What should I do with my kids all day!?

Knowing what to do with toddlers isn't as easy as it might sound. Once we have toddler routines and schedules in place, we wonder how to easily do activities during the day, how to manage our expectations and have fun making memories with our children. This articles tells you all that and more. #toddlers #preschoolroutine #toddlerschedule #toddleractivities

Toddler routines and toddler schedules are necessary, but can be difficult to figure out. What should you do with your kids all day? How? When? Learn two basic types of schedules for toddlers and preschoolers, what to include in your 2-3 year old's day, and tips for doing activities with 2 children. #toddlers #toddlerschedule #toddlerroutine #stayathomemom #routines

How do I set up a schedule or routine?

What should we do each day?

Yay! Schedules and routines are great for kids, including our little ones, and they help us have a sense of order and control too. So, how do we do it?

Whoa! Before we dive into that, let’s consider first why we want to have a schedule or a routine for our kids and what the benefit is for us and our children (but, if you’re a busy mama short on time, feel free to cruise past this part and skip down to the heading most relevant to you.).

**Please note that I’m using schedule and routine interchangeably here. While routines can also be for things like bedtime routines and morning routines, I prefer the term “routine” for our whole day, as we do things in a specific order, but we’re not bound by the clock (which would be more of a schedule). **

  1. Kids are afraid of the unknown (as are many adults!). Make their day “known” by having a predictable schedule or routine.
  2. Change can be scary and hard for them to handle, especially since toddlers and preschoolers aren’t good at identifying and expressing their emotions yet. Minimize the amount of unexpected change they go through with schedules and routines.
  3. Schedules minimize “lost” or “wasted” time, which increases the number of things you can accomplish in a day. We’re always short on time, so why not minimize lost time?
  4. If there’s a set schedule, there are fewer power struggles. Kids know what to expect and the routine “speaks” for itself, not you or them.
  5. Routines and schedules promote independence because children know what comes next, which means they’re able to go to the next step by themselves and/or initiate the next task. Will this happen with 2 and 3-year-olds? Not right away, but over time, it will!
  6. Consistency. Consistency is key for a lot of things, and consistent routines help both us and our children.
  7. Help foster stronger connections with our children. Who doesn’t want a better relationship with their kids?? For more on how routines help create stronger connections, read this article from Aha! Parenting.

 

Let’s think about this in real life terms for a moment.

Routines and schedules help us have calmer homes because our kids know what to expect. Find out more about the benefits of schedules and routines and how they can help your toddler or preschooler at ConnieDeal.com

In the example above, it’s clear that Susie has routines and knows what to expect. While her mom could have been more precise with how much longer Susie had until it was time to go, setting the timer clearly meant something to Susie. Now, Susie didn’t do exactly as her mother told her (cleaning up her toys), but she did get ready to go. Timmy, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to know what to expect and didn’t seem to know that it was really time to clean up and go to the store. When he was brought to his shoes, Timmy didn’t put them on, and instead, his mom did it for him. Routines and schedules help us as parents be consistent and maintain consistent and clear expectations, which greatly helps our little ones know what to expect and what to do.

 

I’ve had both a “Susie” and a “Timmy,” and there’s a stark contrast in how I feel at the end of the day between both scenarios/children. Following our routines helps me be consistent, which helps my kids follow directions better and more often. This makes our whole day go more smoothly, leading to more fun being had by all and more activities being done throughout the day.  While I’m still tired at the end of the day (have you met a mom who isn’t tired!?), I don’t feel as worn out, beat up, and in “need” of a drink at the end of a day when we’re on point and have followed our routines. But, I understand that as parents, especially stay-at-home moms, it’s easy to be inconsistent and keep brushing off what we “need” to do and “should” do. This is where a schedule/routine comes in, as it’ll hold us accountable while helping our little ones know what to expect throughout their day. 

Now that we know why routines and schedules are important, let’s think about what we want our children to LEARN so that we know what to include in our daily schedule.

 

Suggestions for things to incorporate into your child’s day:

  • Reading
  • Math
  • Fine motor skills (pre-writing activities)
  • Large/gross motor
  • Music/dance
  • Science
  • Social skills
  • Sensory
  • Art/crafts
  • Problem-solving and logic activities (puzzles, games, etc)
  • Engineering or building activities
  • Speaking
  • Vocabulary development (probably part of all of the above)
  • Life skills (brushing teeth, getting dressed, manners, etc.)

 

You could also focus on specific skills that you want your child to learn. Write goals for your child and break down the goals into smaller goals/skills and do activities around those goals.

 

There are a few ways to do this.

  • One way is to incorporate as much of this as you can into each day. Keep in mind that most toddlers and preschoolers can focus on one activity for 3-15 minutes, depending on their age, time of day, the activity, how tired/hungry they are, and other factors like that. And, many activities incorporate more than one of the areas above.
  • Another way is to focus on one (or two) skills/areas each day. For example, math Monday, Science Saturday, etc. 

 

Don’t forget to leave time for unstructured play or “free play,” as there is a lot of value in “just” playing. Remember, play is learning!


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Sample schedules

“The Everything Approach” and “The Targeted Approach”

 

The Everything Approach

Do ALL the areas every day.

 

This schedule is for a toddler and preschooler, based on one parent staying home. Activities are blocked at 20 minutes, which should give you time for setup and cleanup. The activity itself probably runs 10-15 minutes. The more “academic” stuff is done in the morning when kids are fresher and generally more attentive.

 

6-6:30 Breakfast

6:30-7:00 Kitchen clean up, get dressed, teeth brushed, and get ready for your day

7:00-7:20 Fine motor skills

7:20-7:40 Dancing and singing (could do theme related to increase vocabulary, but the point is to take a little break and get some energy out)

7:40-8:00 Math activity

8:00-8:20 Gross motor movement (active game, running around, etc)

8:20-8:40 snack break

8:40-9:00 Reading

9:00-9:20 Art/craft

9:20-9:40 Science

9:40-10:00 Problem solving/logic

 

Most toddler and preschooler activities (story time, open gyms, etc.) seem to start around 10am, so if you’re going to one of these or doing morning errands, move the activities after 9am to after your child’s nap time.  If you’re staying home, do free/unstructured play until lunch and/or nap time.

 

11:45  lunch time

12:15 nap time

2:00 Mommy/Daddy and Me time for preschooler

2:30/3pm Both kids are up. Snack time.

3:20-4:20 Art, science and problem solving if not done in the morning. If you did these in the morning, do sensory play and engineering/building activity.

4:20-5:00 Free play

5:00-5:30 start cleaning up toys and help with dinner prep

5:30-6pm dinner time

6pm Family time until bedtime


The Targeted Approach

(Focus on 1-2 subject areas per day, get everything in throughout the week)

Note: kids help with almost everything. They feed the dogs, help water the plants (garden), pick the fruit, help with cleaning, etc, so all times are approximate.

 

6-6:30 Breakfast and feed dogs

6:30-7:00 Kitchen clean up, get dressed, teeth brushed, and get ready for your day

7:00- 7:45 Unstructured free play and water plants outside/care for garden

7:45-8:00 Reading

8:00-8:30 playful learning activity #1

8:30-8:45 clean up and snack

8:45-9:00 vocabulary enrichment (Spanish practice for us)

9:00-11:00 playdates, errands, music class, park, etc.

11:00-11:45 free play

11:45  lunch time

12:15 nap time

2:00 Mommy/Daddy and Me time for preschooler

2:30/3pm Both kids are up. Snack time.

3:00-3:30 playful learning activity #2 (based on our theme or what the kids are interested in)

3:30-4:00 sensory play or outdoor free play

4:00-5:00 Free play

5:00-5:30 start cleaning up toys and help with dinner prep

5:30-6pm dinner time

6pm Family time until bedtime

 

To incorporate all the subject areas, we do:

Monday: math

Tuesday: reading/language

Wednesday: science/engineering

Thursday: puzzles/logic and music

Friday: art/crafts

Both schedules assume that social skills are embedded into your day and taught as needed. Speaking is also embedded into the day, and conversations are used as a way to fill time (like playing games while waiting somewhere).  

 

Finding a schedule that works for you might involve a little bit of trial and error. I suggest using either of these samples as a starting point and adjusting according to your activities, wake-up time and nap times, etc. Once you fine tune your schedule, you might want to consider a visual schedule for your child. A visual schedule (pictures of what the activity or next thing is) helps kids “read” the schedule independently.

 

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Tips and Strategies for doing activities with 2 or more toddlers or preschoolers

  • Same activity, but different levels.
    • The younger child is watched closer and guided and helped more than the older child.
    • The younger child might just be exploring the activity and/or observing while the older child does the activity.
    • The discussion is with the older child and it is about the exposure for the younger child. Of course, they won’t get the same thing out of the activity, but the exposure to it is great for the younger child.
    • Have something ready for the younger child to do when he/she loses interest and needs a change in direction. When he or she has lost interest, let your child go do something else. Learning and activities should be fun!
      • Ideas: blocks, play dough, free play, snack time, books, basically anything they are interested in and can do independently.
  • The older child could be the model for the younger child. The younger child copies what the older sibling does.
  • Two separate work areas might be helpful depending on your space, children, and the activity.
  • Consider giving each child his/her own supplies so that sharing isn’t needed and the focus can be on the activity.
  • There is no one “right” way to do most activities, so it’s okay if your child doesn’t do it “right” and does his/her own thing. This is part of your child developing at his/her own pace and exploring his/her world.
  • Make sure you have clear expectations for how you want or need your children to help before, during, and after the activity. Are they allowed to get up and walk around? Do they help clean up? If so, how?
    • Sometimes, especially with younger children, leaving the activity out so they can come back to it helps. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to try when you can.
  • Keep trying. It’s not always easy. It likely won’t be smooth sailing right out the gates. But, it does get easier.
  • Your children may not understand the activity the first time you do it and that’s ok. Repeat the activity another time. They’ll learn from the previous activity and start exploring more and making more inferences and connections the more practice and experience they have. It’s good for them to have exposure to new things. Perfection and mastery aren’t needed right now and they’re not the goal. 


Tips for making cleaning up after toddler activities easier. Controlling the mess and making activities take less time to set up and clean up after is key to actually DOING messy activities with toddlers and preschoolers. Find out more at ConnieDeal.com!

How do I make setting up and cleaning up activities easy with two kids?

  • Be clear on your expectations. Write them down if needed. Communicate this with your children and tell them what you need them to do.
  • Keep activities as simple as possible.
  • Keep your supplies organized. This includes making the time to put them away after an activity or at the end of each day!
  • Some people do really well with setting up their activities the night before, or even for the week ahead. Others prefer to gather supplies the morning of the activities or right before the activities. Try both and use what works for you!
  • Use what you have and adapt as needed. Remember, there’s no one right way to do an activity, and it’s ok to try new things.
  • Have something ready for your children to do after the activity so that you can clean up and properly put things away. Involve the kids as much as possible in the cleanup, even if it’s cumbersome at first. They’ll eventually learn and get the hang of it, making it easier for you.
  • Get a plastic shower curtain or tablecloth and use it to cover the floor for messier activities. It makes cleaning up a LOT easier!
    • This also works well for stuff like playing with blocks. Putting down a sheet (or tablecloth or shower curtain) makes cleaning up easier because kids don’t spread them out as far and you can grab the corners of the sheet and get the blocks in a nice neat pile in the middle.
  • Put clear contact paper on a table that’s used frequently for messy play. When the contact paper is too messy and hard to clean, lift it up and put a new piece down.
  • Use plastic placemats as work mats, as this defines their space better, keeping supplies and the “mess” consolidated. Plus, you can wipe the placemat off afterward. You could also make a work mat by putting contact paper over construction paper or a file folder.


A Few Thoughts About Expectations…

It can be SUPER frustrating when we’re trying to do something and our little ones aren’t cooperating. Or, we tell them to do something and they don’t follow through and do it. So, let’s try to think of ways to set ourselves and our children up for success before we even begin.

 

Questions to consider:

  1. What do you want your child to do?
  2. How are you going to help him/her do this?
  3. How can you say or show your child in a way that he/she will understand?
  4. What will happen if your child doesn’t listen?

Be CLEAR and SPECIFIC!

 

Here’s an example of how you might introduce an activity and set expectations:

“I have a game I’d like to play with you. Would you like to play a game?” (wait for a response, which will likely be, “yes.”).

“Great! I’m excited to play a game with you. But, first, I need to tell you how the game works. Then, we’ll review the rules before we start playing the game….. (explain activity)… Any questions?” (wait for a response).

“During this game, if you’re not following directions and are being unsafe, I’ll give you 3 chances before we’ll need to put the game away.”  

I always ask for some sort of acknowledgment. I noticed that if I ask Sweet Pea if she understands, she often says, “no” because she doesn’t like what I said. So, I’ve changed it to asking her to acknowledge it instead and that seems to be helping.

 

ALL this being said, we’re learning through play, so it’s ok if your little one isn’t super serious about the activity or only does it for a few minutes. You need to start somewhere and build up from there. 

 

If your child loses interest, try watching what they’re doing instead and ask questions about it. Using, “I wonder what would happen if…” statements can help guide your little one back towards the activity (Check out my Connecting with Children through Conversations Guide for additional ideas!). Or, simply keep playing/doing the activity and talk enthusiastically/excitedly about what you’re doing. Often, when kids see that we’re interested in something, they want to do it too. 🙂 You can also try leaving the activity out so that your little one can come back to it later. 

Connect with Children through Conversations Guide is for parents who are tired of not knowing how to get quality answers from their kids and who are tired of activities not going well. Learn simple strategies for tweaking what you're already doing so that your questions are more efficient and you're learning more and talking with your children instead of at them.

 


 

Phew! That’s a lot! But, hopefully, now you know how to go about structuring your day and creating a predictable routine or schedule for you and your family. And going along with that is the other fun stuff of actually DOING activities with our kids. If we’re going to go through the trouble of figuring out how to incorporate learning into our day AND do it in a cohesive, well-rounded manner, we might as well talk about how to make that process a little easier, right? 🙂  You might also be interested in my Strategies for Controlling Summer Chaos Guide, which you can download here.

Summer can be a challenging time for parents. Tips for making summer easier for parents while the kids are out of school, tips for getting organized and creating schedules and routines. FREE download available at conniedeal.com

 

 

For more information about the importance of play and letting children focus, work, and find their own fun, please read this article by Janet Lansbury.

Calling all Toddler Moms! Beta Testers are needed for the Lessons and Learning for Littles Academy. Receive activities in exchange for your honest feedback. Plus, receive exclusive discounts and bonuses when the Academy starts this fall. Art activities for toddlers, science activities for toddlers, learning through play, themed reading activities for toddlers are all included in this exclusive program! Don't miss out on your chance to jump on board and get started teaching your toddler in easy but purposeful ways from the comfort of your home!

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Toddler routines and toddler schedules are necessary, but can be difficult to figure out. What should you do with your kids all day? How? When? Learn two basic types of schedules for toddlers and preschoolers, what to include in your 2-3 year old's day, and tips for doing activities with 2 children.  Knowing what to do with toddlers isn't as easy as it might sound. Once we have toddler routines and schedules in place, we wonder how to easily do activities during the day, how to manage our expectations and have fun making memories with our children. This articles tells you all that and more. #toddlers #preschoolroutine #toddlerschedule #toddleractivities

Connie Deal
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Connie Deal

I'm the mom of two little ones (3yo and 1.5yo), and 3 dogs. I'm a former classroom teacher turned SAHM, so I spend my day "doing activities" and science 'speriments in between mediating sibling squabbles and working during nap time. I'm powered by caffeine (not coffee!), and I love helping others, especially fellow mom and their toddlers. Together, we can achieve great things AND prepare your toddler for kindergarten!
Connie Deal
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23 Comments

  1. Kenya says:

    This is very helpful! I need to get my kids on a detailed schedule because as of right know we have a set bed time a set nap time and a set wake up time and that’s about it ! But maybe this is needed especially considering my kid won’t be in school until late august ! You posted this just in time !! THANKS

  2. Sumer says:

    We love structure and routine around here!! I have to admit during the summer we get a bit “lazy” with our routine, but I know how well my kiddos thrive when we have a structured day. It’s so important for them to know what to expect…helps their behavior SO much!

  3. Kelly says:

    We definitely thrive on routine and I think the flow of our day is much smoother when my kiddos know what to expect!

  4. These are great ideas! We are in a summer slump and these are motivating me to do some more activities with my preschooler and toddler!

  5. Danielle Thomas says:

    I have three kids, ages 7, 4, & 2.5, and I have never had a routine with them. It was very difficult with my work schedule in the past. Now, I’m in school and no longer work outside the home. Our lives are chaos and I feel like I’m failing my kids.

    Reading through this has helped me realize that we need a routine. It seems so intimidating to me, but i’m going to give it a try. Thanks for sharing this!!

    • Connie Deal says:

      Hugs, mama! I’m sure you’re doing your best, even if it feels a bit chaotic right now. I’m glad you found my post though and are going to give it a try. Please reach out to me if you’d like any help. I’m in the process of expanding this into a course and could use more input from moms.

  6. Thankyou for the info very helpful for me as I am a grandma raising a toddler and am blessed to be able to stay home but I had forgotten what a handful toddlers can be I very much enjoyed this article and definitely need some help in this area! For my grandson to have the best chance and start in school and for my sanity as I babysit my other grand children throughout the week as well! It’s a bit overwhelming though without a set routine and fun activities for them that incorporate learning!! Please help me with that. That is where I get stumped? They are 2 yrs, 3 yrs, 1 and half and 9 months do very busy here and want some more smoothness I can’t wait to try but needed guidance my self.

  7. Thanks again I can’t wait to dive in thankyou for this valuable info and guidance

  8. […] Schedules are great for toddlers and preschoolers (and kids in general!). But, it can be SO difficult to stick to a routine or schedule, especially as a stay-at-home mom without a “real” need to stick to a schedule or routine. Check out my tips for creating a routine or schedule that works for you and your family here. […]

  9. […] to your regular schedule or routine as much as possible. Keep nap times, meal times, and bedtime as close to their normal times as you […]

  10. Erin says:

    I really like the targeted approach! The Everything approach seems like a lot for a 2 year old and that seems like a lot of planning- have you done this method successfully with kids that young, or is that more for 3-4 year olds? How do you stay on top of planning all of those activities each day?

    Thanks!

    • Connie Deal says:

      Hi Erin,

      Great questions! I can’t do the “Everything Approach” for more than a few days. It just doesn’t work for me personally, which is why I’m guessing it doesn’t work well for my kids. Something always comes up, even if it’s just someone popping over to say, “hi.” So, we do the “Targeted Approach,” as this allows for more flexibility, and that works for us. Planning activities- to be honest, I’m mostly a “throw it out on the table and let’s do it!” type of person. Outside of The Academy, I don’t do a lot of planning in advance. We have our craft, science, and math stuff organized so that it’s easy to grab stuff and just DO. Most of the time, it’s 3-5 minutes from me asking the kids if they want to do an activity, or them requesting to do an activity until we start doing something together. When choosing stuff, I also try to think of things we haven’t done in a while and go from there with an activity.

      Hope this helps! Please let me know if you have more questions.

      Connie

  11. Rachel says:

    Great schedule/routine! When do you do your cleaning, cooking and running errands?

    • Connie Deal says:

      Hi Rachel. We usually do errands in the morning, on the days we don’t have a kid activity planned. That keeps our mornings mostly consistent across all weekdays. Cleaning is integrated throughout the day/week. I involve the kids when I can and otherwise, I do cleaning while they’re napping or doing something independent (because sometimes it’s nice to just get that cleaning done without helping hands and usually people avoid cleaning, so it results in quiet time for me). Cooking- a combination of meal planning for the week and grocery shopping on Sunday, cooking together, and cooking while they’re doing something independent in or near the kitchen.

  12. Vanessa says:

    This was a great read! It is helpful to get preschoolers going on something and then let them take over and finish.

  13. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for sharing! Timers are such great tools for kids!

  14. Bianca says:

    Hi there, Im a stay at home mom with 2 toddlers only 14months apart.my dauhgter is almost 3 and gets very frustrated when she gets bored.little one and a half year old brother is just taggong along after example .lol.I really want to homeschool and think getting a routine first will help alot .thank you so much!

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