Was it another chaotic morning with your toddler or preschooler? You had the best of intentions but you felt frazzled, stressed or angry by the time you head out the door? You can have better mornings! You really just need a morning routine for your toddlers and preschoolers that works!
Let’s be honest: getting a two, three, or four-year old to do anything is like herding cats. Fortunately, toddlers and preschoolers generally like to mimic and please their parents. Children this age are also fond of asserting their independence. Thus, the toddler and preschool years are the perfect time to start to teach children the skills necessary for them to do things on their own.
They need independence and frankly, you need it! The sooner your children develop competence in this area, the sooner they will gain skills and confidence in other areas.
A morning routine for toddlers and preschoolers develops independence for your child and makes life easier for everyone. Keep reading to gather a few tips and grab the free printable routine cards. You’ll be on your way to fewer morning meltdowns.
Morning Routines are Important
During my eight years teaching second grade, I’d spend most of September teaching my students our classroom routines. Effective teachers know working on having solid routines means more time for instruction down the road.
It’s the same at home. Routines are the key to efficiency. When children know what to do next and have internalized it, life goes more smoothly at home. You save time when you’re not constantly barking orders.
Similarly, routines build independence and emotional regulation. When children are able to take care of small chores like getting their own backpack and self-care like brushing teeth, they grow to believe they are capable. Toddlers and preschoolers love independence and the competence breeds confidence.
For example, by 3-years old most children can dress and undress themselves. If this were not part of our morning routine, I would still be dressing my 3-year old son in a rush to get out the door. With the routine, I have time allocated for him to practice his independence with this skill. As we have practiced over the last month, he is becoming more focused and competent.
Last, routines are powerful because they free up mental bandwidth for bigger challenges. Preschoolers are well-known for struggling with big feelings and meltdowns. When there is a routine for daily tasks, it can reduce the demands on their self-control. Thus, routines allows them to direct all their mental energy towards developing frustration tolerance or problem solving skills because they have security about what will come next.
Morning routines for toddlers and preschoolers are powerful.
If you have a school-aged child, make sure to read about a morning routine without meltdowns for them, too.
Visual Morning Routine Cards Work
Little children get distracted very, very easily. Am I right?
Their brains are not equipped to process and retain spoken language as well as adults. That’s why visuals or picture cards are so useful.
Pictures remain in the brain’s memory longer that words. According to Psychology Today, “the part of the brain used to process words is quite small in comparison to the part that processes visual images.” Simply put, your child has a lot less brain power to deal with words than with pictures. So using the preschool morning routine picture cards will help.
The ability to remember a spoken direction also requires a group of skills called executive function. Executive function includes working memory, or the ability to remember what to do, and then complete all the steps to complete that task. Executive function is controlled by the prefrontal cortex and that part of the brain doesn’t finish developing until 25 years old!
Visual cards remove the need for your child to remember. You can show your child the card and even let them carry it around as they accomplish the tasks.
So if your preschooler can’t listen and remember what to do, you are not alone! It’s developmentally typical, and visual cards can help solve this problem.
Morning Routine with Toddlers and Preschoolers
I’ve created nine visual cards for you to use with your child. Here’s what I suggest for each card:
Even if your child isn’t potty trained yet, this is a great time to start building potty time into your routine. Lots of kids can’t do the three-day potty boot camp that so popular on the internet. So start taking off the diaper or pull-up and build a habit of sitting on the potty.
My three-year old is not nighttime potty trained, so he still takes off his diaper and sits on the potty first thing in the morning. Pro tip: we keep his underwear in the bathrooms he uses most frequently so it’s easy to toss the diaper and put on the underwear.
Make sure you have a stool in the bathroom to allow independence for sitting on the potty and for washing hands.
2. Eat Breakfast
We eat breakfast first because my children are messy eaters and I don’t want to deal with changing clothes again. My children are also hangry in the morning from low blood sugar so the sooner we get them fed the better.
My three year old mainly eats fruit and yogurt for breakfast so we place these on the low shelves in the fridge and he serves himself. I help with opening the containers and we still require him to sit in his booster seat or else he likes to eat three bites and play.
My children place their dirty dishes in the sink. We use plastic dishes and silverware so I don’t worry about them breaking anything yet.
This is a chore we’ve worked hard to build because I’m tired of feeling like all I do is clean up messes. Plus, chores breed independence.
3. Get dressed
My preschooler is currently still learning to dress himself. It takes some fine motor skills to pull clothes on completely so be patient and plan on working on this skill with your child for at least a few months.
We return to the bathroom to get dressed. First my son chooses his clothes from the drawers in his bedroom, but in the bathroom there are no toys, books, or stuffed animals to distract him. I lay his pants out correctly and ask him to sit down to pull them on. When it’s time for his shirt, I also hold his shirt upside down so he can easily pull it over his head independently.
As he gets more adept at dressing, I’ll just bring him into the bathroom and supervise. By about 4 years old, he will be able to dress without supervision. Development varies so your preschooler might already be able to dress or might need more support.
For more practice getting dressed, your child can play with this doll. It’s a great tool for developing fine motor skills.
4. Brush teeth
While we’re in the bathroom already, we go ahead and brush teeth. You can check out the visual plan and calendar I use for our tooth brushing routine here.
Using sand timers for brushing teeth is super helpful. I like this set because you can work up from brushing for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then 90 seconds and two minutes.
5. Brush hair
We always leave the children’s backpack in our coat closet on the floor. So it’s easy for my preschooler to grab his backpack with his lovey, change of clothes, and a pull-up just in case.
Both my children had the Skip Hop back packs, lunch boxes, and water bottles for preschool. We found them to be durable and easy to clean.
If your toddler or preschooler does not yet have a lovey, I can’t say enough good things about the Pair and a Spare loveys. Both my kiddos have these small security blankets – my daughter has the hippo and my son has the owl. It’s so nice when one of the security blankets gets misplaced or needs to be washed to have spares.
7. Get in car seat
Obviously if you ride public transportation or walk, you don’t need this card for your routine! I show my preschooler the car seat card when it’s time to get in the minivan and head to preschool.
Inevitably there is a little more waiting while my children are in the car seat in the garage and I run quickly back inside for my bag and coffee. This time is great for building patience and frustration tolerance.
8. Read and play
I’ve included cards for read and play. You might need more activities for you toddler or preschooler to kill time before you get out the door. It’s a good idea to build extra time into your routine for the inevitable tantrums or potty accidents that can occur with toddlers and preschoolers.
Making the Morning Routine Visual Cards for Toddlers and Preschoolers
You’ll need to gather a few supplies and put together the cards first. Alternatively, you can also just print out the cards, skip laminating, and reprint once the cards get icky!
- Print out the cards. It’s just one page of colored ink.
- Cut out the cards first.
- Then laminate them. I totally recommend my laminator. If you’re not ready for that level of commitment, you can use self-laminating pouches.
- After laminating, trim the the cards.
- Use a single hole punch to punch a hole in the corner.
- Arrange in your preferred order and attach to a metal ring.
Recapping a Morning Routine for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Children and parents benefit when there is a routine in place:
- There are brain-based reasons why routines help your children.
- Routines also greatly reduce the chaos for parents.
- Using a visual for your morning routine will support your child’s independence and strengthen many different skills.
- You can gather or purchase a few additional supplies that make it easier for your child to do things on their own.
- Print the free morning routine visual cards and laminate if you want to (reprinting the cards works too!).
- Teach each step to your child, and watch your child grow!
You can have better mornings with your children. By creating a morning routine for your toddler and preschooler, and thoroughly teaching and reteaching each step of the routine, your child will become more independent. And frankly, you will get time back in your mornings to take care of yourself.