There’s no getting around it - routines are important. We recognize this fact as adults - we need routines in our household to thrive - but routine is actually exceedingly important for our kids.
Establishing Routines in a Montessori Home
Routines are important for young children in order for them to feel safe and confident in exploring their environment. It is for this reason that Montessori learning environments are structured just enough to encourage the development and reinforcement of daily routine. Specific times for learning, play, outdoor activities, meals, and rest are all critical components of any child’s day.
Establishing these routines in a Montessori household can be both challenging and extremely rewarding. Since your child is constantly in a Montessori environment at home, you have the ability to construct their entire day around positive routines that reinforce the skills and behaviors they’re learning.
Children need routines to feel confident and secure, and they hold regularly occurring events in high regard. Even something that seems simple, like family dinner or cleaning up the yard together, can become a cherished memory. Home routines also naturally grant children space to develop their practical life skills, which foster independence and self-reliance.
The importance of routines in a Montessori home
As stated previously, routines make children feel secure. More than that, routines show them that certain tasks are important enough to do daily. Helping you do the dishes, cleaning up after themselves, eating breakfast, and making time for specific activities gives the day a rhythm to follow.
For instance, start your day with breakfast and then create a block of time for them to learn, snack, outdoor time - whatever works for your family. What’s important is that it becomes routine in an effort towards “normalization”. When your behaviors and routines become normalized, your child will come to expect them. This gives them the opportunity to understand the flow of their day. Knowing what comes next allows them to immerse in learning time more thoroughly.
Finally, routines are foundational to the concept of positive discipline. Instead of negatively reacting to undesired behavior, positive discipline uses kind words to explain the reason why something is or isn’t acceptable. Ensuring that your child feels safe (avoiding punishment, for example, as a reaction to their undesired behavior) will make it easier for them to model your good behavior. Routines help you model consistent, desirable behavior and positive discipline will ensure they understand why your behavior is what they should follow.
How to implement Montessori homeschool routines
As you begin to implement your daily routines, it’s important to think about how you’ll work with your child to transition from one part of the routine to another. Remember - change is hard. And for small children, this includes small changes. For example, transitioning from eating snacks to cleaning up might be easy for you (you can tell time after all!) but your little one may not feel the same way.
One way to ensure a smoother transition is to use cues. You can experiment with different cues to see which your child responds best to, but auditory cues are often the easiest to catch onto. This might involve singing/playing a song, ringing a bell, or clapping a certain rhythm. You can also use your environment, such as turning on the water to signal bath time is near. Just make sure that whatever cues you use are not overwhelming or too fleeting.
Begin Building Routines
These strategies will help you start your daily routines in a way that uses your existing routines as a basis. It’s likely to be difficult at first, especially if you have a morning routine that isn’t consistent or organized, but children are remarkably pliable and will fall into rhythm quickly.
The best place and time to start is as soon as your child wakes up. Having consistent waking times will help your child start a rhythm that flows naturally throughout the day. Morning is a great time to engage in practical life activities they can do themselves, including:
- Making their own breakfast
- Dressing themselves
- Making their bed
- Cleaning up after themselves/helping to clear the table
Each of these activities fosters self-reliance and also creates a sense of responsibility. Helping with cleanup also makes them feel needed and naturally know they’re an important part of the household. It’s critical that you set up accessible stations for your child for toothbrushing, clothing or any other self-care necessities.
From here, you can encourage your child to explore and learn on their own. Extend independent play time for several hours and then create a mid-morning break for snack, rest, or to change activities.
Tips for morning routines
Set up your home so that activities like making their bed or making breakfast are easy for your child. This will not only be good for your child, but great for you. While your children see to themselves, you should take this as a time to respond to emails or do your general work.
The transition between waking, breakfast, and morning play is a great time to set up your day as well. Plan your tasks, work on cleaning if necessary, or tend to any other household tasks.
It’s also a good idea to let your younger children play near you. Whether this means you set up a station for them to play where you work, or you set up on the floor near them while you use your computer. No matter how you do it, they learn they can be independent but still near you.
Don’t get hung up on your morning routine not going perfectly. There will be days that you or your children don’t sleep well, or just feel off. This can make the morning slow, or cranky - be kind to yourself and let your child express themselves.
Mid-morning to lunch
Mid-morning is a great time to transition to a new activity or learning time. This is a good time to encourage your child to create their own snack; plating their own crackers or getting cheese/fruit and pouring their own drink fosters motor skills and, again, self-reliance.
If weather permits, mid-morning is a good time to go outside and experience nature. You can read with your child, or if they’re old enough, have them read to you. Allow them to explore ideas that are exceptionally interesting to them, like music or art, and allow them to take you along for the experience.
This is particularly fertile learning time, so be present and engaged but ensure you’re not directing the action. Still allow your child to lead the learning, but be there and show interest.
At lunch time, have them help you prepare the food - putting sandwiches together or pouring drinks is a simple and safely repeatable activity that they will love. Clean up after yourself and have them do the same, again driving home the concept of being responsible for their space.
Set up your day so that your mid-morning/lunch time is wholly dedicated to them if you can. Interact, listen to and engage with your children. Don’t schedule work calls or appointments during this time if possible.
If your child is immersed in something, now is a good time to do quick chores or other minor necessities around the house.
Immediately after lunch is a good time to have naps or quiet time. Allow your child to read quietly, color, draw, or anything else that is unfocused and pleasant. Play low-energy music, turn down the lights or draw the curtains, and ensure they have this time to relax.
Having a period of quiet allows them to recover from the morning’s learning, and encourages them to self-regulate periods of energetic play and stress. This is a good time to get labor-intensive work done, calls, or if you have the opportunity of someone else watching your child, go to appointments.
Tips for early afternoon
As the adult, this is a great time to do any of your work that requires focus. Your child will either be napping or quietly engaged, so they shouldn’t need a lot of attention. Structure your day to have the most intensive work in this time period, between 11-3 in most cases.
Late afternoon, early evening
From 2-6, you should be engaged in another learning period. Go back outside, work through a component of the M3 by Multisori homeschool curriculum, or work together to complete evening chores. This is also your chance to have them help with preparing dinner and/or an afternoon snack.
Consider activities that foster familial connections - writing letters to family members or calling are great for younger children. This is also a good time to wind down the day and clean up anything related to learning. Ensure they are responsible for putting back their books, toys, and learning materials.
Tips for later in the day
This last burst of educational activity is a great time to really dive deep into something they love. They should be refreshed from their rest period, so let them direct you to something that they’re passionate about. Consider going outside again if the weather is nice.
Practical activities like cooking dinner or preparing snacks are a good way to introduce logical mathematics. Measuring ingredients or counting crackers or berries gives them a real-world application for the math they are learning. When they can connect what they’re learning to something concrete, it will help them retain and recall it better.
Consider this another period where you focus specifically on your child and don’t plan on any intensive work if possible. Especially when they are engaged in something they love, they might want to involve you as much as they can.
Dinner and bedtime
Family dinner is very important to young children. They will see this ritual as a positive, relaxing period without distractions, television, or phones. Your family will engage with each other and enrich each other, and that’s hugely important for young minds.
Involve them in dinner prep, setting the table, serving, and cleaning up, but maybe not all at once. Just being part of the process will boost their confidence and their feelings of being needed, but trying to have them help in all parts might overwhelm them.
Dinner is a great time to model positive behavior by showing them everyone can help - if mommy cooks dinner, then daddy and the kids can set the table, clear it off, and/or wash dishes. It’s important that children see that everyone helps and is involved.
Relax together as a family after dinner and wind down for the evening. Bathtime is an important part of the evening routine as a signpost that sleep is coming. Always monitor your child in the bath, but let them foster independence by washing themselves as much as possible. As stated before, have accessible toothbrushing set up so they can do it themselves. Even toddlers can “practice” brushing their own teeth and have you there to help finish the job.
At bedtime, have a routine that doesn’t involve screens, and that encourages both a love of reading and relaxation. Have them read their favorite stories to you, or pick a book and read together. In cases where one parent works outside the home, bedtime can be an important bonding time for them. Even quietly talking in bed can help you and your children connect; they will love discussing their day and going over what they did and learned can make them retain it better.
Tips for evening and bedtime
There are so many opportunities for your child to take care of themself during this period. Cleaning up their materials from the day, washing themselves, brushing their own teeth,and choosing and reading a book. Make it a point to ensure each of these activities is made accessible to them.
After the kids go to bed, you can finish up work, connect with your partner, or simply relax. By creating the flow of your day to maximize the times of their independent work for your work, you can truly wind down when they go to bed. Your routine should move with your child’s and your entire household will benefit from establishing a consistent schedule.
Establishing a routine can set you free
Though the Montessori Method is focused on free-form exploration and child-driven learning, routines are incredibly important. Rather than constraining your child to seated, traditional lessons, you teach self-governance through establishing routines and responsibility for their self and their environments.
Creating regular, structured intervals to your day might feel difficult at first, but you and your children will learn to love the consistency with which time flows. Children thrive when they know what’s coming next, and having established routines helps them remember and retain what they’re learning better.
It’s very easy to trick ourselves into thinking an unscheduled day is more “freeing” but what it really does is leave lots of undirected time that is wasted. What’s more, children gain security in predictability, and the little rituals you have in your family will become cherished memories for them.
The biggest thing you can do to help routines take root is to make critical aspects of your child’s self care accessible. When they can make their own bed, brush their own teeth, pick out their own clothes and change, they will like doing these things. By making them accessible and involving them in snacks, meals, picking out clothes and more, you give them agency and make them realize their importance in your family.
Routines are great for adults but they’re absolutely necessary for your child to thrive, particularly in the space of homeschool. As there is often less structure in homeschooling - particularly in a Montessori homeschool - a structured daily flow will help you bring everything together. Through structure, you find your freedom.