Have you ever had really bad jet lag?
You get off a plane somewhere far from home, you’re hungry and tired, and can’t quite tell what time it is. When you boarded the plane, you were ready for adventure — but now you’re ready for a nap.
That’s exactly how it feels when a young child goes to preschool for the first time.
On the first day of school, children literally have their internal clocks taken away. They don’t know when it’s time to take a nap, or have a snack, or if their parents are even going to come back and pick them up later.
All that uncertainty can be more than a little disorienting.
That’s where a solid preschool schedule comes in to save the day. Not only does a streamlined preschool schedule provide young children with a sense of security, it also helps your team feel empowered and supported, while fitting lots of fun activities into a busy day of learning.
Today, we’ll dive into the tips, tactics and real-world examples for creating your preschool schedule in a way that provides an optimal learning environment for everyone.
Creating a daily schedule for a group of busy-bodied preschoolers can definitely be overwhelming.
Between multiple classrooms, a variety of different teacher needs, and making sure everyone has the time they need to transition seamlessly, it’s difficult to know where to start.
The first step in developing a solid schedule for your school is to look at all the biggest items, and plan around what has to happen each day.
School-level necessities are a great place to start mapping out your preschool schedule.
These are the activities that impact every single classroom, regardless of the age of the students, or teacher. This also includes activities that require use of shared spaces within the school.
Once you have a school-wide schedule in place, it becomes easier to map out individual class schedules.
Some examples of school-level necessities include:
Pick up and drop off times:
Lunch and snack:
Shared activity spaces:
The next wave of preschool schedule items should be a bit more specific to individual classrooms or grade levels.
These are typically items that exist to assist in delivering your curriculum. It’s important to note that during this part of your preschool schedule planning, it may be helpful to work with teachers individually to make sure their needs are accounted for.
Some examples of class-level necessities for your preschool schedule include:
Once you’ve outlined your big ticket items, you can start mapping out what happens with each item to give yourself a bit more reference before jumping in to the more detailed time mapping.
This will help later in the process when you’re deciding the order in which things take place.
Questions to ask when detailing class-level activities:
Believe it or not, even the simplest math can easily go overlooked when creating a preschool schedule — 15 minutes for lunch time quickly turns into 30 minutes with handwashing, setup, and cleanup.
To avoid veering off track with your preschool schedule down the line, there are two major things to keep in mind when marking transitions between activities:
As easy as it may sound to go from something like painting to story time, don’t forget that teachers are going to need time to clean up in between.
Because no matter how play-oriented your school or center may be, you probably don’t want students to be sitting in a circle with smocks covered in paint listening to The Three Little Pigs.
If you aren’t actively planning for these transitions in your preschool schedule, your teachers can quickly become overwhelmed, leading to a day that feels stressed and rushed. 😬
Tips for planning teacher-focused transitional times:
How long does it take to:
Outline class-level necessities next.
Note: This may be better done with a formula you work out with your teachers:
While preschool classroom transitions may seem disruptive when it comes to scheduling, these small moments are actually a super important time for kids.
Toddlers can’t look at a clock and say, “I’m hungry but lunch is going to be here in 14 minutes.”
For them, feeling hungry can be really stressful. Transitional cues are like the hour hand on a clock for young children — and they can make a big difference in the behaviors you’re tracking in the classroom.
Tips for choosing student-focused transitional cues:
Examples of student-focused transitional cues:
Once you’ve got your big items outlined and detailed, as well as your teacher transitions and student cues listed, it’s time to do some serious scheduling.
This is where you put the entire preschool schedule together and detail the timeframes for each and every activity.
Before you dive into mapping out the individual times for each activity, it’s important to label each one with its curriculum goal and purpose.
This will help ensure students are getting enough physical activity, time for rest, and have a developmentally-appropriate schedule to keep days manageable and productive.
Examples of activity labels include:
Kids can only handle so much.
Now that we have our activities labeled, we can look at the professional recommendations for each activity type, and lean on the latest numbers and statistics when mapping out our days.
While you’re probably going to need to do some of your own research for your school’s specific needs, here are some key stats to get you started.
Drop offs and pickups:
For kids 12-36 months old, the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) guidelines recommend:
Nap time needs can be difficult to balance in preschool. In general, recommendations for nap allocation by age are:
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends:
Now that you have the major necessities and transitions outlined, as well as a clear idea of the needs of both your students and teachers, you should be able to block out how much time is non-negotiable in a given day.
From there, it’s important to consider the research and statistics around your class’s age group to develop a schedule that keeps kids engaged and happy.
How to start time mapping:
We talked about the importance of transitions and cues for kids, but let’s dive into the order of operations a bit more.
Expecting a child to sit down for hours on end with no movement breaks can lead to major meltdowns.
That’s why it’s crucial to balance your activity types to keep preschoolers feeling safe and secure throughout the day.
Considerations for balancing preschool activities:
Ensure activities like “circle time” come with both passive and active sessions:
Balance socialization and student-led activities with teacher-led activities:
If you’re looking to have recess before lunch:
If you’re looking to have recess after lunch:
Nap time is usually most effective after lunch or following a calming activity:
Once you have your preschool schedule mapped out, it’s time to start implementing!
Keep in mind that every class will be different, and your perfect schedule is probably going to need some tweaks here and there. That’s totally ok.
How do you know if your new preschool schedule is working?
There are a few telltale symptoms of a broken preschool schedule. The best way to learn if your preschool schedule is effective (or not) is to simply observe your classrooms.
Of course, knowing what to look for during these observations can help you correct things faster. Let’s take a closer look.
Symptoms of a broken schedule:
Problem: Kids constantly playing with the same one or two things during free time activities.
Solution: Put more teacher-guided play in the schedule to encourage interest in alternative activities, or toys.
Problem: 3 or more kids are losing focus during a structured learning time.
Solution: Include more interactive play during learning times such as singing, movement brakes, or reschedule learning time to after a physical activity.
Problem: Kids keep distracting each other from learning or eating.
Solution: Schedule more student-led socialization and social emotional learning (SEL) activities during the day.
Problem: Kids are having meltdowns.
Solution: Move snack, lunch, or nap times up by 30 minutes. Kids may be tired or hungry.
Problem: Kids aren’t eating lunch or snacks.
Solution: Reschedule the more physical activities prior to eating, and move lunch and snack times to be a bit farther apart.
In MomentPath, teachers and administrators can easily add an announcement to share the class schedule with their communities and provide parents with a simple, visual way to see into their child’s day.
Make preschool scheduling less of a headache
Teachers have a lot going on during the day. Schedules are going to shift, curriculum is going to change, life is going to happen. The good news?
Today, there are digital tools that can make these changes easier to manage than ever before.
With fast, visual and digital features that help you minimize chaos during key transitions, automate attendance tracking, and work with parents to balance in-school and at-home routines, MomentPath is here to help.
See how easy preschool scheduling can be with a quick, no-strings-attached demo today.