When my kids were younger, I was a huge nut about routine. We woke up, ate breakfast, brushed teeth and hair, and got dressed. Always in the same order. Every. Single. Day. Not a lot of excitement going on, and as any parent of a young child knows, that's a GOOD thing. When the excitement stays down, the drama stays down, and unless you're hugely into that kind of stuff at six a.m., life goes a lot more smoothly!
Young children rely on routine like you and I rely on our planners. It's the planner in their heads. Kids who know what's coming next are able to meaningfully guide themselves and practice self-discipline. Anyone who's ever spent time in a classroom with young children knows that the more kids can self-discipline, the less the adult has to monitor and direct all behavior. And after all, isn't self-discipline the ultimate goal for people--the ability to make good decisions without being distracted by all the other possibilities?
Whether you're a teacher or a parent, following a routine helps to eliminate all the "extra" barrage of possibility, so that time goes more smoothly. It helps kids know what's next, helps them feel more secure in being able to predict their day, helps them begin to make good choices. If a child knows that he is supposed to eat breakfast before brushing his teeth, and the family always eats breakfast before brushing their teeth, it's one less decision he has to make. That creates a sense of security and stability, so he can focus on decisions that are more age-appropriate, like which pair of shoes he's going to wear to school.
Teachers of young children utilize this concept all the time. When I taught two- and three-year olds, we never varied from the routine. Young children are creatures of habit, and if you vary their routine, craziness will ensue! Case in point: several years ago when I was teaching at a lab school, I used music as a cue for children to come to the group area. When the children heard the music, they would get a carpet square and join us for group time. One day, one of my student teachers decided to play music during centers. In and of itself, it was a fun idea, but it turned into a meaningful (and hilarious) reminder for us all when the music came on and fourteen little children began gathering carpet squares and heading to the group area. As the teacher told the children they did not need their carpets and it was okay to keep playing, one little boy continued toward the group area shaking his head, saying, "We don't need our carpets, we can keep playing." Routine is so strong for young children that the routine will and often does override any other directions!
My own children are now eleven and thirteen, and are at an age that they need to start developing routine for themselves. Making decisions about whether to dress or eat first when preparing for school are important life skills for them. School just began in our city last week, so it will take a couple of weeks for them to iron out the kinks in their routine (and boy, will I be glad when they do!). But in the meantime, I'm resting easy in the fact that developing a routine is a learning process for everyone.
Are there tips and tricks you use to develop routine in your home or classroom? What helps things go more smoothly in your neck of the woods?