Routines are of the utmost importance for healthy childhood development. They give kids structure, purpose, and predictability. When educators implement routines in the classroom, they offer students a safe environment in which to learn– all the more important in schools. Let’s explore some more of the benefits of routines for children before we share some ideas for how to incorporate routines into the school day.
Routines provide predictability, which children need in order to relax and bring their best to every new experience. Safe, comfortable routines make space for risk-taking and persistence when things go wrong. Without predictability, children can act out or refuse to take part in class activities.
As adults, we’ve generally put the stress and confusion of childhood firmly behind us. We have forgotten how stressful and overwhelming the world can feel as a child. Young students are entirely dependent on the adults in their lives, and at the mercy of a world that seems to punish and control them without sense or reason.
Healthy routines provide stability in the face of this confusion. While children must become comfortable with this unpredictability at their own pace, we can support them by offering healthy structure and routine.
Learning self-control is an exercise in delayed gratification, patience, and trust. Routines provide good structure for kids to learn self-control. In a predictable environment, they can trust in their daily schedule enough to have faith that what they want is coming, even if they can’t have it right away.
Work with your students to create a classroom set of rules you all agree with on day one. Without an accurate understanding of their teachers’ expectations, and the repercussions they can expect if they don’t follow them, student behavior won’t be consistent or predictable.
Routines transform good behavior from motivation-based to automatic. Rather than doing the work of motivating students to behave properly every single time, you can motivate them to follow through with a routine until they do it without thinking. This saves energy and class time. Perhaps most importantly, it makes good behaviors like hand washing and polite manners easy and effortless.
Pausing in the middle of the day to breathe, stretch, and let your brain relax is beneficial for concentration, memory, and mood. If students know that breaks are coming consistently at certain times throughout the day, it will help them build patience and self-control as they wait for them.
Song and dance are both fun tools that you can use to incorporate routine into your classroom. These are especially useful if the routine you’re trying to create is a less enjoyable one. A clean-up song or hand-washing song creates positive, fun associations with those tasks that help students remember and prioritize them. Here is an example of one you can try!
One of the key advantages of routine for children is its ability to give them a consistent, predictable system of rules, deterrents, and rewards. Kids need a predictable disciplinary environment in order to learn good behavior and moderate their moods. Because not all children have this predictable environment at home, it’s all the more important to create this in the classroom. Students appreciate consistency in classroom rules and conflict resolution.
Routine is a great way to encourage healthy eating habits in students. Make sure lunchtime and snack time happen at the same time each day and that they happen every day without fail. Consistency is the key to building routine.
Anything you gamify has the potential to become a routine! Games are a great technique because they are enjoyable enough to help students get past the initial discomfort of trying something new or being consistent with a habit.
There are many ways to use games to create routines in the classroom. We spoke to school librarian Angela Brown of South Euless Elementary School about how her school uses games to create good habits. “Routines create and maintain order in the classroom,” she told us. “Students are more secure when they know what is expected and being instantly rewarded with an Unruly Splat color or sound for using hand sanitizer or completing another part of the daily routine proved to be beneficial for the learning environment.” Check out the photos below of students standing on Splats while using hand sanitizer.
The goal may be to eventually eliminate motivation through positive reinforcement and rewards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful tools to create a behavior without feeling like a chore. You can reward students for independently following the classroom routines with stickers, candy, outdoor time, or even just verbal affirmation.
There is some overlap between schedules and routines, but they are not the same. Routines can fit nicely in a classroom schedule. Routines generally should happen at the same time each day, or alternately pair with the same triggering event each time (e.g. washing hands after using the restroom).
Students need both schedules and routines in the classroom.
While routines are vital for childhood development, it’s worth noting that students don’t all respond to routines in the same way. For some students, such as those with OCD or autism, routines may be incredibly important and feel difficult to deviate from. These students may prefer to perform their routines differently than neurotypical students.
Likewise, students with ADHD or processing disorders may find routines of any kind challenging to stick to. It’s worth remembering and being thoughtful of these cognitive differences and appreciating the unique skills that every student brings.
There are many ways to create healthy routines for your students during the school day. Consider the needs of your students and the habits you’d most like to instill, and then choose one of these techniques to begin to make it natural and easy.