Creating a Schedule for 3 Year Olds

Creating the right routine for your child sets your child up for success throughout the day. All kids run best when they have a schedule and know what to expect daily. Finding the right schedule for 3-year-olds ensures you meet all their needs and that your days move smoothly.

Age 3 comes with a lot of changes for your child.

Everyone talks about the terrible twos, but I think a three-year-old is more challenging for both the toddler and the parents. It comes with many transitions and new behaviors, and kids begin to have more independence than ever.

That’s why many parents struggle at this time. Bedtime starts to take a lot longer than before. Your child doesn’t want to fall asleep, and the process of getting your child into bed takes two hours. Naps are all over the place, and each day feels like you aren’t sure what will happen next.

It’s time to restructure your days and devise a schedule that lets your child excel. Let’s look at what you need to know about creating a schedule for 3-year-olds.

Related: Simple Cleaning Schedules for Working Moms

The Benefits of a Daily Schedule for 3-Year-Olds

Not all parents put their children on a daily schedule, so if this is a new idea for you, you may wonder what the benefits of doing so are. Everyone knows babies prefer schedules for their eating and sleeping, but toddlers benefit too!

It Gives Your Child Security

A toddler is still new to the world, and they are little humans in a big world. Their world changes regularly, so having a daily schedule gives your child something dependable that doesn’t move.

Your child knows when specific things happen, such as bathtime, that bedtime comes next.

It Regulates Their Metabolism

Evidence shows those with irregular sleep and eating schedules have trouble regulating their metabolism. It affects their ability to eat healthily and maintain a healthy weight range.

We know that children with a consistent daily routine regulate their metabolism better than those without.

Your Child Gets Proper Sleep

Ensuring your child receives adequate sleep is essential for their overall health and well-being. It’s easy to underestimate how much sleep your child needs. While our society glamorizes being busy all the time, it’s unhealthy, and we cannot pass that model onto our kids.

Having a daily routine means your child goes to bed around the same time each day and wakes up around the same time. That makes it easy for parents to know how much sleep their child gets.

You Help Meet More Developmental Needs

A well-rested child is more likely to meet developmental milestones than an exhausted child. We know lack of sleep affects their academic, fine motor, and gross motor milestones.

Also, when it comes to their behavior, a tired child is angry. Your child is more likely to have meltdowns and tantrums.

How Much Sleep Does a 3-Year-Old Need?

Sleep is essential for the well-being of your child. Getting the right amount of sleep supports your child’s overall health, and it affects their mood and ability to learn during the day.

Many 3-year-olds attend preschool, and I bet you want your child to learn while there. Getting the right amount of sleep helps your child do so. Studies show that the lack of sleep long-term impacts your child’s future academic performance.

Between the ages of 2 to 5 years old, kids generally need the same amount of sleep. A 3-year-old generally needs to sleep 12 to 14 hours daily, including naps and nighttime sleep.

What Time Should a 3-Year-Old Go to Bed?

Toddlers get ready for bed between 6:30 to 7:30 PM. Remember, this is just a recommendation; I know if you have older kids, those kids may still be at practices or lessons at that time.

Toddlers sleep best and deepest between 8 PM and midnight. Also, most parents will tell you that putting your child to bed later doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll sleep in later. That works for some families, but if you put your toddler to bed at 9 PM and they still wake up at 6 AM, they simply aren’t getting enough sleep.

Try to aim for your child to be asleep by 8 PM to give them the best chance to get all the sleep they need. Remember to have a set bedtime routine; this helps your child’s body prepare for bed and fall asleep – and stay asleep – easily.

Do 3-Year-Olds Need a Nap Still?

Eventually, all good things come to an end, and your toddler will stop napping. The exact age when a child stops napping varies greatly for various factors, such as attending preschool, overall maturity, and nighttime sleep habits.

Experts agree that most children, at age three, still nap at least once per day. In fact, fifty to sixty percent of four-year-olds still take a nap.

Deciding to drop a naptime or all naps depends on more than just your child’s age. Parents need to pay attention to their child’s specific needs. In general, if your child feels fully energized throughout the day, then a nap isn’t needed.

Here are some signs that your child might be ready to cut out their final nap.

  • Your child has trouble falling asleep at nap time. If your child is tired during the day, then chances are they pass out on their bed or couch quickly. If your child hangs out in their bed and doesn’t fall asleep, napping may no longer be needed.
  • Your child has trouble falling asleep at nighttime. This is one of the signs I used for my kids when we dropped naps. If your child typically falls asleep easily and struggles to do so now, they may not be tired enough for bed due to their naptime.
  • Your child wakes too early. If your child is happy and ready for the day at 5 AM – when no one else is ready – it may be because they fulfilled all their sleep quota. Drop that nap!

How Many Naps Should a 3-Year-Old Take?

Generally, if a three-year-old is still taking naps, they are down to one nap. Over the next year or so, that nap may get later in the day, slowly moving to the point when you take out the nap entirely.

How to Get Your 3-Year-Old on a Schedule

Getting your child on a schedule takes some time. Not only do you, as the parent, have to adjust to the schedule, but your child must adjust to this. Knowing that a schedule isn’t a magic tool for all of your child’s problems is also important. Some behavioral problems may exist after you implement a schedule.

Here are some tips to get your child on a schedule.

Print a Schedule

If you create a schedule for your 3-year-old, consider printing a schedule to hang on your fridge. Canva is a tool you can use for this, and you can make a schedule for you to follow and one for your child with pictures.

Three-year-olds are all about independence, so having a schedule they understand without reading gives them autonomy. They know it’s time to brush their teeth and hair and feed the dogs.

Yes, don’t be afraid to give your toddler a few daily tasks. Chores are great for kids at this age!

Related: 36 Chores for 4 Year Olds: Set Them Up for Success

Use a Toddler Clock

Give your toddler a clock for their bedroom.

Time is abstract. Telling your child that bedtime is 8 PM is hard for that child to visualize; what does it even mean when it is 8 PM?

A toddler clock helps your child understand, often with colors, when that time comes. It sets clear, understandable boundaries. They can get up when the color is green, and when it is red, they need to sleep.

This turns abstract instructions into something concrete and easier for toddlers to comprehend.

Be Consistent

One thing about toddlers is they know when their parents are consistent with their instructions and when they are not. Consistency is essential if you want your schedule to be beneficial and successful.

Flexibility is essential as well. You don’t have to leave the party right on the dot if everyone is happy and having a good time. If your child sleeps in a bit longer than usual, you don’t have to wake them up unless you need to leave.

Over time, if you are consistent, your child’s body will adapt. Your bodies naturally fall into the consistency, and it feels good!

Let Your Child Have Some Control

Your child may push back on a consistent schedule, so find times to give your toddler some control. Bedtime and naps – if you so pick to keep them on a nap – aren’t debatable, but you may let them decide if they brush their hair or teeth first. Let them pick out their outfits for the day.

This is also when a visual schedule helps!

Examples of a Schedule for 3-Year-Olds

Now come the samples you may want to use. You have to adapt your schedules to meet your family. You may have older kids with schedules that your toddler has to fit into, or you may work.

All of that goes into creating a schedule for 3 year olds.

Also, your child’s sleep needs will be unique. Some kids need more sleep than others. I know I need more sleep than my husband, and my daughter needs more sleep than my son. Understanding your child helps you tailor your schedule to work for everyone.

Here are a few sample daily schedules with and without naps.

A Sample Schedule for 3-Year-Olds with a Nap

  • 7 AM: Wake Up
  • 7:30-8 AM: Breakfast
  • 8:30-10 AM: Playtime
  • 10:30 AM: Snack Time
  • 10:30 AM – 12 PM: Outside Play Time
  • 12 PM: Lunch Time
  • 12:30 PM: Reading Time
  • 1-3:00 PM: Nap Time
  • 3:00 PM: Snack with TV Time
  • 4-5:00 PM: Free Play with Family
  • 5:30 PM: Dinner
  • 6-6:30 PM: Bath and Bedtime Routine
  • 7:00 PM: Bedtime

A Sample Schedule for a 3-Year-Old with No Nap

  • 7 AM: Wake Up
  • 7:30-8 AM: Breakfast
  • 8:30-10 AM: Playtime
  • 10:30 AM: Snack Time
  • 10:30 AM – 12 PM: Outside Play Time
  • 12 PM: Lunch Time
  • 12:30 PM: Reading Time with Mom
  • 1-3:00 PM: Quiet Time with an Indoor Activity OR More Outside Play Time
  • 3:00 PM: Snack with TV Time
  • 4-5:00 PM: Free Play with Family
  • 5:30 PM: Dinner
  • 6-6:30 PM: Bath and Bedtime Routine
  • 7:00 PM: Bedtime
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