Why Schedules and Routines Matter

First things first. We might think of the words schedule and routine as being interchangeable, but there’s a key difference in their meanings.

A schedule is a big-picture plan for when certain events are set to happen, e.g., lunch is at noon, naptime is at 2:00, dinner is at 5:00, and so forth. Schedules provide important structure to your child’s day—they create predictability, giving your child a sense of both physical and emotional safety and security.

A routine is the way in which you carry out a particular step in a schedule. Warm, responsive, daily routines are vital to your child’s day. The one-on-one time you spend guiding your child through hellos and goodbyes, diapering and toileting, feeding, dressing, and falling asleep helps strengthen the bond between you, creates trust, and provides significant learning opportunities. Routines can be far more than simply being…routine.

Why schedules are important

A collaborative study led by SUNY Albany psychologist Jennifer Weil Malatras, surveyed nearly 300 college students about the level of regularity in which a variety of activities and routines occurred during their childhood, including mealtime and sleeping routines. Results of the study found a link between family stability, time management, and attention problems. Better time management (schedules) was associated with family stability and fewer attention problems later in life. So, by setting and regularly following a schedule with your little one today, you are benefitting your child in the long run.

Having stable daily routines also helps ease stress for children who might be experiencing divorce or death of a parent, a change in caregivers, a new addition to the family, or even a move to a new location. That schedule helps your child feel in control of their environment by knowing what is happening at the moment and what will come next. This enables them to adjust to change more easily.

Why routines are important

Your child learns by observing the world around them, and through experiences during play and routines. Even a routine as mundane as diapering can be turned into a rich learning experience, but not without your help.

For example, while diapering your 10-month-old, you can point to or touch a body part and respond to any sounds or gestures baby makes, e.g., “What’s this? It’s your ear. Yes, you know where your ear is!”

When diapering your 20-month old, you can create an “action pattern” for your child to follow, e.g., clap, clap, pat your tummy. “Can you follow my pattern with me?”

Feeding your child offers more opportunities to enhance a routine. For example, when your 2-year-old is in the highchair, set out cups or small bowls of varying sizes and encourage him or her to nest and stack them. Or, while feeding your 4-month-old, tell a story that includes his or her name, e.g., “Once upon a time there was a [boy] named [Name]. [He] loved to [hold on to the bottle while eating].

During these experiences, children begin to make meaning from sights, sounds, sensations, and most importantly, social interactions with you and others around them. Positive and responsive interactions during play and routines promote healthy development and critical early learning.

Head Start’s Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center explains that when “infants and toddlers are part of familiar activities and routines, they develop relationships with the people they interact with and gain a sense of belonging and self-confidence.” As children grow, they learn to follow routines, thus demonstrating emerging independence.

ParentPal helps you create quality diapering, feeding, bathtime, and bedtime routines, even when you’re pressed for time and resources are limited. The recommendations created for your child each day are built around a set of routines and experiences appropriate for your child’s age, supporting joyful engagement and effective development. We invite you to print out our Daily Routines List and customize your child’s schedule. Then, start making the most of your daily routines today.