How to create a childcare daily schedule for infants, toddlers and preschoolers

If you’ve been in the daycare business for even a day, you know the importance of having a daily daycare schedule. Kids thrive on routine, and schedules allow for educators to have a predictable, yet flexible outline of how the day will go.

It’s important to be prepared and have the day planned out so that students can thrive with the routine that comes from having a daycare daily schedule and learn in a structured and fun environment.

When it comes to daily schedules, it’s important to make sure they are balanced, developmentally appropriate, and play-focused so that children can have a well-rounded learning experience.

Balanced schedule

When planning out your daily daycare schedule, it’s important to make sure enough time is allotted to certain activities and that not too much time for others.

For example, when having learning centers/free playtime, it’s essential to have at least 45 minutes to an hour for students to get a solid block of time to get the most out of their play. Only giving 10 minutes or 20 minutes isn’t enough time for students to truly engage in imaginative play. 

You also want to make sure that you are not just doing one type of activity like math or reading or writing for the majority of the day. All children learn differently. Some thrive through listening while others thrive learning visually.

If you only do whole group activities, it will stifle the learning process for many children, while if you only teach through song and art, other children will suffer.

Having a balance of domains in learning will truly help develop the whole child and help the daily daycare schedule be something enjoyable for students and even for you as the teacher.

Developmentally appropriate schedules

Creating a daycare schedule template can be difficult because you may feel like you need to cram so much into the day. If you have toddlers, for example, trying to fit in your lesson plans along with all the diaper changes and feeding, it doesn’t seem possible!

It is helpful to remember that everything you do with students, even diapering or even dramatic play, can be considered curriculum!

When changing a diaper, use that as an opportunity for that one-on-one interaction. Sing a song, play peek-a-boo, ask questions, name body parts, etc. Every moment can be used as an opportunity to learn.

So much time in the daycare classroom can be wasted waiting. Kids waiting to use the potty, waiting to eat lunch, waiting to go outside, etc.

It isn’t developmentally appropriate for children to be sitting and waiting longer than 3 minutes if there isn’t any activity taking place according to the Early Childhood Education Rating Scale schedule checklist. Use those wait times as teaching moments to do songs, dances, read a story, play a game, etc. 

Play-focused schedules

Children need active play! Sensory play should be woven throughout the day in daycare schedules. There should not be long periods of sitting or waiting and there should not be the majority of whole group time.

Instead, there should be solid blocks of time for gross motor play and the development of fine motor skills as well, whether indoors or outdoors.

There should be dramatic play, block play, outdoor time and tons of time to explore the classroom centers. Worksheets do not have a big role in the early childhood classroom, so try to find out how to meet objectives in fun and creative ways.

There should be choices for kids to make with what they would like to do, and there should be small group play opportunities throughout the day. 

Sample daycare childcare schedules

Infant daycare schedule*

*It is VERY important to know that there is never any set infant daycare schedule template. While it never hurts to start from a sample daycare schedule, you need to build a schedule that works for you.

Infant rooms should be the most flexible and, oftentimes, infants are on individual schedules, napping and eating at varying times depending on the child and when he/she woke up that day. This is only a sample schedule and should not be used as a set standard. 

7:00-9:00Arrival/breakfast/bottles/tummy time 
9:00-10:00Free play/outdoor play/ stroller walk 
10:00-10:15Tummy time/sing along/read aloud
10:15-11:15Center play
11:15-12:00Diaper/bottles/lunch 
12:00-2:00Rest & quiet time
2:00-3:00Bottles/free play/outdoor play
3:00-5:00Small groups/center play/pick up times

Toddler daycare schedule

7:00-9:00Small groups/center play/snack
9:00-10:00Outdoor play
10:00-10:15Morning meeting & read aloud
10:15-11:15Small groups/center play
11:15-12:00Handwashing & lunch
12:00-2:00Rest & quiet time
2:00-3:00Outdoor play
3:00-5:00Small groups/center play/snack

Preschool daily schedule 

7:00-9:00Small groups/center play/snack
9:00-10:00Outdoor play
10:00-10:15Morning meeting & read aloud/mini-lesson for science 
10:15-11:15Small groups/center play/one on one with teacher 
11:15-12:00Specials – music, gym, Spanish, art (changes each day)
12:00-1:00Hand washing/potty/lunch  
1:00-3:00Rest & quiet time/quiet activities for non-sleepers
3:00-4:00Snack/outdoor play
4:00-5:00Small groups/center play/staggering pick ups 

Notice the time allotted for center play versus whole group circle time. Keep in mind that children thrive in small groups and play-based environments, even as toddlers! In these play times, they will develop vital things like gross motor skills and fine motor skills and also encourage interactions.

One of the most important aspects of daily childcare schedules is to be willing to throw it all out of the window when needed. I know that sounds a bit extreme, but as a daycare instructor, you have to be flexible.

You may have thought that a science activity would only take 5 minutes, but it’s taking over 20 minutes, and you’ve lost half of the kids’ attention.

Be willing to go a different direction, start a new activity, stop abruptly if it isn’t working well, extend activities if the kids are loving it, etc. You cannot be rigid and have longevity in this business. Yes, you should be organized and plan, but be willing to drop it at a moment’s notice if needed.

There are days where your students are extra cranky and you need to feed them sooner and place them down for a nap at a different time. At this young age, every child is different.

THAT IS OKAY!

Being flexible is one of the greatest qualities you can have as an early childhood educator and you’ll find that you’ll need this skill more often than not in your daily schedule.

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.

4 comments

  • Cindy says:

    This information is exactly what my preschool (not daycare) has been doing for 59 years.
    Many educators and educational institutions do not seem to remember there are still actually PRESCHOOLS still in many, many communities. So our hours are not 6 am-6pm. Our hours run just like an elementary school 8:30 am – 3 pm.

    Please try and also include preschools in your conversations. Thank you.

    Kind regards.

  • Sonda Williams says:

    I did not know this was available! So excited!

  • Australia Cuevas says:

    Great!!
    Plan for Spanish webinar ?

  • Karen says:

    I am doing daycare for my grandkids 2 days a week. They range in age from 1 year old to 5 years old. How do I accommodate this age range and allow time for naps for the younger ones while keeping the older kids occupied and somewhat quiet?

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