Any family who has attended an early childhood yoga class at Breathing Space knows the song we sing it at the beginning of every class. If you’ve been with us for any amount of time, you probably sing it at home, too.
By the end of a session, at least a few toddlers or preschoolers will practically be able to lead our warm-up circle. Up high-down low, the butterfly song, toes to the nose…they know what comes next.
There’s a reason our classes follow the same structure and include the same touchpoints week after week, and its not because we’re uncreative.
Children—especially very young ones—thrive on ritual and routine.
When something delights toddlers and preschoolers, they will do it over and over, sometimes long past when any adult is enjoying the activity.
Family lore says that when I was a toddler, I would only accept Goodnight Moon as a bedtime story. It went on for so long that my father hid the book because he couldn’t stand reading it one more time. My daughter wasn’t any different, but for her it was The Bedtime Book, by Sandra Boynton.
For many families, a bedtime routine is the first thing established with a new baby, and often they notice that if the routine doesn’t happen as usual, the wheels come off the bus.
I would go so far as to say that routine and predictability is not just important for young children—its necessary in order for them to thrive. While they are still figuring out their bodies and the world, they need a rhythm to the day that they can count on. It helps their nervous systems settle. It allows them to be present in the moment, rather than worrying about what might come next. It gives them transition cues.
When young children know what to expect and feel like their space is secure, they are able to develop self regulation skills. Its easier to leave the park before they’re ready if they know they’re going home for lunch, and that they’ll be back at the park after morning snack tomorrow. Knowing what to expect is like stopping to take a breath: it gives them a beat to choose how to respond, rather than simply reacting.
Ritual and routine also helps with power struggles. Most tots favorite part of yoga class is bubble time at the end. By the third class, tots know where we stash the bubbles, and they will go to ask for them. Knowing that bubbles will definitely happen at the end of class might not mean the tot is thrilled that they have to wait, but they know their request will be met sooner than later. And, as the adults in the room, that predictable routine makes it very easy for us to set a clear and firm boundary. When adults are able to be clear and firm: bubbles will happen at the end of class, tots can respond to that clarity. When their grown-up gives a squishy boundary, the tot feels it. Should bubbles happen now? Will they happen at all? Are bubbles even allowed inside? How can kids relax back into the moment with that sort of uncertainty.
This isn’t just anecdotal evidence. Science is on our side. From reflex integration to motor skills to language, repetition is necessary for learning. Multiple studies over the past several years have shown that children who have routine and ritual as a part of their daily life develop stronger social-emotional skills and are less likely to have time management or attention problems as adults.
A weekly yoga class, provides structure to the day for both children and adults. Weeks with toddlers can be disorienting if there aren’t anchor activities like yoga, music, storytime, or regular play dates. These commitments create deadlines that help parents drive the rest of the routine, as well as enriching activities and a social outlet for everyone.
Your home routines don’t have to be complicated to be effective. It can be as simple as a song that you sing every morning, like we have in yoga class. It might be family meal the one time a week when everyone is home at the same time. A book before bed each night. Just make sure to pick one you can handle reading forever.