We give our child at least half an hour of playtime before school, and it’s made all our mornings better

The author, his wife, and their 5-year-old son.

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The author, his wife, and their 5-year-old son.
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Steven John

  • Children thrive on routine, which is why my family gives our 5-and-a-half-year-old son at least 30 minutes of playtime before school.
  • Scheduling playtime for him has made him more motivated to go through his morning routine each day.
  • Adding that to his day has made all our mornings smoother.

Children thrive on routine, as years of research has shown.

But I don’t need an expert to tell me that – I just need to ask my son if he wants to skip his nighttime snack because he ate such a big dinner.

The answer? No. No he does not.

And if you want to hear screams like you read about, my wife can try to put our almost one year old daughter to bed without a bath, book, and rocking time, in that order.

Routines help children feel safe and secure and foster healthy emotional development. When a kid feels like they are in a stable place where predictable things happen, they develop better self-confidence, better self-regulation, and it helps them to feel more connected to their families as well.

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But family routines don’t have to be boring. And in fact, they shouldn’t be. That’s why we add playtime into every otherwise structured segment of the day.

We give our son playtime first thing in the morning

At 5 and a half years old, my son Ben is old enough to entertain himself for long stretches of time. And he’s finally old enough not to be a liability to himself or to the things in our home when he’s playing independently.

Once his OK To Wake clock lights up green at 6:20 a.m., he is allowed to engage in myriad activities of his choosing, from books to Legos to coloring to puzzles and more (but no video games on school mornings; I’m strict there).

Once I come downstairs at 6:45 a.m., Ben knows this period of playtime will wrap up in about 10 minutes. I make his breakfast (and coffee for the adults), lay out his clothes, then call him to the table.

After breakfast, it’s time to wash hands, brush teeth, and then get dressed. These are all the critical steps to be taken before he leaves for school, so we build in plenty of time for each, knowing that on some days breakfast will take 10 minutes, on others 25, and that some outfits take less than a minute (T-shirt and shorts when it’s warm out) and others three or four (shirts with buttons, for example).

Once all the critical steps are through, it’s back to playing. Ben might have only five minutes more free time or he may have 20, but he knows that once my wife or I calls out “Shoes!” it’s time to head to the door and off to school.

Scheduling playtime for our child has made him more motivated in the mornings

The block of free playtime Ben has right after waking up ensures his mornings don’t feel like a rigid march toward school. (For the record, he loves school, but he’s a kid; playing at home will always rank higher.) The chance to enjoy more time after the tooth brushing and hand washing and all of it helps him tackle the more chore-like parts of the morning routine better as well.

When Ben gets home from school, he has plenty of free time to play, and after dinner cleanup and his book time – a gentle preparation for the coming of homework – we always have family playtime. And then a snack.

It’s a routine he thrives on, and it’s made all of our days much smoother.