Inside: Learn how to structure your 3 year old’s daily routine. Everything from morning to bedtime, plus what to do with a 3 year old all day.
Looking for a solid daily routine for your 3 year old?
In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know when it comes to your 3 year old’s daily routine.
3 years old is a turning point for many toddlers. This is typically when kids outgrow some of their two year old behaviors, and step into “bigger” things.
- Bigger emotions
- More independence
- “I can do it!”
- Saying “no” – and meaning it
- Less napping, more playing
All this is to say, it’s essential to have a daily routine. “Winging it” is a recipe for a power struggle or meltdown at every turn.
And if this year (in 2020-2021), you find yourself doing preschool at home with your 3 year old, then you’ll definitely want to have a structured routine in place.
How to create a routine for your 3 year old:
- Consider their wake-up time, naptime or quiet time, and bedtime
- Establish a feeding schedule (or what times meals/snacks are offered)
- Make a list of available activities and outings (playground, errands, playdate, etc.)
- Capitalize on what you have at home (outdoor play ideas, toy rotation, learning shelves, etc.)
Mom-to-Mom Tip: 3 years old can be a really tough time for some toddlers. Especially if they are prone to BIG emotions and they’ve dropped their nap. This is a bad combo, in case you haven’t guessed 😉 Through raising my two daughters I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to smile, get on their level, and realize that it’s not as serious as it seems. A little playful parenting goes a long way. Don’t engage in power struggles, and don’t have an adult-sized tantrum. Three just is what it is. You’ve got this.
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Tips & Ideas for Your 3 Year Old’s Daily Routine
7 AM: Wake Up
Right around turning 3, both of my girls decided they just forgot how to sleep in to a normal time. Suddenly it was the 6 AM [cranky] party in the living room.
I knew this wasn’t going to work for me.
If your toddler struggles with waking up too early, this post: 3 Year Old Morning Routine Makeover details step-by-step how I keep both of my kids in their rooms until 7 AM (regardless of what time they wake up).
7:00 – 9:00 AM: Morning Routine for 3 Year Olds
When my toddler comes downstairs, I like to have 3 things ready for her:
- Water and milk
- A morning snack (applesauce pouch, dry cereal, fruit)
- An easy activity (follow me on Instagram to see the morning activities I set up) or a Morning Basket
While she works on her activity, I make us a “mommy & me” breakfast. This is a fancy term for: I make us the same thing :). I recently shared a full post of quick breakfast ideas for toddlers (and mom).
After breakfast, we do our morning read-aloud.
This is a special time where just me and my 3 year old can sit and read a stack of books together while I drink more coffee. This is my favorite part of our morning routine. You may find it helpful to say: “It’s time to read with mommy! Can you pick 5 books off the shelf and bring them to the couch?”
Mom-to-Mom Tip: This is my favorite time of day (besides bedtime) to read with my toddler. The day hasn’t gotten busy yet, and I can still sit and drink my coffee. You may prefer to do reading first thing, before breakfast, or even right before naptime. The routine provided here is just a suggestion. It’s always best to adapt to fit the needs of your child.
9 AM: Mom’s Exercise Time
Yes, sometimes you’ve got to build this into the schedule. When I wake up in the morning, I always get dressed right away in my workout clothes. This helps remind me that I need to exercise!
Here’s how I find time to exercise with my 3 year old:
- Most days I power-walk with my BoB Jogging Stroller (obsessed). I usually give my daughter a snack and a book to look at while we walk.
- Sometimes, to change it up, we’ll do a yoga video together! If you haven’t tried Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube, I highly recommend it!
- I also like to do the quick workouts from Tone it Up. They have a YouTube channel and an app. My 3 year old will usually play or just watch while I do the video. Some of them are just quick 10 minute workouts!
10 AM – 12 PM: Daily Outing
With 3 year olds, it’s important to keep the “leaving the house” routine simple. Rather than chasing them around saying “get your shoes on, get your shoes on, get your shoes on or we’re not going!” <—no judgement, we’ve all been there —-> you may find it more helpful to use a routine picture chart.
That way you can point to the chart and say “what’s next on your chart?”
We use these printable routine picture cards and they’ve worked wonders for both of our kids!
A daily outing for us is a must, even if it’s just the Starbucks drive thru.
Here is my usual list of daily outings/activities:
- Toddler gym (at gymnastics studio)
- Storytime at the library
- Children’s museum
- Playdate with a friend
- Target Run??
- Starbucks or Chick-Fil-A drive thru
- Grocery shopping
- Miscellaneous errands
Of course, this year, in 2020, “outings” might be a little different, depending on where you live.
If you’re unable to go out, or are looking for some activities to do at home in that 10-12 time block, here are some ideas:
- Hands-on Sensory & Tactile Play Ideas
- Indoor & Outdoor Activities for Toddlers
- Preschool at Home Activities
- The Preschool Playbook
12 PM – 1 PM: TV & Lunch
After returning home from our morning outing, I usually let my 3 year old watch a TV show, especially if I have a lot of groceries to put away.
This is a great time for me to throw on Daniel Tiger for 25 minutes, and give myself a break to make lunch for the two of us.
Need some easy toddler lunch ideas? You can find my roundup (with pictures), here!
1:00 – 2:00 PM: Quiet-time (or naptime)
Here’s where your routine may differ slightly.
For toddlers, I always recommend a 1-3PM quiet-time or naptime. This year, however, I have to leave my house by 2 PM to pick up my 5 year old from Kindergarten.
As mentioned earlier, it’s always best to adjust your routine to fit the needs of your toddler, or other children, if necessary.
Wondering how in the world to do “quiet-time” and get your 3 year old to play independently?
I can tell you this: for most kids, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and consistency, and sometimes, some snack bribery 🙂
Here are three posts you may find helpful in your quest for a mom-break:
- How to set up a quiet-time space for your toddler (and what to do if they need to nap, but won’t)
- How to Make a Quiet Time Bin for Your 3 Year Old
- Ultimate Guide to Toy Rotation: How to make a quiet-time play bin (shown below)
3:00 – 4:00 PM: Outdoor Playtime
After picking up my older daughter from school, I love to have the girls play outside. If it’s too hot, sometimes we’ll head to our neighborhood pool, or just play inside for the afternoon.
Here are some fun outdoor play ideas:
- Ride bikes/trikes
- Doll strollers/push toys
- Basketball hoop
- Little slide
- Sprinkler/splash pad
- Sidewalk chalk/bubbles
4:00 – 6:00 PM: Bath, TV, & Dinner
Since it’s so hot where we live, I like to do baths right after outside playtime. Of course, when the weather does finally cool down, I’ll usually wait until after dinner, but I find that getting baths out of the way helps speed up the bedtime routine.
After their bath, I let the girls watch a TV show while I cook dinner. This gives them a chance to relax after a long day, and also allows me the opportunity to get dinner made quickly, and without interruptions.
6:00 – 7:00 PM: 3 Year Old Bedtime Routine
Putting a 3 year old to bed should be an Olympic Sport. Over the years I’ve learned it’s best to keep bedtime simple, predictable, and a little boring.
Here’s how our bedtime routine goes:
- Take a bath (if haven’t already)
- Brush teeth
- PJs on
- 3 bedtime stories
- Bedtime song & say goodnight
If your 3 year old struggles with their bedtime routine, you may find it helpful to use printable routine picture cards as a visual aid.
It also helps to watch “Good Morning / Goodnight Daniel” on PBS kids and have your toddler learn Daniel’s bedtime song: “bathtime, PJs, brush teeth, story and song and off to bed.”
7:00 PM – & On: Get Organized
After my 3 year old is in bed, I like to get myself ready for the next day. This usually means running the dishwasher, emptying out my bag or cleaning out the car of random shoes and books.
This is a sample of my evening clean-up/prep routine:
- Clean up stray toys & books
- Load/Unload the dishes
- Pack lunches & snacks for next day
- Fill up water bottles for next day (we each have a reusable stainless steel bottle)
- Restock my bag/car if necessary (I always like to have 2 full changes of clothes in case of accidents)
- Set out a morning activity (see morning routine)
Here’s my 3 Year Old’s Daily Routine breakdown:
- 7 AM: Wake Up
- 7 – 9 AM: Morning Activity, Breakfast, Reading, Get Ready
- 9 AM: Mom’s Exercise Time
- 10 AM – 12 PM: Daily Outing or Activities at Home
- 12 – 1 PM: TV & Lunch
- 1 – 3 PM: Quiet-time or Naptime
- 3 – 4 PM: Outdoor Playtime
- 4 – 6 PM: Bath, TV, Dinner or TV, Dinner, Bath
- 6 – 7 PM: Bedtime Routine