Change, Routines and Self-Regulation

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a “normal” schedule. It’s probably going to be like this until the end of the schoolyear. We’ve had a lot of schedule changes this term and numerous special visits and activities which has thrown us off our regular routine. Well, it’s a very good thing for our Kindergarten cuties and their self-regulation: they’ve helped us to stay steady, grounded and in the green zone.

Now, don’t get us wrong. It’s been a very FUN time. We’ve been doing lots of interesting activities but when you are schedule, routine oriented people, as we are, it does require quite a bit of flexibility to change. When we fit in all of these extra events, we still have our regular classroom lessons to teach and projects to finish up with our students; we don’t let all of that go.

But it made us realise how much we rely on our timetable, which we know to be a good thing. A sense of structure, predictability and knowing what’s going to happen next is really important to help reduce uncertainty and anxiety. We see our children check the visual schedule in the classroom everyday, at most transitions. If we’ve made an error in the schedule, or forget to change it, they certainly notice and we are duly informed. The children want to know where we are in the schedule; it gives them a sense of comfort in counting down the activities until they can see their mom and dad at the end of the day.

When the children are aware of the expectations for themselves and others they feel calm and confident. They know what’s expected of them and what to do, so they can bring their focused attention to learning. This is a vital part of our self-regulation, being able to centre ourselves to be ready to learn. Being cognizant of what we need to do to down-regulate, whether through deep breathing, calming countdowns, or quiet activities such as walking, colouring or reading, is learned as we explore our emotions, how we’re feeling and connecting them to words and strategies. The Incredible Flexible You and the Zones of Regulation are two of the pro-social programs we use in our Kindergarten.

We practise daily strategies for self-regulation. Everyday we listen to calming music and feel our bodies relaxing. Then, we listen to the Zenergy chime and practise deep breathing to develop our mindfulness. Sometimes, we do stretches. We’re getting outside more as the weather has improved, and started our Forest Fridays, so adding some springtime walks is the next strategy to add to our repertoire.

While change is healthy and necessary for growth, we also know that too much change too quickly leaves one feeling out of control, upset and frustrated. This is why routines are such a necessary part of Kindergarten. We want the children to feel safe and secure during their day. When we do have to make changes to our daily schedule, we make sure we explain very carefully to our classes what is going to happen and why. We try to make certain that there are not too many changes in a day or week, although that can be difficult to control sometimes.

So when and where we can, we start with small changes and practise.

We might change the order of how we do things in our day.

We might change the children in the groups for Centre time.

We might change the way we print our name – in crayon or felt pen, rather than a pencil.

These seem like small things, but experience has taught us that we cannot expect five and six-year old children to accept change and adapt ”just like that,” or that “it’s good for them,” without practise. The teaching and scaffolding around changing set routines is necessary so that our children develop an understanding of why things change and the resiliency to cope with them. While we love our routines, we also want our children to learn to embrace change, without fear or hesitation. We’re looking to build strong, flexible students for a constantly changing world.

2 thoughts on “Change, Routines and Self-Regulation

  1. I appreciate what you have written about here recognizing that accepting change can be difficult for children of such a young age and that it takes practice in order for them to adapt to change. This is something that I did not understand early on in my teaching career. I think this is where practice in goal setting can really help students out. When students are learning-goal-oriented, they are better able to adapt to changes (Locke & Latham, 2006). If success is not tied directly to succeeding at a certain task in a certain way, but rather to learning itself, students are less likely to check out. Otherwise, they may feel the risks are too high.

    To apply this using an example from your posting, having students change the way they write their name can be stressful if they students have only learned that successful name-writing happens in pencil. In teaching them that success is learning to write their name and that that can take different forms, they are more able to take risks.

    You also tied resiliency in here. This is something I hear so many educators talking about. It seems many are acknowledging that this is a skill many students lack and everyone seems to be searching for the answer to this problem. I was lost on this goal until I started learning more about self-regulation. I am currently taking a Master’s level course in self-regulation and inquiry and here have found some of the answers I was looking for.

    Throughout the course, my peers and I have questioned how and when to introduce a number of self-regulation skills. In reading through some of your blog, I see how well they can be introduced in the early years when it becomes the lens through which you see your class and structure your program. I teach in Ontario where we have a similar Full-Day Kindergarten program, although I teach Grades 2 and 3. We also have a focus on play-based learning and inquiry.

    I would like to ask a question that came up in conversation with one of my classmates. Do you start by teaching your students self-regulation skills so that they can be more successful at learning through inquiry, or do you get right in to inquiry and outdoor education and teach the skills along the way? From reading this post I would think the former, but I am curious how you first implement this.

    Thanks for the look into how you use self-regulation in your classroom.



    Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  2. Sorry, that was the wrong Locke & Latham reference. Here’s the right one:

    Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science. Vol 15. No 5

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