Back to School Basics: The Importance of Routines

The school year has officially begun. Teachers spend a good amount of time the first few days of class explaining classroom routines as well as their expectations. Why do they do this? In short, it makes the year run smoothly. It helps children know exactly what to expect and how to follow the teacher's classroom schedule. There are plenty of new classroom rules at the beginning of the school year, and children seem to adapt to them right away. Let's face it, routines are important! Children, especially young children, actually take comfort in routine. Knowing what comes next brings certainty to their day. Substitute teachers who inadvertently alter a teacher's classroom routine will certainly hear from their young students about how things are supposed to run!

That being said, what about setting up some back to school routines at home? All this back to school preparation is fruitless if students aren't "ready to learn". What does this mean? It means that students need to be "available" to receive instruction. It is as basic as being well-rested and nourished. It may seem like this is obvious, however studies have shown that students are not performing up to expectations because they have not gotten enough sleep or are simple too hungry to focus on the lesson at hand. You simply can't pay attention when your body has needs! 

Teachers can actually spot students who haven't had enough sleep or are fidgety because they are hungry. The signs are apparent. Teachers observe yawning children with heads down on their desks or are interrupted by students inquiring repeatedly about snack time or lunchtime.  Students are "running out of steam" and cannot keep up the energy level necessary to actively participate. Don't forget, many of these young students have gotten up extra early to make the bus and have already put in a 4-5 hour day by the time snack time rolls around. In addition, if they haven't had breakfast, it means that they haven't refueled since last night's dinner. Add to that going to bed too late and the odds are stacked against these young learners. You can have the best, most effective teacher in the classroom, but if a child is not "available to learn" he or she will not benefit from the instruction. Think of how hard it is for you as an adult to function at work when you are exhausted or starving. Now pretend that you have to take an important test while feeling this way. Why do you think schools encourage parents to make sure that children have a "good night's rest" and a "good breakfast" before standardized testing? So why don't we do this each and every day?

Yes, it can be as simple as enforcing 2 simple routines at home that produce well-rested and nourished students who are ready to learn!

Routine #1: Breakfast is a must each day! As my grandmother always said, "it is the most important meal of the day". Children eat dinner and possibly a small bedtime snack, but by the time children wake up their body has been without "fuel" for a very long span of time. This includes replenishing liquids by drinking a glass of water, fruit juice or milk. There are lots of different convenience breakfast options out there so getting nourishment can be accomplished with minimal effort. Even young children may be able to serve themselves some cereal. Also check into the availability of school breakfast programs, some of which are free of charge. If you stick to the "Breakfast is a must each day" rule, children will develop a healthy, lifetime habit of starting the day off right.

Routine #2 : Early to Bed! There is a lot to be said about a good night's rest. Just read the numerous scientific studies about sleep deprivation. Children (and adults) simply can't perform up to expectations and have a tendency to make more mistakes when they are not well-rested. Enforcing this routine is as simple as designating a bedtime and sticking to it!  At first this rule may be unpopular, but as with many routines, resistance eventually turns into acceptance if you are persistent. You will thank yourself in the end. The proper amount of sleep will increase a child's ability to focus and improve his/her overall mood. How many of us want cranky children?  The hidden benefit is that the predictability will help you. If there is a firm bedtime then children know exactly what to expect. Therefore, homework cannot become an "open ended" task. They don't have all night to compete it if there is a bedtime deadline. Having a schedule designates a clear cut opportunity or "time slot" for completing homework. Children may have to start homework earlier in the evening to meet this deadline. Since children are usually "fresher" earlier in the evening, the quality of their work will also improve. Give them a heads up that bedtime is approaching (about one half hour before their actual bedtime) so they can finish up what they are doing. This way it is not a surprise that bedtime has arrived. Enforcing bedtime may be rocky at first, but children will eventually come to understand that it is a rule, just like the rules at school.

Most importantly, don't give in. The benefits are worth it! We all have very busy and unpredictable lives, but these simple routines are too important to ignore. Welcome the new school year as a new opportunity to develop a lifetime of healthy habits.  It is too simple to pass up. Make sure that your children are "ready to learn" by being well-rested and nourished. You may see an improvement in their focus and overall mood. Enforcing routines sends a message that you value their education and want them to work up to their fullest potential. Be persistent! Children are used to following a lot of new classroom rules at the beginning of the school year so it's the perfect time to introduce some rules of your own. It is simply one of the best ways to make sure your child is properly prepared to face each school day!

Lisa Cartolano is a certified elementary school teacher.


Related articles:  Get Your Children Organized in 5 Simple Steps.

See the Little Ones Back to School Special Feature at for more valuable tips to help get this year off to a great start!


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