How to plan a preschool schedule?

Planning a preschool schedule is more than slotting in activities into a time frame. There are many factors to be considered and a good one enables both students and teachers to have a positive time in school. 

Points to consider when creating a preschool schedule for your class

Creating a class schedule is one of the most important things that you can do for your students. Your timetable plays a large role in determining the effectiveness of the class lessons and activities. 

A classroom schedule can also help reinforce positive behavior and keep negative behaviors at bay. While it will take quite a bit of intentionality in the planning stages, a great time table will ensure that the day runs smoothly. 

Here are some points to consider when creating a schedule for your preschool class. 

When do they arrive?

One of the main things to consider when creating a preschool schedule for your class is the drop-off and pick-up times. Once you determine the ‘schooling’ hours, you will have a set time frame in which you can plan daily activities. 

Age of the students

Be aware of the children’s ages. Younger children who have not attended school before might need the first one or two months to get used to the new routine. 

Those who are older will most likely be able to understand and communicate their needs and questions better. In order for your schedule to work, you will have to consider the children’s ability as well as key childhood developmental stages. 

Attention spans

Obviously, you would want your students to pay attention to the lesson as well as focus on the activities at hand. However, young children have very short attention spans. 

The normal attention span is 3 to 5 minutes per year of the child’s age. Thus, a 3 year old who is starting preschool may be able to concentrate for about 9 to 10 minutes. 

Calculate the average attention span of your students and work within this time. Research shows that there is a significant relationship between academic outcomes with working memory and attention, especially in early childhood.

How many students?

The number of students in your class will determine certain things that can or cannot happen in your classroom. For example, if you have a big group of children needing help with a craft activity, you will no doubt need to plan a longer time for this in your schedule. You may also want to get an assistant to help you if you have a big class. 

Studies have shown that class size is a contributing factor to quality preschool programs. Teachers are more responsive and warm and provided more stimulating interactions when the child-staff ratio is smaller. 

Smaller groups also mean spending less time managing children. Thus, children will receive more individual attention and dialogues with the teacher. Small child-staff ratios also provide better safety benefits. 

Tips to plan a regular preschool schedule

Knowing what comes next helps young children to feel more secure and comfortable. This in turn has a positive effect on their behavior. 

Having a fixed time table also helps children who have separation anxiety. For example, they know mommy will come to pick them up after storytime. 

A good preschool schedule will also help teachers to run the class without hiccups. 

Plan the order of activities 

Now, this takes a good lot of observation and planning. You may even need to make some changes throughout the year. Ultimately, you want a schedule that keeps the students engaged while not overloading them. 

You can order the activities based on student responsiveness, moods, needs and attention spans. For example, after center time, you might want to have an activity that requires less focus. This will keep the students from being bored and zoning out. 

Planning the order of activities might take some time, but totally worth it when you see how it helps the children through the day. 

Allow transition times

Transitions from one activity to another will always be part of the day, so plan for it! For example, you will need to make time allowances for handwashing before snack time or clearing up after doing a craft activity.

Have a look at the following example:

9.00 – 9.15 am- Circle time

9.15 – 9.45 am – Outside time

9.45 – 10.00 am – Snack time

10.00 – 11.00 am – Centre time

11.00  – 11.20am – Storytime

11.20 am – Dismissal

While it looks great, transition times that are not planned will eat up into the time of the next activity. If the children need 10 minutes to wash their hands before having their snack, only 5 minutes is left for them to eat. What usually happens is that the snack time will prolong, and this will have a ripple effect for the rest of the day.

preschool play time

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Here’s what will happen if transition times are not included:

  • Lessons and activities will not be as effective – Time is needed for children to properly complete and engage in a certain activity. Rushing through a lesson might not have the same effect as allowing them to process the new information.
  • Children will be frustrated – A clear example of this can be seen when outside time is cut short. Just when the students have decided on what they want to play, the cue is given for them to get back to the classroom. While they may not be able to tell time, they will most certainly feel it. 
  • It will have an effect on the rest of the day – Without transition times, you will find that you may have to shorten the next activity or even remove something out of the schedule.

Plan transition times into the schedule. Your day will be smoother and you will be able to achieve all that you have planned for your students without running late. 

Make use of audio and visual cues

Transitions from one activity to another may be confusing to a young child. Ideally, you would want it to be as smooth as possible. Audio and visual cues can help with this

Audio cues

Since preschool children are still learning to tell time, audio cues which gives them a sense of when an activity will come to an end will help tremendously in transitioning from one activity to the next. 

For example, you can ring a bell to ‘warn’ the children that they have 5 minutes left for snack time. You can also train their responses to the bell by letting them know that they can start to put away their food and wash their hands when they hear it ring.

Visual cues

Some children are better able to focus when they know what is going to happen. By putting up visual cues such as picture schedule cards that tell the order of activities, transitions will be quicker and smoother. 

Label the activities by type

Label your activities by type. By doing so, you will be able to keep a balance that will encourage responsiveness in your students. You definitely do not want to end up with the same type of activity back to back. 

Example of labels can be:

  • Passive vs Active activities
  • Child Led vs Teacher Led activities

Be as specific as you can as it will really help with planning out effective daily activities for your class. 

Child Led vs Teacher Led activities

Photo by Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Create a balance 

Your preschool schedule should also reflect ‘balance’. A good mix of activities will keep students engaged and eager to learn. 

Teacher-led lessons can be balanced with student-led activities while passive activities can come before or after active activities. For example, you will see less fidgeting and restlessness if a “sit and listen” story time is scheduled after a “movement-based” activity.

List down your non-negotiable times

There will be several non-negotiable times in your daily schedule. These are times that you will not be able to change, and sometimes, should not be changed. For example, if lunch is prepared and sent to your classroom, it will most likely be at the same time daily. 

You might also want to schedule the same period in the morning for Outside Time especially if you live in an area with hot weather. Rest times for young children can also be a non-negotiable to make sure that children do not get too tired. List down your non-negotiable times so that you have a picture of which periods are taken by these activities

Keep scope for continual assessments and changes

Your time slots should never be set in stone. You may want to change or improve it throughout the year. Many times, you will find that a small tweak in the schedule will have amazing results with behavior and attention. 

The key is to continuously observe and take note of patterns that are occurring throughout the day.

Here’s an example of observation, assessment and making changes in the schedule:

Observation: You notice your preschoolers are not eating during snack time. 

Assessment: 

  • The children are not hungry. Is snack time too early? If your students arrive at 9.00 and snack time is at 10.00, it might be that they are still full from breakfast. 
  • The children are not hungry. What are the activities leading up to snack time? Are the activities passive and teacher led? Perhaps the children are not hungry because they are not active in the early part of the day. 

Change: 

  • You can slot snack time in later
  • You can adjust the schedule to balance out active and passive activities. 

Do not be afraid to make the necessary changes according to your observations and assessments. 

Preschool schedule templates 

You can use this general template to help you plan for your preschool class. Start with the non-negotiable times on the left. 

Non-negoActivities for 

the day

DurationTimeLarge 

Group

Small GroupTeacher

Led

Student

Led

Transitions
Music teacher has scheduled time from 10.30 to 11Arrival time & arrival activities 15 min9 to 9..15//
Circle time15 min9.10 to

9.30

//
Outside play30 min9.30 to 10.10//Put on jacket 10 minutes

(9.30 to 9.40)

Snack time15 min10.10 – 10.30//Wash hands before snack 5 minutes (10.10-10.15)
Music30 min10.30 – 11.00//
Small group activities (maths, science etc)20 min11.00 – 11.25//Clean up 5 min (11.20 – 11.25)
Story time15 min11.25 – 11. 40//

Once you have mapped out your schedule, you may find that you need to shorten the duration of a certain activity or switch places of an activity to make the day more ‘balanced’.

Preschool full day schedule

Planning a full day time table is similar to planning a half day schedule. As the day is longer you will need extra activities to keep the little ones busy. Here are some things to add:

  • Lunch – usually a non-negotiable for many schools.
  • Nap time – Some children might take naps, but it’s always good to encourage the child to have some rest time.
  • Afternoon play time.
  • Afternoon snack.
preschool snacks

Photo by Naomi Shi from Pexels

Final thoughts

Your schedule will play a large part in how students respond to activities planned. Putting some thoughtfulness in your planning will make a big difference as to whether children will learn effectively. A good one will bring out the best in both students and teachers. 

Do remember that you might want to tweak your schedule every now and then to maximize the time that you have.

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