternoons. Things start to get "closed" for the afternoon, so it's not really free choice. Circle goes longer (which is okay on occasion, if they can handle it), free choice is cut short, nap is extended as long as possible, etc...

The thing is, if you are going to truly have a child centered classroom, there would be no timed schedule anyway. You would post a schedule with no time limits.

Sure, there are some things that can't be changed: meals have to be at a certain time so that the cook can get the food in and out and dishes washed in a reasonable fashion. Of course, nap time has to be in the middle of the day so that everyone can get their lunch breaks. If you share a yard and have to take turns, then those times are stuck as well. I understand all this!

Ideally, things would flow without the clock. The thing is, they can! If you set a routine in the classroom, things will fall right into place and you will see that (without looking at the clock) things will fall in to a time frame all on their own. Their are cues throughout the day that will trigger children's transitions to the next activity.

For example, the cook brings in the cart for breakfast, the children will begin cleaning up and come into the table. At a certain time of day, they begin to get tired, they will naturally begin to shut down and rest...NAP TIME!

Really what we need to do is create a ROUTINE for the children. We know that children need a routine to provide consistency and security in their environment. What's important in a routine is to create PREDICTABILITY. Children need to know what is coming next; it helps them transition much easier. If I know that when the teacher says clean up there will be something fun and exciting afterwards, I am more likely to clean up because I'm ready for the next adventure. If I don't know what to expect after clean up, I will be very reluctant to do so because I don't want my fun to end.

So, how do I accomplish a well run routine? Start with your schedule, take out the times, and go!

One thing that you want to have is a when I ____ then ____. When I CLEAN UP then I SIT FOR A GROUP TIME. When I EAT then I CLEAR MY PLATE AND BRUSH MY TEETH. When I BRUSH MY TEETH then I SIT FOR A GROUP TIME.

Really, the key to this is to have gathering times all throughout the day. It helps transition children quicker and more smoothly; in a controlled way. If you have a group of children sitting with you singing songs and entertained, you can send two at a time while they wash their hands to go to the table for breakfast. It's much more controlled than having 16 children all lined up to wash their hands, cutting in line, pushing, shoving, "I'm next no I'm next no me!", etc...

So, what does a typical routine look like?

Come in to set up activities and free choice Be sure to have a few activities available at the tables or areas so that the children can be helped to acclimate to the environment with less tears; this way they can see what there is to do without having to "find" something to do, which many times is the problem with a crying drop off
Clean up The children clean up their things then move to the rug; if one child has more to clean up than another, ask the second child to help so that there is less waiting time for him and things get done faster
Gathering on the rug When they are done cleaning their things, they get a book or other quiet activity that is easily put up when the teacher is ready. Once about half the class is done cleaning up, there should be a teacher sitting on the rug just singing songs; that's all that's needed. This is also a good time to do the weather, pattern, flag salute, roll call
Breakfast During gathering, have a couple children help set the tables so they are ready for breakfast
Gathering on the rug After they clear their place, again get a quiet activity and wait, once half the group is there, the teacher should join and sing songs until everyone is ready. If a child cannot sit and keep themselves busy (jumps around, tackles others) they should help the teacher at the table or even just sit at the table until they are ready to sit on their own waiting. This is then where you would flow right into circle time with your book, lesson, activities, etc...
Free Choice Inside After circle, be sure to dismiss the children a few at a time. This is also the time to have those "skill builder" activities or "focus group" times. Remember, planned opportunities for the children to learn are key at this time.
Clean up See above for clean up
Gathering on the rug Do you see the actual routine here? When I clean up, I sit on the rug. No matter what you are doing, when you call clean up, the children will know what to do when they are done: sit on the rug.
Free Choice Outside Same as indoor
Clean up
Gathering near the door Unless there is a need (safety, time, etc...), I like to gather the children at the door, have my assistant go inside to receive the children, and have a song to help transition them from inside to outside. Some classrooms need to do this gathering inside on the rug, if that's the case, do so; but preferably, sit the children facing the door, you sit in the doorway and let children by you one or two at a time.
Lunch Again, send a couple in before hand to set up the table. Once they are done eating, if possible, part of the process should be to get their own mats and blankets out. Sometimes this isn't possible, but they should be doing this all on their own.
Quiet activity on their matsWhen they get to their mats, they should be allowed 1-2 books to look at while they are winding down. Until the teachers are able to begin rubbing backs to help them settle in.
Nap time Once all children are done with lunch, RUB...THEIR...BACKS! This will help keep them settled and allow them to focus more on resting and falling asleep. If you spend the time cleaning the tables and prepping, they will spend their time watching your every move and may not fall asleep at all. If you rub their backs, they will all be asleep much faster.
Clean up mats When nap time is over, have them stay on their mats with a few books until you call them by name to get up, put their blanket and mats away, go potty and all that. Make sure there are no more then THREE children moving around at once getting these things done. Any more and there will be too much chaos.
Gathering on the rug Again, quiet books or puzzles until half the group is done and then a teacher comes and sings songs. This is a more quiet gathering and can actually be a discussion about the afternoon activities, what they remember about this morning, quiet songs, quiet stories. Remember, some of the children are still waking up and are running a bit slow. Keep it slow!
Gathering on the rug Do you see the routine? When I finish eating then I sit on the rug!
Free Choice Outside
Clean up
Gathering near the door
Free Choice Inside
Clean up
Gathering on the rug until picked up I always end the day about 15 minutes before closing and have a story time with a late light snack. 2-3 saltine crackers, dixie cup of goldfish, etc... This is where I have the assistant actually read books (book, after book, after book) while the parents come in to pick up. This leaves the teacher free to talk to parents about the children's day, etc...

One other note, I would mix up the quiet activity available to them. Have a basket that is there for them waiting, the same basket all the time so they know that's what is there to do, but mix it up! Put in books one day, then another day put in clipboards with paper and pencils, then another day put in small legos (depending on the group age and oral exploration), then another day put in file folder games, etc... Something that they can do independantly and remain calm.

No matter how you make the routine, remember the most important part is PREDICTABILITY. I know that after I do _____ then I do _____.

Once you fall into a routine, children's behaviors will settle down and you will find that, without you telling them, they will begin to clean up because "it's just what we do next."


MB said...

I was wondering that about the potty too. I potty a lot more than that, and I'm 32!

All the preschools I've seen don't list the times, luckily. I really like the ones for younger kids with pictures of the actions rather than just the words.

Jenni said...

The ideal is to have those pictures for the children, but some teachers think the schedule is a "parent pleaser"; something for the adults who come in.

Idealy, it could be posted both ways, but it's best in the picture format on the children's level. Even better if you put it up with velcro so that you can note changes in routine for those who need to know what's coming next visually.