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Routines for Infants and Toddlers

Last week we talked about the importance of routines and schedules with our preschoolers.  Today, let’s look at the importance of routines, schedules, and teachable moments with our infants and toddlers.

In an infant room, there are as many schedules as there are infants.  All caregiving is on demand with infants.  With the support of the primary caregiver, infants begin to develop their own patterns for sleeping, eating, and other basic needs.  Toddlers are more consistent and group-oriented.   A consistent daily schedule helps toddlers feel more in control, competent, and secure.  However, we must be mindful to follow the child’s lead and be flexible to handle each child’s individual needs.

Just like adults, children feel more confident and secure when their daily activities are predictable and familiar.  A consistent daily schedule and step-by-step routines give children a predictable day.  Schedules and routines in the group care setting and at home help children feel in control of their environment.

Routines offer the opportunity to build positive relationships with children and promote trust.  Too often, the time spent diapering and toileting, feeding, dressing, and helping children fall asleep are missed opportunities for development and learning.

The greatest opportunity for learning during the infancy and toddler period is through daily routines and experiences.  Let’s explore the following routines and highlight the vital teachable moments that we do not want to miss:

  1. Hellos and goodbyes
  2. Diapering and toileting
  3. Eating and mealtimes
  4. Sleeping and nap time
  5. Getting dressed and undressed

A child learning to say hello and good-bye to his loved ones is a lifelong journey of learning to separate, control their emotions, and establish relationships with others.  Teachers can support this transition by having a good-bye ritual with the family, allowing the child to have a comfort item, and family photos posted in the classroom.   This time is also an opportunity to develop physical skills such as waving bye-bye.  Playing Peek-a-boo lets the little ones know that things can disappear and reappear.  Older toddlers can practice fine motor skills by scribbling a note or picture for their parents’ return.

If a child’s diaper is changed 6 times a day for 2.5 years, 5,400 diaper changes have occurred during that period.  This is an excellent time to focus all of your attention on one baby.   View diapering as an opportunity to spend 1 on 1 intentional time with a single child.  You can talk with the child, let them know what you are doing, sing songs, and identify body parts.

Mealtimes and related activities such as hand washing, setting the table, social conversations, holding their bottle or cup, using their fingers and spoons provide many teachable moments.  Infants should always be held during bottle feeding.  Enjoy having the baby curl his fingers around yours as he helps hold the bottle.  This lets the baby know that he can trust you to take care of him.  Mealtime is an excellent opportunity for toddlers to develop math skills such as more/less, empty/full.  Juicy vocabulary is plentiful as children munch on a crunchy green bean or eat the creamy oatmeal.

Lastly, let’s look at getting dressed and undressed.  Be mindful of all of the opportunities for social-emotional, physical, cognitive, and language development.  Children are using small and large muscles, matching socks/shoes, learning to zip, snap, pull on their pants.  As much as this task can become very tiresome for the teachers, focus on the learning opportunities and the pride a child feels when he can put on his own jacket. 

Routines help infants and toddlers feel safe and secure in their environment. Young children gain an understanding of everyday events and procedures and learn what is expected of them as routines make their environment more predictable. Routines can also help infants and toddlers become more trusting of you as a caretaker if their routines are effective and they feel comfortable in the environment.

As you are meeting all of the children’s needs throughout the day, be mindful to take as much time as a child needs.  Try to make many more teachable moments throughout your busy day with each child’s routines.  Remember the quote: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”   Your time and patience will reap great rewards for the children you care for as well as yourself!

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