The Daily Schedule

A large cutout of a clock with a schedule taped to a window.

The daily schedule orders the events that take place each day. It outlines how events are expected to flow, their order, and their duration (although not necessarily the exact times).[11] Schedules are important because they:

  • Provide consistency and predictability, which help infants and toddlers develop a sense of trust and security
  • Give teachers, family child care providers, and home visitors a framework for planning and making good use of time spent with children
  • Provide a link between home and school and reassure families, especially those whose children are in group care, about what their children are doing during the day.[12]

While consistency and predictability are important characteristics of schedules, flexibility is just as important. This means that schedules can be modified in the moment to meet individual children’s needs or group needs, take advantage of “teachable moments,” and maintain a consistent and an unhurried pace. Schedules can also be modified in the long term as children’s needs and abilities change over time. (See 45 CFR 1302.31(c)(1).)

Other characteristics of schedules[13], especially for group care settings, include:

  • Major events occurring in the same order every day
  • Sufficient time for routine care and transitions from one event to the next
  • Balance between active and quiet times
  • Opportunities to be alone, with a familiar adult, and with small groups of children
  • Opportunities to spend time outdoors

Julia, a MSHS family child care provider, starts her program day at 6 a.m. when 4-month-old Danilo’s parents drop him off on their way to work in a nearby orange grove. By 7 a.m., another migrant farmworker family has brought their twin 3-year-olds, Marisol and Miguel, and a third family has brought Yessenia, who is almost 2 years old. Julia, a former migrant farmworker herself, knows how unpredictable her families’ lives can be as they move from place to place looking for citrus-picking work. So, Julia makes sure to follow a consistent and predictable schedule for her children — breakfast, indoor play, snack, outdoor play, nap, snack, indoor play, outdoor play, and departure.

However, each child’s routine is a little different within that schedule. Danilo takes several naps during the day and has feedings on demand. Yessenia is just giving up her morning nap but tends to fall asleep before the “scheduled nap time.” Julia adjusts to Yessenia’s early nap by saving her lunch until she wakes up, usually an hour earlier than the twins. Julia knows these slight adjustments are important and help each child to feel secure and valued.

Infants like Danilo follow individualized schedules for sleeping, eating, diapering, and playing. A one-size-fits-all schedule would not be appropriate for them. This means that teachers and family child care providers will likely have as many schedules as they have infants. For example, at any given time, one infant may be napping, another getting her bottle, and a third playing with a soft block on the floor.[14] Families are primary sources of information about when their children eat, nap, are most active, and so on. In culturally consistent care, the timing of these caregiving routines and awake times for play in a group care setting should match as closely as possible to when they occur at home. Cultural continuity, particularly for young children, allows for uninterrupted development of children’s self-identity.

Managing these individual schedules requires some planning. Knowledge about individual children can help staff predict when each child may get tired, get hungry, or need a diaper change; in turn, staff can take steps to prepare, such as get diapering supplies or cots out in advance or coordinate care responsibilities with another adult. You can work with teachers and family child care providers to determine how to manage children’s individual schedules within a group care setting.

Schedules for toddlers in group care may be more consistent and group oriented. For example, toddlers may eat meals together, go outside together, take naps at the same time, and come together for short times in small groups for stories, music, and movement experiences. Teachers and family child care providers may create simple visual schedules with photos or drawings that show the daily events and when they occur to help children understand what happens and when. However, toddlers like Yessenia still have individual timetables for routine care as well as times when they need to be away from the group or one-on-one with a familiar, trusted adult. Honoring toddlers’ individual schedules and home culture is as important as honoring infants’ schedules and home culture. Family input continues to play a central role.

Schedules are just as important in home-based programs. Here, the focus is on the infant’s or toddler’s daily schedule within the larger context of his or her family’s life. Because the goal of home-based services is to support parent-child relationships, home visitors can talk with families about the relationship-building aspects of routines and other daily events, the value of creating and following a schedule for their child, how changing a schedule might affect their child, and related topics. Home visitors can model creating and following a schedule by developing one with the family to use during the weekly home visits. Starting and ending the home visit in the same way and following the same order of experiences during the home visits provide predictability and a sense of security that meets the individual needs of each child and family.

One important aspect of the daily schedule is transitions. Infants and toddlers experience many transitions (changes) during the day, for example, between routines and experiences, arrivals and departures, and going outside to play and coming back in. Home visits and group socializations include transitions, too. Each child experiences and handles transitions differently; change is harder for some children than for others, so transitions can be some of the most challenging times of the day. Infants and toddlers rely on adults to provide a sense of safety and continuity as they experience change. Individualizing transitions is one way to provide the stability infants and toddlers need. Read News You Can Use: Transitions for more information.

[11]Koralek, et. al., Caring for Infants and Toddlers, 115.

[12]Ibid., 116.


[14]Zero to Three, Caring for Infants & Toddlers in Groups, 35.