Routines: Why are They Important?

A recent high school graduate works as an instructor for the local Parks and Recreation Department and her employment there includes running a summer soccer camp.  On the first day of camp she learned that she had twelve participants, children between the ages of five and seven.  Out of those twelve, four have a diagnosis of ADHD and two have autism.  She proceeded to show proper technique for kicking the soccer ball, and when it was time for each participant to have a turn to kick the ball she noticed a variety of behaviors, many of which were unexpected on the soccer field.  Two of the children had special needs caregivers who accompanied them on the field, and the instructor and the caregivers kept busy chasing balls as well as some of the children all over the park.  At the end of the lesson the instructor, feeling that she was not successful in teaching her group anything on the first day, called her mom and asked her what to do.  Her mom, an experienced educator, suggested that she determine a routine for the lesson and share this with parents and caregivers, enlisting their help in teaching that routine.  By the end of the first week of soccer camp, the lesson routine was well-established, and the children were appropriately moving the ball beyond the goal line into the opposing goal.

Routines are important because they help individuals understand what is expected of them in specific environments and to demonstrate the appropriate behaviors in those environments.  Routines support individuals in developing executive function skills by increasing structure and predictability, decreasing anxiety, and providing opportunities for individuals to engage in activities with greater independence.

As parents or educators we can easily teach routines that support learning and behavioral success.  The first step in developing routines is to determine activities, events, or behaviors to target by teaching a routine.  Consider the role of routines throughout the day and across home, school, or community settings, such as getting ready for school in the morning, a homework routine, working in groups in the classroom, participating in activities at church, visiting the library, etc.  At home, routines are especially important for less structured times such as summer or holiday breaks from school.  At school, routines are important for less common events such as emergency drills, field trips, or assemblies.

Once the steps for completing specific routines are determined, we can directly teach the routine using strategies such as modeling, visual supports, prompting, and social narratives.  Don’t forget reinforcement for those who successfully following expected routine behaviors.  Establishing and teaching routines provides structure around expectations and predictable procedures and supports individuals in functioning with more independence.  If you’ve had success in establishing and teaching routines, we’d love to hear about it!

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