How to Create the Perfect Daycare Schedule

Creating a daily daycare schedule is no small feat. As a daycare owner or child care director, your day-to-day can be hectic to say the least. Daily routines are the key to maintaining order in such a lively setting. This goes for your staff, your children, and even their families. Creating a daily schedule for infants and toddlers is a bit of an art, since so many factors must be taken into account. In this guide, we’ll teach you how to create a daily daycare schedule that provides the perfect balance between structure and flexibility.

The Basics of a Daily Daycare Schedule

Building a daycare schedule that works for your program can be a challenge. You’ll need to factor in available resources, licensing requirements, developmental needs, and space constraints, just to name a few. While every child care provider has different rules and program offerings, there are some general guidelines to follow when building out a daycare schedule. Regardless of age group, your daily schedule must incorporate ways to meet all of the social, emotional, and physical needs of the children at your child care center, while also ensuring for the safety and well-being of both your children and your staff.

There are 4 key areas to consider as you work on crafting a schedule that works for your center.

1. Licensing Requirements

Do you know the daycare and child care licensing regulations in your area? These vary depending on your location and will provide you with a framework to start from. Are you required to provide 30 minutes of daily exercise for your 3-year-olds? What are the rules regarding staff ratios for each age group at your daycare? Do you need to document health checks for your infants every morning? Are there regulations on cleaning tasks during the day? Do your due diligence to ensure that you are building in both the required and the recommended components into your daycare schedule template.

2. Developmental Needs

Consider the fact that 85% of brain development happens in the first three years of life. More than 1 million neural connections are formed every second during these years. Not to mention the rapid physical development that occurs during this stage of childhood. The good news is that there are easy to follow recommended guidelines for meeting the daily needs of each age group, whether it’s hours of exercise per day or types of play activities. As such, all daycare daily schedules should be built to support the developmental milestones of each age group, with the purpose of preparing each child for the next developmental stage and classroom. Your schedule will contain blocks of time dedicated to supporting physical, social, and cognitive growth through structured routines and activities. It will also take into account necessary physical needs of each age group, such as naps, feedings/meals, and diapering/potty-training.

3. Facility Logistics

Depending on your daycare facility and available resources, daily scheduling can turn into a bit of a puzzle to piece together. Different age groups may need to use your outdoor facilities at staggered times. If you have a multi-purpose room for special events or guest activities, you’ll need to work this space’s availability into your daycare schedule template. If the toddlers and preschoolers share a wall between their rooms, you may want to schedule some quiet activities while the toddlers are having their morning nap. If you offer flexible options, such as part-time mornings or afternoon schedules, you may have programs that share a room, and so you’ll need to build transition time into your daily schedule.

4. Staff Logistics

Another building block of your daily daycare schedule will be staffing needs. Your child care staff will need regular breaks throughout their day. Will you be scheduling a floating staff member to provide these breaks throughout the day? Or will these be built into each classroom’s daily schedule, depending on activity block? Staff will also need time to perform all other duties that don’t involve direct supervision in their rooms, from prep time and cleaning, to record keeping and assessments. Another common practice is consolidating classrooms at the end of the day as children are picked up at different times. This helps to maintain ratios but still keep staffing costs down. Some daycare centers plan to pull a teacher in the afternoon as students leave to perform non-supervisory duties such as administrative or cleaning duties. For example, you may want to schedule outdoor time at the end of the day for both your toddlers and preschoolers, so that the groups can be combined as needed depending on ratios each day. 

Daycare Schedules for Infants

The infant daycare schedule is typically designed to meet the needs of children between the ages of 6 weeks to 18 months (or when they begin confidently walking). Building in opportunities within your daily schedule to engage with these little ones face-to-face and on their level will help encourage their progress on all of their developmental milestones

To inform your schedule, you’ll need an understanding of benchmark behaviors and abilities in this age group.

Infant Physical Development Milestones 

  • By 4 months, they will be reaching for toys, holding up their heads unsupported, and starting to roll over. 
  • By 9 months, they will be sitting without support, pulling themselves up to stand, and starting to crawl. 
  • From 1 year to 18 months old, they’ll be working at standing/walking, and are starting to have more coordinated movements in activities such as banging objects together or drinking from a cup.

Infant Social/Emotional Development Milestones 

  • By 4 months, they will be recognizing faces, returning smiles, and imitating facial expressions. 
  • By 9 months, they will be playing “peek-a-boo,” showing preferences for favorite toys, and may exhibit the beginnings of separation anxiety.  
  • From 1 year to 18 months old, they can be shy or show fear, cry when a parent leaves, respond to simple requests, and have their first temper tantrums.

Infant Language Development Milestones 

  • By 4 months, they will be babbling and imitating sounds. 
  • By 9 months, they will understand no and start copying sounds/gestures.
  • From 1 year to 18 months old, they will have a few words, repeat words/ try to say words, and wave goodbye. 

Infant Schedule Guidelines 

When they aren’t sleeping, eating, or having their diaper changed, these littlest ones need as muchinteraction as possible as they are learning about the world around them. They also need plenty of exercise! Even for the newborns, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several minutes of tummy time a day from the time they come home from the hospital.

Daily schedules for infants should contain a lot of flexibility and variation, since you’ll likely have a range of need levels in this room. Infant programs typically have a higher staff to child ratio to handle all of the physical tasks that go along with caring for a group of babies. You may also face some stringent licensing guidelines around documentation of naps, feedings, or diapering, so these activities may need more thorough planning out than is provided in our sample below.

Many centers opt to not post daily schedules for infants, given how varied the needs are and how rapidly they are changing. However, it is still best practice to have a guideline to work from to ensure these little ones are getting the support and interaction they need to grow and learn. 

Sample Infant Daily Schedule 

8am – 9amDrop-off + Bottles/Breakfast
9am – 9:30amDiapers
9:30am – 10:00amCircle Time (books + songs + puppets/finger plays)
10:00am – 10:15amBottles/Morning Snack
10:15am – 10:30amDiapers/Clean up
10:30am – 11:30amNaptime
11:30am – 12pmBottles/Lunch
12pm – 12:30pmStory Time (books + songs)
12:30pm – 1:30pmOutside Play/Gross Motor
1:30pm – 2:30pmNaptime
2:30pm – 3pmBottles/Snack
3pm – 4pmSensory or Art Activity
4pm – 5pmIndividual Play Time

Daycare Schedule for Toddlers 

The toddler daycare schedule is generally designed to meet the needs of children from 18 months to 3 years old. This group is newly mobile and trying very hard to communicate verbally. Building in plenty of time to work on language and gross motor skills will be the basis of the toddler daily schedule as you help progress on all of their developmental milestones

Toddler Physical Development Milestones

  • By 2 years old, they will be walking confidently, throwing a ball, and holding a crayon.
  • By 3 years old, they will be running, jumping, pedaling a tricycle, and climbing stairs and playground structures.

Toddler Social/Emotional Developmental Milestones

  • By 2 years old, they will be experimenting with defiance and independence, copying others, and engaging in simple cooperative play. 
  • By 3 years old, they will be showing affection and concern for friends, taking turns in games, and engaging in joint activities with a common goal.

Toddler Language Developmental Milestones

  • By 2 years old, they will have a simple vocabulary of names, everyday objects, and body parts, speak in 2-4 word sentences, and can follow simple instructions. 
  • At 3 years old, they can follow multi-step instructions, are starting to carry on conversations, and can be understood by most adults.

Toddler Schedule Guidelines  

Once your kiddos are mobile toddlers, the daycare daily schedule will change some, with the biggest difference most likely being the absence of the morning nap. Daily schedules for toddlers will contain ample amount of outdoor/gross motor time to foster the important physical development that is happening at this age. The AAP recommends 60 minutes of active play per day for toddlers, with at least half of that being led by adults.

Toddlers need plenty of group play time to explore the beginnings of cooperative play. Your schedule should encourage interactions during activities or at play centers in the classroom. The younger ones will benefit from observing the older toddlers as they begin to play and interact with each other. Imitation is the name of the game as they start to build a real understanding of how to work with others around them. 

Sample Toddler Daily Schedule 

8am – 9amDrop-off + Breakfast
9am – 9:30amIndependent Play/Play Centers
9:30am – 10:15amCircle Time (morning routine + songs)
10:15am – 10:30amMorning Snack
10:30am – 11:30amOutside Play + Physical Activity
11:30am – 12pmLunch
12pm – 1:00pmSensory or Art Activity
1:00pm – 1:30pmStory Time (books + songs)
1:30pm – 2:30pmNaptime
2:30pm – 3pmAfternoon Snack
3pm – 4pmGroup Play (puzzles + games + center activities)
4pm – 4:30pmClosing Circle
4:30pm – 5pmChoice Time/Outside Play

Daily Schedule for Preschoolers

The preschool daily schedule will meet the needs of the oldest children at your center, typically 3- to 5-year-olds. The shift for this age group will be to focus more on fine motor and language/cognition abilities and other kindergarten readiness skills. Building in more structured activities with an increasing academic focus will encourage progress on this group’s developmental milestones

Preschooler Physical Development Milestones

  • By 4 years old, they can hop, catch/throw a ball, walk backward, use scissors, copy shapes, and can dress themselves.
  • By 5 years old, they can skip, do a somersault, use the swings, and draw shapes and people.

Preschooler Social/Emotional Development Milestones

  • By 4 years old, they are engaging in imaginative play, can cooperate with others, and have interests/likes/opinions.
  • By 5 years old, they can tell what’s real and make believe, are exhibiting more independence, and want to please their friends and be like their friends.

Preschooler Language Development Milestones

  • By 4 years old, they will be following some basic grammar rules (using he/she and over/under appropriately), telling simple stories, singing songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Wheels on the Bus,” and starting to copy capital letters.
  • By 5 years old, they will be speaking very clearly, using future/past tense and more sophisticated grammar, telling stories with full sentences, and can write letters and numbers.


Preschooler Schedule Guidelines

This is the age that the afternoon nap is starting to drop off, so naptime can also turn into quiet reading time for those who aren’t able to fall asleep. The other big shift will be turning towards more cognitive and literacy skills in preparation for kindergarten. Your daily preschool schedule should include more table and task-centered activity blocks to ensure they leave your center fully equipped to handle the transition to school.

This age group still learns a lot through imaginative and fantasy play, as they build a stronger sense of self and cooperative relationships with each other. They also need even more physical activity, up to 2 hours daily, according to the AAP. This group will work on improving balance and coordination in both fine and gross motor activities.   

Sample Preschooler Daily Schedule

8am – 9amDrop-off + Breakfast
9am – 9:30amFine Motor Work
9:30am – 10:00amCircle Time (morning routine + songs)
10:00am – 10:15amMorning Snack
10:15am – 10:45amOutside Play + Physical Activity
10:45am – 11:30pmTable Work (Literacy/Math)
11:30am – 12:00pmLunch
12:00pm – 1:00pmArt or Sensory/Fine Motor Activity
1:00pm – 1:30pmStory Time
1:30pm – 2:30pmNaptime/Quiet Time
2:30pm – 3pmAfternoon Snack
3pm – 4pmGroup Play (puzzles + games +center activities)
4pm – 4:30pmClosing Circle
4:30pm – 5pmChoice Time

Whatever your variation on these schedules is, it’s important to post your daily schedule in the classroom and share with your families to keep everyone in the loop. Following your daycare schedule framework will ensure that each age group’s developmental needs are met, which will help build a strong relationship with your families. It will also instill trust within your classrooms, as children will know what to expect each day. Stick to your daycare routine as much as possible, but also allow for flexibility as special events or opportunities arise. 

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