School Day Routines

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Written by: Ruth Bedsole, LPC, LMFT
Summertime can be a time of rest, relaxation, and less emphasis on routines.  However, once the school year begins there is added pressure about work and school responsibilities as well as added extra-curricular activity schedules.  Now, before school starts, may be the perfect time for you to review the routines that have been helpful in the past, consider what works, what doesn’t, and what you might like to do differently this year.
We all need some degree of structure and routine in our lives.  Knowing what to expect gives us a sense of safety and security.  Children find it easier to comply when they know what is expected of them.  Just as Mom may look forward to her morning cup of coffee or her daily chat with Sis, children also need those pieces in their daily lives.  Routines also reduce chaos when we can depend on habit rather than re-inventing the wheel on a daily basis.  We then have more mental energy available for other things. The most obvious elements of family life that benefit from structure and routine involve the daily schedule:  mornings, homework time, and bedtime.  These are often superimposed upon a schedule of parents work, daycare or after-school care options and extracurricular activities.  If just the thought of returning to the school year is making you feel overwhelmed, even more the need for structure and planning!  We know that children in particular benefit from consistency and knowing what to expect, as well as what is expected of them.  So set yourself and your family up for success by implementing helpful routines.  Here are some ideas:Mornings:Have a regular wake up time, determined by how long your child needs to reasonably get through the required morning schedule in order to leave on time.* Consider getting your child an alarm clock to promote self waking.  Even 5 or 6 year olds can do this, and at this age they are often proud of their ability to do so.  You can encourage this by taking your child shopping to pick out their own alarm clock

* Television and other electronic entertainment can often be a problem in the morning routine.  For teens, this may extend to cell phones and texting.  Many parents find it helpful to keep all such electronics off at this time. (Mom and Dad can hear news and weather on the radio or in the car).

* Consider any strategies that make the morning run smoother: making lunches the night before, setting out clothing the night before, etc, etc.


It is best to have a general plan about where and when homework will be done. Try to adhere to this as closely as possible to set the routine in your child’s mind.  Whether that means it being done after school (and maybe after a snack) or after dinner, or at daycare, with an at home review each evening, be consistent in order to set a default expectation for your child.

* Once homework is completed, have a plan for where backpacks and all school-related items should be set out for the next morning.  This could also include any items needed for athletic or extra-curricular activities.  Anything that needs to go with the child and can be set out in advance, should be. 

Extra Curricular Activities:

Have a calendar listing activities on the fridge that the family can all view.  Remind children each morning, in an informational rather than nagging tone, what the day holds.  Extend that conversation to share with your child your expectations for your day, and also learn what he or she is looking forward to for the day.

* You might keep an extra copy of the schedule in the car for reference, and/or one for Dad or other care-givers.

* Identify a Plan B, for how daily routines are managed when activities interfere.  For example, when Susie has dance from 6-7, plan early homework days, meaning get home and get the homework done before activities begin.  Labeling it as such can, again, save you from having to re-create a plan each time such exceptions occur.


* Just like mornings, set an optimal bedtime, and then work backwards, depending on what is reasonable to expect of your child.  Some children can bathe in 10 minutes; others take no less than 30.

* Some children, especially younger ones, will be motivated to complete a bedtime chart; i.e, bath, teeth, clothes, and then get an earned story before bed.

* Rules about television may also be helpful, i.e, what time it gets turned off, or what specific nights or programs your child is allowed to watch.

Routines often help families set themselves up for success and diminish fussing and protests.  If your summer has been more lax, now is the time to start gearing back towards more structure.  Kids will protest, but it is better to work through that adjustment now than during the first few weeks of school.