How to Create Flexible Family Routines

coloring Photo by Vince Alongi

Our family has enjoyed over two weeks of living life out of our normal routines.  We have spent entire days in our pajamas, we’ve stayed up late many nights and slept in quite a few mornings.  The housework has been neglected while games have been played.  It has been a delightful break from the ordinary.

As this first week of the new year begins, however, I am quite ready to get back into our normal rhythms and routines of life!

Some families find that lots of structure and a consistent schedule works wonderfully while other families like to keep things spontaneous.  As babies grow into toddlerhood and as toddlers become preschoolers, a sense of routine allows them to have a confidence that comes from knowing what comes next.  I will never be a person who can run my home by the clock, but I do know that we have very predictable routines that provide for stability and order while making way for lots of flexibility.

This topic came up recently in a parenting discussion forum, and one mother from Texas shared her ideas on some routines she wrote up for her family.  She wrote, “We do not follow this religiously, but it’s something I have on hand if I am noticing too much chaos/disorder, out of whack kiddos, shrieking/whining/boredom – then I tighten things up again. We also have “off” days where I pretty much do nothing but let them run around like wild creatures.”

With her permission, I am sharing her ideas on flexible routines:

Each morning, allow some time for waking up, a little snack or drink, perhaps a morning TV program – whatever works best for your family.

8:00 AM
Mommy Officially Awake
Get Dressed
Brush Teeth
Brush Hair

Kitchen/Dining clean up
Small Motor Activity at table (see ideas below)

Outside – Nature/Large Motor Activity OR Foray (see ideas below)

12:00 PM
Clean Up Lunch

Toddler Nap
Computer game

Free Play – Indoor Small/Large Motor/Sensory (see ideas below)

Art/ Music OR Foray

Outside – Nature/Large Motor/Sensory (see ideas below)


Dinner Prep & TV Show

Free Play

Clean Living Area
Clean Bedrooms
Bedtime Routine


Daddy Outing
Splash Pad
Children’s Museum

The Arts
Musical Instruments
Classical Music
Folk Songs

Foreign Language
Nursery Rhymes

Indoor -Small Motor
Cut/tear paper
Building blocks
Stringing beads
Lacing Cards

Indoor – Large Motor
Hide and seek

Indoor – Sensory
Shaving cream

Outdoor – Nature
Woods adventure
I Spy
Collection for nature box
Scavenger Hunt

Outdoor – Large Motor
Walk dog

Outdoor – Sensory

Of course, the general structure of the daily routine and the activities are just suggestions. Each family will know what works best for them.  As this very wise mama shared, some days we may just need some ideas on how to answer the question, “Now what?”  (I want to say thank you again to this generous mama for sharing her ideas with us!)

For more suggestions on sensory activities, check out the article 99 Sensory Activities For Any Child from Mommy Poppins.

What do routines look like for your family? Do you tend to be more structured or less structured? How do you get your family back on track after many days of being out of routine?

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  1. I love these ideas my friend! 🙂 maybe if we ever get our lives together enough we could have a routine too 🙂 but seriously, thanks for all the ideas and suggestions! happy new year!
    .-= Becca´s last blog ..Exceed Your Own Expectations =-.

  2. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!! I was just lamenting the fact that I need to learn how to parent a 20 month old and have no idea what to do with him to fill up an entire day! This came at the perfect time and I can’t wait to implement some of the ideas!

  3. I. Needed. This. I’m going to post it on my fridge because I feel like I’ve been slacking off lately in the mommy department. Thank you, thank you!
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Random Reuses: The Oatmeal Tunnel =-.

  4. Very timely post, Megan, thank you.
    Late last night, I scratched up a rough outline for a daily routine as I’ve really seen my boys benefit from having one. Alas, with our move and then the holidays, things haven’t been ‘normal’ around here in two months.

    Today officially feels like the start of the new year and what better day to implement a schedule similar to yours?!
    .-= Aimee´s last blog ..Stocking the Cheese Board with Rosemary Pecan Crisps =-.

  5. Wow. This really helps me think about how to structure the days for the kids. We’ve learned two things about our son over the holidays. He thrives and is much less prone to outbursts if he has a routine and knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. He is also so much more pleasant if he doesn’t watch TV all day. Today is, unfortunately, a TV day because I’m sick, but when I’m not, we’re working toward less screen time, more active time.

    Have you read Simplicity Parenting, yet? I think you’d love it :).
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..What are you doing . . . =-.

    • Beth, I have had this in my Amazon cart for months – I need to go ahead and get it, don’t I? It looks amazing.

  6. Routines are definitely key for us, and were even more so when my three were younger.

    The idea of filling up an entire day could be overwhelming without a lot of practical ideas, and I list many of these in my book Steady Days! (gentle plug =)

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..How to Choose Books for Your Boys =-.

    • I can’t wait to share more about your thoughts on routines and daily rhythms when I share the review for Steady Days. Great stuff in there, Jamie!

  7. I have been needing this badly..and while it seems like a simple thing to do…make up a schedule like this, I have found it to be quite challenging. This one is very clear cut with open ended activity suggestions. Wonderful for a family of unschoolers ages 9, 5, 3, and 10 months. This is soooo what I needed to see to get into a new rhythm!

    .-= Earth Mama´s last blog ..One Small Change =-.

  8. I’m not a “by the clock” person either … that doesn’t work for us, especially with nursing babies in the house. But, I am a rhythm person. Those anchor points in the day, the week, the year that you can count on are nice for the kids AND for mom, I’m convinced!

    The easiest way to start this for me was to write out what we already do (our natural rhythm) and then add in what I WANT for us to do. This takes tweaking and needs updating at the kids grow and life changes, but the basic recipe is the same.

    Terrific topic!
    .-= Kara´s last blog ..Daybook: Monday – Back to School =-.

  9. This is a great post and so many parents can use this information!! I love the sample schedule – routine but with room to move!! It is amazing how having a routine can be such a positive for children. When they know what to expect or what is normally what comes next they have a sense of security. Thanks for posting this great article!!
    .-= susan´s last blog ..Got Family Dinners? =-.

  10. I will filing this post away as I KNOW it will com in handy one I am on maternity leave again and trying to figure out how the heck to keep a 3 year old occupied all the live long day!! Some days I really don’t know how you at-home mamas do it! You should pat yourselves on the back 🙂

  11. We have a somewhat loose structure, but only because my husband is less inclined for any structure at all and I tend to be overly structured. It’s easy to keep a routine for the big kids since they are in school. It’s a little bit harder with the baby since she’s the only one at home, but we definitely have a routine that we stick to. It’s similar to the one you have here, but I’m less organized it. You’ve given some good ideas that I plan to implement. The Montessori books I picked up at the library are helping, too.

    I thought going back to school would be hard for all of us, but it hasn’t been. I think we were all ready to get back to our usual. There’s only so much we can take!
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..New Year’s Eve =-.

  12. We have been discovering that with a more structured nap routine (i.e., no napping past 4pm!) our toddler is much easier to get to bed earlier. On the other hand, this discovery went hand in hand with the discovery that if he goes to bed earlier, he doesn’t need two daytime naps. This I was not too thrilled about. I know I’m totally spoiled having an almost two year old who has been taking at least two naps a day for the past six months, and three a day before that, but still… I’ve got two under two AND I try to make things from scratch, cloth diaper, keep the house in order, etc.
    So we’ve been working on routines, pulling out puzzles and blocks and generally having more structure, which has fit in nicely with the fact that he is ready for more “preschool” looking activities. So now that I’ve been thinking about being intentional with our days, and reading this post… I’m actually excited about this new opportunity for structuring our days! 🙂
    .-= Natalie @ Naddy’s Blog´s last blog ..Slowing Down and Reading Aloud =-.

  13. This is wonderful! Thank you so much. We have been out of our routine for several weeks with grandparent visits and the holidays, so this is perfect. I love all the ideas for activities. Thanks!

  14. My boys are a bit past the toddler-stage now, but I still find that, unless I provide a routine for our day, they are at a loss for what to do. Great tips here!
    .-= Jan´s last blog ..For the Hate of Tomatoes =-.

  15. Great list. It’s funny how we always want schedules to work with our kids. Maybe it’s because rigid ones work so well for us to keep us in line……….or am I talking to myself here 🙂

    I love how flexible you can be. Little structure here and there with plenty of time for diversions.

    We have quite a few loose routines like this most aren’t bounded by fixed times and it works really well for me. The kids like to have a time on the clock so we do that too.
    .-= Melitsa´s last blog ..Play Activities guest blog post guidelines =-.

  16. I’m so glad so many of you have found this post to be helpful. This wisdom and direction came into my life at a moment when I desperately needed it, too! I’m so happy to be able to pass it along to you.

  17. Oh, this is so very timely. I have been working on adding somewhat more structure to our “at home” days, especially after the chaos of the holidays! Lists are so helpful to me, because it often seems like my memory needs a little jogging — I can sit here paralyzed by what to do (or what to serve for snack or whatever), when if I just had a nice list of items to choose from, I could just choose one of several great options and get on with it! Thanks!
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..My Top 10 Most Dog-Eared Cookbooks =-.

  18. are you kidding me?? I’ve been looking for something like this for about 5 years now.

    thank you for posting it!
    .-= jefra´s last blog business card =-.

  19. Hi! Thanks for the post! I’m off to tweak it and implement it for my own family!
    .-= Kera´s last blog ..a goal. =-.

  20. Bethany S says:

    What are your feelings about displaying the routine? Any suggestions?

    We have a decent routine, but there are places I would like to tweak it a bit to better implement the arts/crafts/music, etc. I like having it written down in front of me to remember, but would like it to be kid friendly (Perhaps just the morning stuff?). Yet, I am wondering if that is even necessary.

  21. Great post!! I have twin boys who are almost 2.5 and one seems to be trying to give up his one and only nap…I’ve found myself lacking motivation, energy, and direction and allowing too much Dora. I have been wanting to create a little more structure so we can all live our days with more intention and purpose – this article gives me a great starting point so I don’t have to begin from scratch…Thanks!!
    .-= Tricia O´s last blog ..Loro Parque =-.

  22. Alicia H. says:

    Oh, how I needed to read this! Between house work and my business, I’ve been so busy lately that I’m often asking the “Now what” question!

    Thank you for sharing this!

  23. So thankful I serendipitously (well, serendipity and Google might be mutually exclusive) stumbled upon this post. Since the clock struck 2010, have felt our clan needed a wee bit more structure, while still allowing freedom and flexibility. This is a terrific, fresh lump of clay I can mold and tweak to fit our lives. Merci beaucoup. :o)

  24. When ever I’ve let the kids have free run, no rules as far as bedtime, cleaning up, and eating when and what they want it turns into a disaster. Routines are the only way for my family.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Rain Water Onion Tank =-.

  25. I love this. I really think something like this would be helpful in our day to day life, more so to keep me on track! 😛
    Samantha´s latest post: A video of Ava


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