Toddlers are full of boundless energy. From the moment they wake up, they’re ready to play. And apart from a nap to recharge their batteries, they seem to be on the go until the moment their heads hit the pillow.
It can feel exhausting as the parent who has to run about after them every day. One thing that can make days feel easier is to set up a simple toddler daily schedule that you can both follow.
Do toddlers need a schedule?
Toddlers are busy little people. They spend a lot of time making sense of the world and figuring out what happens when (and why).
And when they know what will happen, they’re given more of a sense of control. It can help them feel happier and more confident in themselves too.
A number of experts believe toddlers thrive on routines. Soon they begin picking up on cues about what’s going to happen next.
They can wind down for bedtimes and expect food at mealtimes. This can make both their lives, and yours, much easier.
Can schedules help stay-at-home parents too?
Without any sort of routine it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by looking after a toddler. You might even have a baby to balance alongside them as well.
If there’s a plan in place, you can feel much more in control and more confident about how each day will unfold.
You’ll know when you’ll have some me-time in the day, when your toddler naps. You’ll know what time they’ll eat their dinner and when they’ll go to bed. And you can plan fun activities during their awake times to look forward to.
It doesn’t always go like clockwork, but having a flow to the day can be a sanity saver.
A sample daily toddler schedule
We’ve put together what a daily schedule looks like for a 1 – 2 year old. It’s based on a routine used by real mums. Remember though that every child is different so use it as a template or guide to create your own.
Maybe your toddler likes to wake up at 6:30 and go to bed at 8. Or maybe they like to sleep from 7pm to 7am. Start with whatever works for them and build up your routine around those times.
How to set up your own toddler routine
Start with the times your toddler likes to wake in the morning, nap in the afternoon and go to bed in the evening. Jot them down. These times can act as the framework of your day.
Then add some mealtimes to the routine. Spread them out evenly over the day. Add snacks in between if they need a little boost. (It can help to keep snacks light so that your toddler will still want to eat a meal at lunch and dinner time.)
Then plan fun activities in the morning and afternoon. These could be playgroups, classes or even a nature hunt during a walk in the park.
Leave some time for free play or relaxing time at home after activities, especially in the evenings.
Finally make your bedtime routine. Try to avoid screen time for at least an hour before bed, as experts have advised against this. Instead plan a relaxing bedtime routine that will help your toddler to wind down. Perhaps a warm bath and calming story or soothing song.
Once you’ve written down the times for each of these things, you have your first routine ready. Check if there’s anything you need to change. For example might want your toddler to sleep at 1.30 and not at 1, so you could move the whole routine back have an hour.
Then you start following it. Give it a few days and see how your toddler reacts to it. If something isn’t working for them, then you can always adjust and tweak the timings until it does.
Although the routine is your everyday guide, there will be days where it all gets broken up. That’s fine, just go with the flow. If the routine is the norm then your toddler will slip back into it the next day.
What are some activities to do with toddlers?
Each day it helps to have some ideas for morning and afternoon activities to add to your schedule. The days are so much more fun when you’re enjoying doing something together.
These activities might be short outings or even indoor play to keep your child entertained. You’ll soon build up a bank of your favourites to add to your list.
Ideas for outdoor fun
- Visit your local library – some may host weekly story times
- Go to a weekly toddler music or gymnastics class
- Go on an outing to the local garden centre
- Have fun in the soft play
- Take a trip to the supermarket (and get the groceries done too)
- Go to a toddler playgroup
- Have a walk in the park
- Feed the ducks and swans
- Play at the playground
- Visit a museum
- Mum and toddler swim time at your local swimming pool
Ideas for indoor activities for toddlers
From crafts to DIY toddler games, there’s a lot to enjoy indoors as well on those rainy afternoons.
We’ve put together 30 awesome indoor activities for toddlers here.
How do I get my toddler into a routine?
Write the routine down. It helps you to plan your day better and feel more organised. Then share the plan with your toddler, so that they can know what to expect from their day as well.
Of course they won’t get anything out of reading your written schedule. But there are ways you can let them know how each part of their day will unfold.
Use words to map out your day
Each morning you can talk to your toddler about your plans for the next few hours. Already you will be making them feel more in control.
They will know what to expect as they start their day. You might explain:
After breakfast we’ll get you dressed and then we’re going to head out on an adventure to the shop
Even trip that seems mundane to us – like a visit to the shop to buy milk and potatoes – can be an adventure for your toddler.
With their wonder of life they’ll relish the walk there and all the things they might spy. They’ll love helping you pick out the things you need from the shelves and handing over the money to pay.
Keep talking through your schedule as you go about your day. Explain to your toddler what will happen next.
You can also give your child one or two options for their activity time, as a great way to give them some independence:
Now we’ve done our shopping we’ll head home for lunch and then you can have your nap. After your nap do you want to go to the park or the duckpond?
Use pictures to plan out your schedule
In the morning and evening, you will probably have a set list of things you need to do with your toddler.
In the morning it’s probably brushing teeth, getting dressed, brushing hair.
In the evening it might be bath and teeth brushing along with a bedtime story.
It can be really useful to make some picture cards to show your toddler each step. Draw each task on a card and stick it onto a pin board. Your toddler can see what will happen and in what order.
These picture cards can help keep them on track. If you make it into a game, they’ll be much more cheerful as they go about their routine.
For an example of how to make your own, see our DIY morning routine board here.
Use a toddler schedule to help not hinder
A toddler schedule is something to help shape your days and your week. But remember, you are totally in charge of it.
There are days when throwing caution to the wind and going with the flow can be so much fun.
You might have a late dinner because you spent a happy afternoon jumping on the sand on the beach. Perhaps that leads to a late bedtime. Doing so here and there can lead to the very best days and adventures.
Days with a toddler can be full on. A schedule helps a lot of mums get through days more easily and makes them feel more manageable too.
And even with a routine, there’s plenty of opportunity for adventures and excitement along the way.