routines · schedules · slice of life

Children crave structure & routine.

I remember hearing “children crave structure and routine” when I was in my first semester of my first graduate degree at Hunter College. I remember thinking that I should write it down since my professor repeated it over and over. Turns out it was an important lesson that I still have to remind myself of fifteen years later.

Once I had my own classroom (two years later), I realized the truth behind this statement. My students thrived when things were structured. (Let’s be honest, I wasn’t as regimented as I should have been during my first year in the classroom.) I sought to create a more structured environment, but it wasn’t until my second year of teaching that I figured out how to make that happen daily. (READ: I was in survival mode that first year of teaching.)

We’re in the final week of summer vacation around these parts. My daughter has been out of camp for the past three and a half weeks. With six days left until school starts, I have to be honest with you, she’s falling apart from the lack of routine. Even though she’s having play dates, mornings where she can sleep in, and lots of time at the pool, she isn’t thriving. She’s arguing with me about nearly everything. A half hour ago, I gave her some time away in her bedroom since she was yelling at me when I reminded her that she had to finish the water in her water bottle before she could watch a half-hour of TV. She felt as though she had been mightily wronged and screamed at me the entire way up the stairs. She continued once she was in her room.

That’s when the idea for this post was born. {NOTE to my daughter who may read this post years from now: You’re not alone in falling apart from a lack of structure during summer vacation. Keep reading so you don’t feel singled out.}

And that’s when I snapped this selfie of me being berated by my six-and-a-half-year-old from my office chair.




I inhaled deeply. I reminded myself not to take this personally. I repeated the mantra my professor uttered 15 years ago:

Children crave structure and routine.

I began brainstorming ways to make the final few days of summer vacation more structured.

  • Set a consistent wake-up time like we do for school.
  • Make sure bedtime — even on Friday and Saturday night — doesn’t exceed 8:00 p.m.

Then I stopped making my list.

Who was I kidding? We’re planning to do Hersheypark tomorrow morning, then the pool. Thursday and Friday include some appointments and more pool time. There’s also a birthday party in there and time with grandparents. There is nothing structured about the next few days!

My thoughts were interrupted by Isabelle walking downstairs calmly. Under her arm was Little Teddy. In her left hand, an empty water bottle.

I rose from my chair to meet her in the foyer. I knelt down to her level and cupped her face between my hands. “You should be proud of yourself for drinking your water. Do you remember why Mommy wants you to drink the water in your water bottle?”

“So my legs don’t cramp,” she replied.

“That’s right! How would you going to walk around Hersheypark if your legs hurt tomorrow?”

She shrugged. “You should be proud of yourself not only for drinking your water, but also for calming yourself down before you came downstairs.”

She smiled.

That’s enough, I thought.

As I transitioned her to her TV show, I started to think about ways to make the next few days more structured — even though they weren’t going to be routine in nature. All I came up with is a picture schedule that we could co-create the night before so she knows what to expect the following day. If you have any other ideas, please leave a comment on this post. The last thing I want is to start wishing away summer vacation. Summer vacation is meant to be savored.

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11 thoughts on “Children crave structure & routine.

  1. I’ve blogged before about how Liam used to hate summer’s lack of structure. Today, after 6 days of 9-9 marching band camp, he was okay with some down time. I told him to cherish today and tomorrow as the next “break” he will have won’t come until mid-November. Have fun tomorrow!

  2. I like your idea of the picture schedule, Stacey. Sometimes just talking about what is going to happen and giving it a general time frame is enough structure and helps the day go smoothly. I know this works for me when Kathy and I talk over tomorrow’s plans the night before. Enjoy Hershey Park and the rest of summer vacation.

  3. This too shall pass. That is what my Mom always says to me when I reach that weary, frustration stage. You are right to savour summer’s end and you know what, I bet things will look (and feel) a lot better in the morning. Isabella may appreciate a co-created, picture schedule, but she also might be able to hold on the day’s events by just talking about them at the start of each day with conversation around the table and or checking in on the “schedule” verbally a few times during the run of the day. Enjoy Hershey Park!

  4. I could truly picture what Isabelle looked like when she came down with her teddy and empty water bottle. The picture schedule sounds like a great idea. I know I like to have a schedule and know what is coming during a week.

  5. These summer days are LONG…but also a gift. When we are transitioning I usually list what we need to do and then ask the kids, what do we need to do? It usually goes something like “Jammies, teeth, bed.” They repeat and set off to complete the mission. It has become kind of a game. I also always remind myself how much further positive reinforcement goes… which is also clearly the case with your daughter. Enjoy all that summer has left to offer.

  6. A picture schedule sounds so helpful. Is there a way to build in some choices for Isabelle? Trying to get “normalized” before the school schedule will be helpful but that’s too far off for her to see the benefits at this stage. Building in some “brother” time will also make her happy! 🙂

  7. Reading your post made me think of the car conversation with my 11 year old who is starting middle school next week. Megan “I can’t wait for school to start.” Me “Is your friends or school and work?” Megan “Both” and then “by the end of the school year, I’m sick of it and ready for summer and by the end of summer I’m sick of it and ready for school.” It’s funny how we all crave and need structure and routine but we also crave and structure freedom and spontaneity. I think a picture schedule for the next few days might just get you both through! Thanks for sharing! Love a good mom story!

  8. I love the idea of the picture schedule for this transition time between the end of summer vacation and the beginning of school. I hope you all have fun at Hersheypark! My first memories from a family vacation are from a trip to Hershey, so it’s always held a special place in my heart.

  9. Your vulnerability helps us all be reflective. I think about that in thwork. S with adults too. Structures in PLC and coaching meetings along with our work with students creates calm.

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