routines, rituals, + rules


Rules, rituals, and routines provide structure for everyone in the classroom, including the adults. Predictable routines teach children how that world is organized and how they can successfully interact within it. They give a sense of control and allow children to predict what is coming next, reducing anxiety and encouraging positive behavior.

A ritual may be a song, a rhyme, a game, a movement, or other activity used in a predictable and repeated pattern over time to communicate values, foster community, or remind children of behavioral expectations. Rules are most appropriate for preschoolers, whereas rituals and routines are more applicable to younger children

How routines help development

For infants, routines are individualized, providing a sense of security and comfort knowing their needs will be met. Feeling safe and secure enables babies to learn and develop. As babies get older, they move towards a more structured schedule. Predictable routines provide a foundation for daily events in their lives.

In toddlerhood, predictability is a key factor for growth. Toddlers need to anticipate what will happen next to feel a sense of control over themselves. Routines help develop the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls planning, sequencing, and decision-making.

Preschoolers’ sense of mastery of the world is beginning to strengthen, allowing them to take on bigger changes, transitions, and developmental tasks. Routines should support these developing skills and be simple enough for children to learn and remember. When children feel success in what they are doing, they gain self-esteem and self-control. Mastering routines gives children the opportunity for that success.

Routines should not be rigid, however. Some flexibility is necessary for children to explore, experiment, and learn to adapt to unexpected changes.

Common classroom routines


Create limits and expectations for behavior and share them ahead of time. State rules positively.

Teaching rules

Children need to learn rules to follow them. Some strategies for teaching children the expectations of the classroom:


Any early childhood educator can tell you that young children have high rates of not following teacher directions. Sometimes this is because of the way teachers give directions. Directions that are stated negatively (“Why haven’t you put up the toys?”) or directions that are stated as questions (“Can you help me put up the toys?”) may confuse children or make them less likely to follow. Strategies you can use to help children follow directions:

Visual cues

Although we receive sensory input from 5 different senses, 30% of our brains is devoted to what we see. It is important to provide visual cues and reminders for young children, especially those with special needs and for whom English is their second language. Visual cues and reminders help children learn the routines, expectations, and rules of the classroom and anticipate and make transitions. A visual schedule and a timer are good examples of visual cues.