School Routines

There are several things to consider when putting together before and after school routines for children, including your child’s age and personality. Something that works for the family down the road may not work for you.

Routines for children

Primary school age children do not have the same ability as you to plan ahead, keep tasks present in their mind and react well to unexpected changes or events. Language and verbal instructions will be next to pointless for some children and they are not being stupid or ignoring you, they are acting their age and according to their maturity. A consistent routine will go a long way to assist you to have orderly, stress- and tantrum-free mornings and productive afternoons that set you up for the next day.

Before starting school or before the term is back on

Routines for children. Young children around a small blackboard looking happy.
Help your child feel excited about school. Make them feel that they have an appropriate say and appropriate responsibilities. The focus should not be “do I have to do it” but “I can do it”.

Motivate: create excitement about school

Talk to your child about school. Focus on what you think they will like such as friends, making things, reading books they love etc. to get them to buy into the idea of school is exciting and the fact that you are supportive and excited about the school and the teachers. This reinforces the appropriate authority of the teachers and the school as a desirable place. The Every-day of neat uniforms, combed hair and homework will come soon enough and they will need the motivation to handle it in their stride. The focus should not be do I have to do it but I can do it. This helps them over time to internalise drive and motivation rather than someone having to ask and nag them to do something.

Taking Ownership of routine tasks

Talk to them ahead about the school routine, from the importance of sleep and decide together what they think they can do themselves and let them take part in devising the plan to reinforce ownership and appropriate control. Make suggestions – can they take the lunch box out of the bag and clean it when they get home, can they make own breakfast, can they clear their plate in the morning and so on. You know your child and will know what may be reasonable to suggest. If you just implement a plan, they can get little sense of achievement out of it.

Things to keep in mind for parents

Routines for children. A cut out of a photo of a child looking sad.
You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better.

Especially if you have had a stressful time previously getting kids ready for school, take a moment to consider your problem issues and your communication strategies. The first thing to keep in mind, and which has been brought out in plenty of counseling sessions is that You can’t teach children to behave better by making them feel worse. When children feel better, they behave better. This might seem a common-sense proposition but that takes nothing away from its usefulness. Let’s look at some common behaviours and what is likely to underlie them, couched in fairly general terms and taken from childhood education and counseling resources:


Kids who whine often feel powerless and like they can’t cope. This can be exhaustion but regular whiney-ness is about more than the particular thing whined about just now. Very young kids may just need to learn to self-regulate. When do they whine? Look for the elements to the day that makes them feel uncertain and like they are losing control where they can expect to reasonably have a say.


Kids who rebel usually need a chance to feel more powerful and competent. Look for ways to let them assert appropriate control of something in their day – can they be trusted to help a younger sibling, to do something for you, decide their bedtime within reason. Find something appropriate to age and temper and your daily routines. Think about your language and make sure you give feedback that acknowledges as closely as possible the skill that went into a task, not just a well done or ignoring something that is taken for granted, like putting away after breakfast or taking out rubbish. Thank them for being e.g responsible, helpful, showing perseverance. Ask yourself in what way are they being competent and showing some effort.

Not listening

Kids who don’t listen often feel that their desires are not being acknowledged. Remember too that they will take after you – if you habitually do not respond timely to their questions or requests, they pick up on that as normative behaviour.


Kids who disrespect you are always showing you that they don’t feel well connected to you. This is a hard one. Think about ways to communicate better with this child – which does not mean talking and making inquiries of them necessarily but rather think of positive activities to do together, having time together like cooking, reading books etc. Can they trust you to promise this and then follow through?

Do other people in authority around you respect you? Kids are very sensitive to how others respond to you and if they see it is ok to ignore you and your opinion always comes off second best, then you are in trouble.

Bossy and Controlling

Kids who are bossy and controlling worry that they will not get their needs met. This is not a prompt to give in to every request, this is an opportunity to look at your family situation and try to identify your child’s particular worries.

Kids copy behaviour, so you may want to think about where your child saw such behaviour.  If they have been exposed to such bossy and controlling behaviour and dialogue, then why was it not checked and attended to by an authority person at the time? Did your child suddenly use a testy reply or snooty phrasing that they have not heard at home, then where did they get that from? What are the social opportunities where they could have witnessed or been at the receiving end of this? Television or other online opportunities can be considered if they apply too.

Taunt and Compete

Kids who taunt and compete with siblings often need to feel more valued for who they are and to feel more connected to their parents.

Routines for Children – Practical to-do Tips and Resources

Get Prepped

There are two things to do the day before. One – get enough sleep, both you and your child. This will make everything much easier for everyone. Two – Get ready what you can the night before:

  • Check homework and put in a bag
  • Check notes from school and sign, get money sorted etc.
  • Check for other things like library day, swimming, show-and-tell etc.
  • Make lunches
  • Set out table for breakfast
  • Check school clothes / Uniforms and hang ready for your child to get
  • Consider doing bath-time in the evening not the morning to save time
  • Get yourself and your papers, phone, computer, keys, clothes, bag etc. sorted as well.

The morning routine

Routine – It is not just doing the same thing

It is true – young kids are not good at time management, they find it hard to keep track of what to do and when. If something happens, like the TV, everything else is gone. It is a developmental stage.

When children know what’s going to happen, it allows them to think independently and feel more in control of themselves and it makes them feel safe and secure. It gives structure not only to the day but to their thinking.

You can help them to feel in control and be the good kid that almost every kid wants to be by helping them implement good routines. A good routine is not just doing the same thing every morning: breakfast, brush teeth etc. happens every day. You might think it is negligent of your child to not keep on top of it – after how many years?

Lists and Visual Clues

Visual clues help them keep track of tasks and motivate them. They can at the same time show off to you how good they are.

Have you seen advise about to-do charts before and not bothered or dropped it after a short while for being bothersome? You have to find the implementation method that will work for your child. Below are some suggestions.


Finding ways to incentivise your child to stick to the routine will reinforce it and give you the opportunity to give positive feedback for the child’s good behaviour and also serves to reinforce your appropriate authority. Avoid it being anything unhealthy, like a sweet treat. It can be a set time watching TV or doing a game or reading a book. If you go for the TV, just remember that you then have to take into account that you cannot expect the child to get up to leave in the middle of one of the programs. A DVD or Netflix that can be stopped and continued at will may offer a better option.

Visual Aids to set out a Routine

Magnet Chart

The magnet chart is commendable for being re-usable and there is a multitude of ways to set it out.

A common version is where you slide tasks from the To-Do side to the Completed side. There is the close-the-flap version and the routine clock version. Examples below. Don’t go out to spend time finding one in the shop. Get your child to draw the pictures or draw them yourself or use icons from the internet or from MS Word. You can get thin magnetic sheets in craft shops.

Daily routines, morning routine
Example of a magnet chart
School Routines 1
Example of magnet chart. From
Example of magnet list. From

The tick listThere are many versions of this. Most list tasks with tick boxes for the days of the week. Try the whiteboard version, the fridge version or the print one-a-week version and so on. The trick is, it has to suit your child and your family. If the task list becomes a chore in itself, you’re not on the right track.

Here are some printable examples of chore/routine charts from the web. Download link next to the thumbnail.

School Routines 2

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School Routines 3

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School Routines 4

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School Routines 5

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School Routines 6

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Stick or Peg to-do tasks

Don’t like the idea of the chart or need something tactile and visual? Try making sticks or pegs with tasks written on them or pictures. Impossible to ignore and when all the sticks are put away, your child has completed the tasks. Here are some examples:

School Routines 7
Task jars. Photo from
Shores, routine charts
Peg charts
School Routines 8
Task pegs. From

Useful sites

Connection Parenting with Pam Leo

The Child Development Institute

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