Sue Cowley looks at the value of sticking to the schedule…
We all live our lives via a series of routines: we get up at a specific time each day, put the bins out on a set day each week and so on. Routines help us create a sense of pattern in our lives – we know what will happen when. Routines are also crucial for supporting behaviour in early years settings. They give children a feeling of security – they know what will happen while they are with you. They help ensure the children’s safety and allow you to manage unnecessary risk, because they help the children learn how to ‘do the right thing’. Interestingly, routines also support the adults who work in and use your setting – they give staff a set of principles and approaches to use, and help clarify what will happen for parents as well.
It is always busy at morning drop-off time in your setting. Parents and carers want to chat to the practitioners about this and that, and it can be 15 minutes before all the children are inside and settled. Recently you have noticed that parents are turning up later and later. The noise levels at morning drop-off time are increasing exponentially, and the children seem slower and slower to settle for the morning story.
Take a moment to think about arrival time at your setting from the children’s perspective. Ask yourself, how would it feel to be a child in this situation, particularly if you were a new starter, or had a special educational need or disability, or English as an additional language? Does the atmosphere feel safe, controlled and contained? Would you know what you are meant to do when you arrive?
When creating routines, there is a balance between controlling the children, and helping them learn to behave independently, and regulate their own behaviour. It is possible to go over the top, to make your setting too controlled and controlling. The routines you create should be purposeful – they need to be there for a specific reason. For each routine you introduce, consider the following three points:
1. What the purpose is – e.g. learning, safety, independence, social skills.
2. How far the children can do this aspect for themselves, and how much adult support they will need.
3. How you are going to communicate your routines, and encourage both the children and the adults to follow them.
When you introduce new routines, or adapt existing ones, be sure that everyone understands what they are, and why you have introduced them. If you need to ensure a prompt drop-off, be clear about the timings and the purpose of this. Explain to parents the positive impact of being on time, for their children. Regular reminders are helpful, but take care not to nag.
● Consider the layout of your space, and how this helps you direct children and parents to where you want them to go. Think about the flow of the space and how you can avoid any one area becoming overcrowded.
● Have visual indicators of routines – if you want the children to put their toy in the show-and-tell box, put the box somewhere obvious with a big sign on it.
● Use images to help direct children’s behaviour – get each child to choose a matching symbol to put on their drawer, coat peg and name tag (e.g. a Banana for Briony).
● Think about how you will meet the needs of any children who have SEND or EAL. Will they need extra adult support during the morning routine, and what form will this take?
● Consider what jobs you want parents and carers to do, for instance, changing library books. Help parents learn to support their children in doing these tasks, rather than them doing all the work for the child. Set ‘Wow’ targets for the children, e.g. ‘Wow: I changed my book by myself!’
● Think about where staff are positioned, and identify roles and responsibilities for each person. Is one practitioner going to register children and speak to parents while another helps children to settle on the carpet?
● Have a timetable for staff, so that everyone has a clear idea of what will be happening at different times of day. Chat through this regularly at staff meetings, and make adaptations as required.