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Schedules and Routines

Responsive schedules and routines help all children feel safe and secure. Being responsive to children’s daily rhythms shows them that caregivers support their individual needs. At the same time, when caring for groups of children, it is important to provide a predictable daily schedule.

  • Identify why predictable schedules and routines are important for children.
  • Define responsive schedules and routines.
  • Learn the ways consistent but flexible schedules and routines support learning and development.



Predictable Schedules and Routines

When caring for children of mixed ages, you will be adapting to different needs based on children’s individual development. Schedules and routines are important for children and adults. We all like to know what our day will be like—when to do laundry, when to pick up a child at play practice, etc. Routines help us feel that we have some control. They also keep us from having to rethink everything every day, which can be very tiring.

Think about a time when you were traveling and perhaps a friend or a tour guide was in charge of your day. Did you feel like you gave up control over your schedule? Were you anxious about when meals would occur or when you would be arriving at your hotel? As an adult, you have a concept of time, can ask questions, and can try to gain some understanding of what your day will entail. Even when someone else is organizing your day, you can exert some control over what happens to you.

Children are not born with a sense of time. As they grow and develop, they gain a better understanding of time and planning their day. Young children (infants, toddlers, and preschoolers) do not have a clear understanding of time. They organize themselves by the people they are with and the events that occur. School-age children typically know how to tell time and can estimate how long an activity will last. They like to feel more in control of their own time, activity choices, and schedule.

A Responsive Schedule for Infants and Toddlers

If you are caring for infants and toddlers, you will need to be flexible. Each infant and toddler is different from the next. For example, some infants take shorter naps throughout the day and others may take one or two longer naps. As a caregiver, you will observe the infants and toddlers in your care and respond to their needs. As you communicate with the families of infants and toddlers in your care, you will learn more about their schedules and routines.

When caring for infants and toddlers, adults should focus on the sequence of their care and how things happen rather than keeping to a strict time schedule. Daily schedules for infants and toddlers include:

  • Experiences: Caregivers should remain close by to offer support to infants and toddlers as they play and explore the environment at their own pace.
  • Caregiving routines: Arrival, feeding or eating, diapering or toileting, sleeping, departure, etc.
  • Transitions: Times of change that occur in a child’s day, such as snack or outdoor play.

Flexibility is key to caring for infants and toddlers. As a family child care provider, you will need to adapt and change as you learn about each child. Schedule changes, travel, and other events of daily life may affect a child’s day in your home. As a loving, responsive caregiver, you will need to remain flexible and put the child’s needs first.

A visual schedule with pictures and cutouts next to each scheduled section: Crafts, Story-time, Walk-in-line, Music, Bathroom, Playground, etc.Schedule for a Family Child Care Setting

The authors of the Creative Curriculum for Family Child Care provide an example of a daily schedule for a family child care setting. This example is provided in the Learn section handout, Family Child Care Schedule.

It’s important to display a word and picture schedule at the children’s level so they know what activity time comes next in their day.

And it’s important to plan ahead and use information about the children's interests in order to plan activities for your week. Provide parents with the weekly plan ahead of time. If you have a website, you may want to post it there and also have a paper copy posted on a bulletin board in the arrival area of your home. You will have a chance to write a weekly plan in the Apply section of this lesson.


Consistent but Flexible

Caring for children is challenging, and the best-formed schedule, plans, and ideas may have to change at a moment's notice. Keeping a consistent schedule is important for children’s growth and development. Routines help children feel secure and safe. They also help families know what their child is doing at your home during the day. But you will need to balance consistency and flexibility. Sometimes, children find it more fun to be outdoors, and you can certainly bring many “indoor” activities outdoors. When caring for infants and toddlers, there is the need to respond to their very individualized schedules. Taking time to talk to an infant during diaper changes and feedings is important and shouldn’t be rushed in order to meet a scheduled activity. You support children’s growth and development by listening and not rushing a child who is talking to you about a new discovery she made with a magnifying glass. Being responsive to children’s needs and interests will enhance their development. The adult-child relationship is at the heart of quality care and should come before all else.

Families have chosen you to care for their most precious gift; remember that strict adherence to a schedule can sometimes undermine development of children’s growing skills. For example, if it is time to go inside, but a child beckons you to see their recent exploration, you may choose to share that discovery before you resume your program’s regular routine. Use the schedule to plan for predicable daily routines and activities, but also know that sometimes the schedule will not work for everyone and that it’s OK. Be prepared for emergencies to happen and expect that unexpected events will interfere with the most well-planned day.

Your Daily Schedule

Learn about different ways to develop a successful daily schedule.



In this lesson, you learned about responsive caregiving and its importance to the growth and development of infants and toddlers. You examined a sample family child care schedule and learned about strategies for transitions across the daily routines. Having weekly plans and a daily schedule will keep you organized and provide children with a stable, secure, caring environment. There will always be changes and unexpected events, so remaining flexible about your program’s schedule will go a long way toward comfortably handling the main day-to-day decisions you make as a family child care provider.


Reflect on your daily schedule (or one you want to create). Many child care providers indicate that transitions between scheduled activities can be difficult for children. What transitions might be difficult for some of the children in your care? Read the information in, Helping Young Children to Make Transitions Between Activities and decide if any of the strategies may be helpful as you implement the daily schedule in your family child care home.


In addition to planning a daily schedule, it is important to make a weekly plan and share it with the families of the children in your program. The following activity is one example of a schedule format you may use. Review and ask for feedback about your Weekly Planing Form with your trainer, coach or family child care administrator.


Consistent, predictable daily events a child experiences during a day, such as diapering, feeding, and sleeping


True or false? Being responsive to children’s needs and interests will not enhance their development.
Which of the following is not an example of a responsive routine?
A new parent asks to learn more about your daily schedule and routines. What do you say?
References & Resources

Armstrong, L. J. (2012). Family Child Care Homes: Creative spaces for children to learn. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The Creative Curriculum for Family Child Care (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.

Ostrosky, M. M., Jung, E. Y., & Hemmeter, M. L. (2004). Helping Children Make Transitions between Activities. What Works Briefs 4, Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Retrieved from