Feeling run down by everything you have to do during the day?

Do you dread bedtime because you know it will be a fight?

You and your family (or classroom) could benefit from a routine chart! It’s an easy, interactive way to track your day, make transitions easier for everyone, and increase productivity. Routines are often thought of as chores – things that have to get done in the day such as grocery shopping, meal time, etc. But it doesn’t have to be something to dread! Routines can also be fun and help with those challenging times, like going to the post office or bed time.

Why is Routine Important?

Routine is defined as a sequence of actions or a fixed pattern. While the gym, making dinner, and washing dishes are part of an adult’s work, it is widely known that a young child’s work is play. Making their routine playful and integrating it with yours can make your own day more enjoyable (and go more smoothly) because activities are in a regular, predictable pattern. When transitions are expected, discussed, and supported, children’s language, social and cognitive skills thrive.

Routine is important for young children to feel safe and have a sense of control. Having the knowledge of what comes next can create easier transitions between activities – especially challenging transitions such as dinner time or going to bed. Knowing what comes next in your schedule also helps you plan for your day, making it more fluid and productive, either in a classroom or at home. Education programs Zero to Three and PBS agree that routines build two important things: relationships and repetition which are key ingredients to any type of learning.

Just because routines add structure doesn’t mean you can’t still be flexible! Young children don’t conceptualize time the same way adults do, but if the expectation that nap time always comes after lunch time, then transitions will naturally become easier as children know what to expect. So it’s a nice day and you want an extra half hour playing outside? Great! Just make sure when you go in, the routine is still the same: lunch, then nap. Or maybe kiddo didn’t sleep well last night. No problem! Move everything up by 15 minutes in the same order to get to nap time a little sooner. These transitions can be supported with visual cues, such as a routine chart or a First Then Board along with transitional language, such as “After fruit, we’ll be all done lunch and then it’s time for nap” and “One more minute playing, then it’s time to clean up and read books”.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends that daycares and preschools provide predictable, structured daily routines to support children feeling secure and for teachers to support learning. But this is just as easily done at home with some visual supports and consistency!

Using Storyboard That, you can make lots of different visual schedules to support group play, daily routines or simple transitions such as First Then Boards. Linear (horizontal or vertical) routine charts are often easiest for young children to follow steps and see what comes next in their routine, but circular charts can be used as well.

Routine Charts in Action!

Recently, I made train routine charts with a family to support difficult transitions and help consistency, no matter who was home. First, Mom, Dad and I wrote out the family’s morning and afternoon schedules, focusing on school days. We ended up with two slightly different routines, one for the older kids (school age) and one for the toddlers (three and under) who are still at home during the day. Next we logged on to Storyboard That and found pictures that best supported each part of the routine, often using the search function. Pictures should be something easy and straightforward, so even the kiddos who aren’t reading yet know that it’s time to brush their teeth or read a book. By keeping pictures and language simple, kids and parents can easily glance at the routine chart and know what’s next. Consistency is key with routine. Using the same language and transition cues helps children develop understanding and expectation of what comes next (think of the catchy “clean up” song). Consistent language and songs help support language development as well – repetition and imitation are key factors in learning to speak and form words.

After we picked language and pictures, we formatted them into two rows and as many columns as we needed for the steps of the routine. It was easy to print the charts as well, choosing six cells on a page. Then the kids and I got to work coloring the pictures! I always try to get kids to help with parts of building a routine chart, whether it’s coloring pictures or talking out the schedule in their own words. You can remove colors from Storyboard That pictures to allow creativity and help support language development. We talked a lot about coloring the train, making a blue toothbrush like ours or a red pillow like the one on the bed. By involving kids in making the routine chart, it gives them ownership and they are more likely to use and follow through with instructions related to the chart or any activity they are involved in. For example, picky eaters who are involved in the cooking process are more likely to try the foods they make.

Finished Train Routine Chart Example

After the pictures were colored, Mom, Dad and I cut the pictures of the routine and glued them on the inside of a pre-used (read old and tattered) manila folder (that we also colored) and glued the train pictures to the outside. Gluing was a great way to get the kids involved again, as was using the adhesive Velcro. They thought it was the coolest sticker ever! Making each step into a train car allows the kids to “build their train” throughout the day. It’s a motivating way to keep the routine moving and a reward of “closing the train car” when they finish an activity like homework or bath time. Now each kid has their own train that they can build throughout the day and the family has started getting on the “bedtime train” when all the tasks are done for the day.

Choo-choo! Routine trains to the rescue!

There are many ways routine charts can support transitions, language, and social skills. Let us know your favorite way to make a routine chart or visual aid on Storyboard That!

Image Attributions
  • circletime • cambodia4kidsorg • License Attribution (
  • Homework • Simon Shek • License Attribution (
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