Recently I’ve had requests from several readers that I share my daily preschool schedule. In several posts, it is clear that I have one, however I have never spent the time to actually describe it. Well, no more! Today, due to reader demand, I am sharing the daily preschool schedule I refer to as I teach. And, what you find in this post may indeed be very surprising!
Creating a preschool schedule can be such a daunting task! There are so many important decisions to make. As parents and educators we question what to include and for how long and how frequently. We question if our children and students are getting enough of one thing or too much of something else. What if our daily schedule must change due to differing nap times or school pick up times? How do we make sure to include all the “important” stuff without excluding all the “fun” stuff? The questions go on and on, and can sometimes leave us even more confused or uncertain.
A Changing Schedule
But let me be completely honest here. The problem may lie in wanting a single schedule for all your classes, or for all age groups, or the same schedule from year to year or even from day to day. Just as your children change as they grow, just as your students change frequently, you might find that the perfect preschool schedule is also changing.
Often times, my preschool schedule will change even as the year goes on. What works at the beginning of the school year may not work as well as the year progresses, so instead of getting frustrated or irritated that things are not working as well as they used to, I’ll tweak the schedule. It’s one of the greater advantages of owning my own preschool, but even if you work in a commercial or public preschool, it’s amazing what even the smallest changes in a schedule can do for learning.
But what should you change? Well, keep on reading.
How to Create a Preschool Schedule That Works
Let me begin by stating that there are several different thoughts about preschool scheduling. Some believe in allowing children to set their own schedules, taking their guidance and direction and allowing the day to form around their interests in that exact and single moment. Some prefer more traditional scheduling with designated activities based on a specific time frame during the day.
Either approach is fine, as long as it is meeting the needs of your students or children.
And let me be clear, even the most play-based cooperative schools, such as Teacher Tom’s preschool, has some scheduling. Even Teacher Tom has a designated time during the day where he gathers all his students at once to have a community building, and sometimes lengthy, circle time.
Determine Your Hours
The first step is to determine your hours for preschool. I teach for two and a half hours twice a week, for each class. I often feel like this is barely enough time, and am actually considering lengthening the preschool day to three or three and a half hours.
If you work for a commercial or public preschool, your “schooling” hours are set for you. If you are doing tot school or homeschool preschool, you might find that dispersing the learning activities throughout the day is more manageable, especially is if it dotted with play, naps, and meals.
Once you have a solid idea of the time frame you have to work within, then you need to determine the things you cannot as easily schedule around. Here are some things to consider:
- times of pick-up and the end of drop-off
- snack time
- nap times (if homeschooling or if in a full day program)
- outdoor play
- other meals times (if homeschooling or if in a full day program)
- consistent therapy of doctor’s appointments (if homeschooling)
I only have my preschoolers twice a week for two and a half hours each day. That is only five hours total! Five hours for an entire week! That’s not a lot of time, so I have to be very deliberate about how I teach within those few hours.
This is where it is important to understand your personal teaching style. Regardless of your approach to preschool education, whether it be play based, skills-based or a mixture of both, you have a responsibility to create learning opportunities within that approach.
But what do you teach?
- print awareness
- letters and sounds
- math awareness
- number and counting
- shapes and colors
- emergent writing
- scissor cutting and drawing
- process art
- story time
- dramatic and pretend play
- social studies
- sensory play
- fine motor and gross motor skills
- music and movement
- puzzles and table games
- blocks and building
- social skills (lots and lots and lots of social skills)
The list could continue. So with this huge list of things to teach, how on earth do you fit it all in?
Make the Schedule Complete
You could make the above list and keep it on a clipboard to tick off boxes as they are completed, but trust me, that will only make you stress more. Making a preschool schedule complete is as simple as identifying key areas of learning were other skills (academic or social) can be practiced.
For example, you might set aside a specific time for literacy activities, math, STEM, art and sensory and outdoor play within the given time you have. Or, you can simply make all those domains into a center area and children can move about to and from each one as they choose.
From those key areas, the other learning skills can be incorporated.
Here is an example. When planning literacy time, you could read a story with repetitive text and encourage your child to repeat the familiar lines with you as you point to the words. You might also point out specific letters, maybe those in your child’s name. This incorporates both print awareness skills and letter identification and sounds. Then, you could go one step further and have your child trace sandpaper letters, a writing element, or have your child place small floral gems on letter printables, thus including fine motor skills.
You get the idea, and with some planning this concept can continue to grow, allowing your child to be immersed in all the listed skills to be learned in preschool.
But sometimes it’s still hard to fit everything you want into a single day or learning session. My opinion?
Don’t sweat it.
For me, the quality of activity trumps the quantity of activities.
It does no good to insist on a crammed schedule.
The other thing that will help is to make time for centers. These centers could have a specific skill to be practiced, or they can be loose parts or an invitation to play. But making time for centers will allow your child to not only work independently or with peers, but center time also allows time for practice in a large array of skills. Many preschools have at least the following centers.
Many preschools have at least the following centers.
- dramatic play
An Example of My Current Preschool Schedule
I say example because my preschool schedules are always being tweaked. Here is what it looks like now:
- 10 minutes writing practice (emergent writing and name practice)
- 10 minutes circle time
- 15 minutes literacy (This includes direct letter instruction as well as hands-on whole alphabet activities).
- 40 minutes free choice centers
- 15 minutes math (This includes direct skill instruction as well as hands-on centers)
- 20 minutes thematic activities, or sensory play, or process art
- 15 snacks and story time (more print awareness)
- 20 minutes outdoor play (Sometimes this is free play, other times it is games and group activities).
- 5 minutes pack up and pick up
Now, these times are flexible. The length of time is flexible as well as when during the day they happen. I try to keep things consistent and predictable for my preschoolers, however sometimes if I plan a really messy sensory activity or process art activity, I’ll bump it to the early in the preschool day. Or, if my preschoolers are getting showing they need a change of pace, then I’ll move our activities around during the day, or even the week. They key to a perfect schedule is being flexible enough to make changes, big or small, to better meet the needs of your students.
They key to a perfect schedule is being flexible enough to make changes, big or small, to better meet the needs of your students.
You should also take note of the length of time for the directed activities like literacy and math. I plan for 15 minutes, less if I’m doing a lot of showing or talking. Preschoolers don’t have a very long attention span for just listening, or even listening and doing. What makes them successful learners is allowing preschoolers time to practice on their own and at their own pace. Ideally, I’d have an entire hour for free choice centers.
Creating Your Own Preschool Schedule
If you have the flexibility to create your own schedule, you’ll find it takes a little bit of practice. The schedule I have now is not the same as the one I made for myself when I opened my preschool. In fact, it’s not even the same as it was at the beginning of the school year.
Use the step above to draw up an outline of what you think you’d like your preschool day to look like. Try it out for a few days or weeks. Be reflective and critical, and then make changes that you think will solve some problems you are facing. Over time, you will develop a system and schedule you can rely on, and when it needs changes you won’t hesitate to make them because over time your knowledge and confidence will grow and you will know you are making choices that are good for your students.