Toddler activity routines can prevent boredom and help you get things done.

Activity Routines for Toddlers

by Heather Zadig

Toddlers have little control over their daily lives, so they thrive on routines that make their lives more predictable. Establishing activity routines for your toddler can also help prevent boredom associated with too much free time and not enough direction. Good routines are flexible enough to accommodate fickle weather, your toddler’s changing moods and a spirit of spontaneity.

Routines at Home

Keep in mind that the average attention span of toddlers varies between 3 to 5 minutes for every year of age, so rotate activities frequently throughout the day and build in time for transitions. Plan activities according to your child’s interests and strengths, but allow for new experiences as well. For instance, if your toddler is fond of doing art projects, you might have art time every day and alternate between open-ended exploration and specific projects. If he’s not that interested in one type of activity, such as music, find ways to sprinkle some music time a couple times a week in ways that appeal to him instead of avoiding it altogether or making it part of the everyday routine.

Types of Activities to Include in Routines

Routines for toddlers can be as structured or free-form as you’d like and include anything from free outdoor playtime after breakfast to washing up before lunch. Try to alternate stimulating activities like a gymnastics class with calming ones, like story time. Make sure any learning activities are based in play, which is how toddlers learn best . For example, to work on color awareness, set up a sorting game for your toddler to place items in the same-colored containers. Keep learning games brief, and rotate concepts each day to keep things fresh.

Making a Chart

You may want to formalize routines in a chart or schedule if you like being organized or have more than one child. The schedule can be simple and general, such as “breakfast, outdoor play, art time, snack, trip to park, lunch, stories, nap,” or it can be highly specific with time designations and different, detailed activities across days of the week. The benefits of a chart or schedule, even if you don’t adhere to it rigidly, include being able to quickly brief caregivers or babysitters regarding routines as well as having ready-made ideas to fill up empty time or cure any boredom blues.

Getting Your Toddler Involved with Routines

To get your toddler involved and feel more empowered, you can have her help make the chart by cutting out pictures for her to glue onto the corresponding time slot and place the chart at her level. Refer to the schedule throughout the day by pointing to the pictures, which can be especially helpful if she is resistant to move on to the next activity. To challenge an older toddler, have her check the chart to see what comes next, and help her identify the images as needed. For a child who struggles with transitions, consider purchasing a visual timer so she can see how much time she has left. The possibilities for activity routines are endless as long as you remember to include a sense of wonder and flexibility.

About the Author

Heather Zadig is a writer and educator based in Silicon Valley, Calif. She received her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Maryland and holds a California Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential, with experience teaching both elementary school and university students. When she’s not editing the novel she wrote in graduate school, Zadig writes children’s books.

Photo Credits

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