Classroom Structure
  • 22 Dec 2023
  • 18 Minutes to read

Classroom Structure

Article summary

Classroom structure has three sections:

Classroom Community

Creating a Sense of Community

Creating a sense of community should begin from the first day of school and continue throughout the year. A new group of children arrives with different interests, abilities, cultures, and families. Many may have experienced childcare since they were infants, while others are experiencing it for the first time. How you meet and greet each child and family is a role model for meeting and greeting their peers. Part of creating a sense of community is to remember that “the teacher is the environment. The teacher creates a sense of community that is equitable for all children.

As a teacher, you will:

  • Create a welcoming classroom that reflects and celebrates children’s identities, including images of children (e.g., self-portraits) and families (e.g., photos), and offer different opportunities for children to learn about themselves and each other throughout the curriculum.
  • Show respect for children of different cultural backgrounds in school settings.
  • Welcome families and children to share their cultural heritages at school-wide events such as cultural fairs or a cultural week and include a sustained focus on children’s social identities throughout the year.
  • Include children’s books and media in early childhood classrooms which represent different cultures and diversity.
  • Are enthusiastic and use positive verbal and nonverbal language.
  • Empower children to have some influence over decisions in play.
  • Ensure children have input in curriculum topics, parts of the daily schedule, and creating class rules and job responsibilities.
  • Give children the space they need to explore, experiment, and make—and learn from—mistakes.
  • Provide experiences of working together to solve problems in both play and projects.
  • Understand that a strong classroom community is one in which children feel empowered and valued, and children will learn and grow.
  • Model behaviors of respect, caring, self-control, and fair decision-making.

Visit the Resources section for additional support on classroom schedules.


Together Time

This is a time of building community and sharing as well as learning. Keep it short and interesting and follow the interest level of toddlers. If toddlers become restless, try an action song or something that uses large muscle movement. Don’t be afraid to stop together time early if toddlers are not interested. Then, in your planning, focus on adjusting to your group’s needs and what will engage them.

Together time is meant to share activities and experiences that:

  • Build structure into the program, so the children know what to expect each day.
  • Are meaningful to children (e.g., presented for children’s benefit and at their level).
  • Presented in an engaging way.
  • Always include movement (e.g., small motor movements like fingerplays, large motor movements like dancing and actions).
  • Introduce new concepts or things that are occurring or available (e.g., new materials in centers, change to daily schedule such as a planned fire drill, a new friend has joined the group).
  • Share thoughts and ideas, listen, and talk to each other, participate in new learning experiences, read together, sing together, and interact with one another.

Together Time Schedule Frequency and Purpose:

  • Twice a day: once in the morning, and once just before time to go home.
  • Begin the year with 5 minutes and increase to 10 minutes as the children’s attention spans increase.
  • A consistent transition activity to gather and dismiss children.
  • Alternate active and passive activities.

Beginning of the day

This is a large group, teacher-led activity, and occurs in the morning at a time in the schedule when the group has arrived. Use this time to set the tone for the day or week. Establish a routine that includes an opening song or finger play and activities which may also include:

  • Taking attendance.
  • Morning message.
  • Shared reading.
  • Introduction to new materials.
  • Time to focus children on the upcoming daily/weekly events.
  • Create meaningful ways to introduce concepts such as before and after and later and next.

End of day

This is the second large-group, teacher-led activity. This is time to bring the children together to review the day before the group begins leaving for the day.

Learning Center Time

Learning Centers provide opportunities for exploration as children make decisions (self-direct) about their activity choices, interactions, and direction. They are guiding their learning, with peers or solo. Learning centers should include newly rotated materials weekly, ideally on Monday and mid-week as the play progresses, to keep interest high.

Examples of Learning Centers

  • Art Center.
  • Construction Center.
  • Dramatic Play Center.
  • Mathematics/Number Center (often combined with manipulatives).
  • Reading/Literacy Center.
  • Science/Sensory Center.
  • Alphabet/Writing Center (introducing letters without expectation of toddlers traditionally writing letters).

Schedule Frequency and Purpose

  • Schedule twice daily.
  • Length is a minimum of 45 minutes each, with 60 to 90 minutes desirable.
  • Children may work in centers they choose, taking into account space considerations.
  • Children practice skills they are learning, building relationships with peers, and responsibility for actions and use of materials and space.

Teacher Role

  • Set-up a management system that allows children to rotate freely through centers.
  • Establish a clean-up routine.
  • Encourage children to explore different centers.
  • Interact with children in centers using open-ended questions and open-ended materials, allowing discovery of material use.
  • Model, model, model how to play and interact with friends, use different materials, and clean up.
  • Don’t forget to model. It's that important.

Small Group Instruction

  • Small Group Instruction times can run concurrently with centers if you have scheduled center time for at least 60 minutes, and if staffing and children’s attention allows. If this model is used, the daily schedule and lesson plans should reflect this.
  • Feel free to incorporate small group instruction throughout the day. Usually, there are no more than three to five children in a small group activity. A small group activity could last a maximum of 10 minutes. Small group times provide the teacher with opportunities for close interaction necessary for focused instruction and skills assessment.
  • Small Groups are designed to focus on a skill or concept in an engaging, interesting manner.
  • All children may not participate in a small group every day.
  • Determine a small group schedule throughout the week for those children in need of reinforcement on that skill or concept.

Outdoor Adventures

Go outside every day the weather permits. Check your state regulations for the minimum amount of time your age group should spend outside. Most, if not all, indoor activities can occur outside too. Make your space into an outdoor classroom.

  • Play and Learn - an outdoor experience where children can engage in supervised free play.
  • Walk around and get involved with children’s play and conversation.
  • Outdoor play supports the development of necessary social skills and gross motor skills.
  • Provide materials such as balls, tricycles, and balance beams to encourage movement, and learning center materials to promote constructive play.
  • Rotate materials to maintain interest.

Arrival at school

Establishing an arrival routine will provide children with a structure to know what to expect and feel safe at school.

When children first enter the classroom each morning, they should feel welcomed.Each child’s individual and past experiences may influence the child’s reaction to transitioning from home to school. Whether the children arrive all at once or trickle in, the following tips may help provide a predictable routine to start the school year. Your routine activities will change as children learn and grow. Children will feel successful if they start the day excited to be in school.

  • Think of a choice of 3 rituals you could use to greet the children. Include a visual so they can choose which greeting they want to use handshake, hug, or high five. No-contact options include an air hug, thumbs up, hang loose sign.
  • Ask the child, “How do you feel today,” and have the child point to the picture of how they feel on a poster of faces with different expressions?
  • Prepare your classroom for the day before the children arriving.
  • Greet children and families with a smile and speak their name and add a few words of welcome.
  • Avoid making comments about what the child is wearing or how they look.
  • Upon arrival, encourage the parent to stay a few minutes and help the child settle in.
  • Create a visual picture of the arrival routine.

Morning Routine

(Your routine will be individualized based on your schedule and school policies/procedures.)

  • Include a sign-in routine, an age-appropriate activity with a variety of writing tools, and large pieces of unlined paper for the beginning of the school year.
  • Put personal items in designated cubbies labeled with each child’s name.
  • Wash hands.
  • Encourage the family member to say a cheery goodbye.
  • Prepare a variety of tabletop activities available to children.

Snack and Mealtime

Snack time is an opportunity for learning in all the domains for learning. Snacks served at a table allow youngsters to navigate serving themselves food and drinks.

Teachers sit and interact with the children focusing on healthy eating and self-help skills (e.g., serving self, opening packaging, feeding self).


Transitions are the periods between activities. This is the time for children to interact with the visual schedule. They can use a clothes pin to mark the clip on the next activity or point as they identify the activity which comes next.

Transition songs, chants, rhymes, sounds, and pictures are helpful to children to move to the next activity to assist them with focusing on a smooth transition in a group.


The schedule is the “big picture” of the main activities you and the children engage in daily. Routines, on the other hand, are the steps done along the way to complete certain portions of the schedule. Routines help provide a pattern and predictability to one’s day.

Examples of routines

  • Arrival
  • Bathroom time
  • Handwashing Meals/Snacks
  • Clean-Up
  • Naptime
  • Dismissal

Classroom Rules

  • Involve children in creating rules.
  • Posted rules are positive and use affirmative language.
  • The use of pictures will enhance children’s readability and understanding.
  • A suggested guide for this age is a maximum of four rules.
  • Keep the rules short and simple.
  • Once you have decided on a set list of rules as a group, reinforce them by walking through each rule.
  • Adding picture cues and physical actions to your rules will help the children remember the rules. Post the rules in several locations throughout your classroom.
  • Post at eye level and include visuals with children having diverse skin tones and eye colors.
  • Visit the Resource section for additional support on classroom routines.


Your schedule may vary based on your program’s operating hours and needs, but there are essential considerations when developing a schedule. Your schedule must provide:

  • Blocks of time to enable children opportunities for discovery as they are involved in integrated, active, engaged learning experiences.
  • A balance of large group (e.g., together time), small group, individual activities that include child-selected groups, and teacher-selected groups.
  • Times, when children can work and play together with peers as well as alone (self-selected by the child).
  • Time planned for physical movement and outdoor activities as well as snacks/meals and rest times.
  • A sense of what comes next. A predictable schedule helps children anticipate what will happen, and thus feel more secure.

Tips for developing a schedule

  • For shared spaces (e.g., a playground), you will need to plan a program-wide schedule with others.
  • Consider the type of activity and alternate active and passive activities.
  • Plan your day and be organized. Prepare things needed for each part of the schedule in advance (e.g., have your large group book and materials out with music cued up before children come to large group time, ensure paint and brushes are available at the easel before center time, fill the water table before outdoor play begins). This reduces wait time and problem behavior.
  • Think about the transitions/ routines throughout your day and allow time for transitions and routines, so children (and you) are not frustrated with unrealistic expectations.

Time Needed for Routine Parts of Day

For infants and young toddlers, there are some additional parts of the day that are routine, but also very important learning opportunities. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sign Language — Using sign language provides infants an opportunity to communicate before they can verbalize using words. These activities should be repeated often throughout the week.
  • Feeding Time — Feeding time offers opportunities for one-on one interactions and bonding.
  • Changing Time — Like Feeding Time, Changing Time also provides opportunities for one on-one interactions. These activities have been created to maintain the infant’s attention, build skills, and encourage interactions.
  • Tummy Time — Tummy Time allows for the development of neck, arm, leg, back, and stomach muscles for infants who are not yet crawling. These activities also provide opportunities for reaching, grasping, and tracking. As infants engage in Tummy Time, peer interactions are encouraged and adults should also be on the floor, so babies see others’ faces, not just feet.
  • Outdoor Exploration - Outdoor activities are in addition to regularly available outdoor options such as sandbox, water play, trikes, swings, and slides. They are theme-related and should be presented every day the weather permits. Check your state regulations for the amount of time your age group should spend outside.

Exploration Times

  • Exploration times are experiences that correspond with the weekly themes which are typically presented at the beginning of each day.

Language Exploration

  • Enhances language development which includes expressive language, receptive language, and early literacy.

Music and Movement

  • These activities provide infants the opportunity to respond to music and experiment with vocalization and sound They also promote physical and language development.

Creative Exploration

  • These activities include finger plays, stories with props, and hands-on creative activities where infants will explore simple art materials.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics)

  • Cognitive Exploration—These activities focus on areas included in the Cognitive Domain.
  • Engineering introduces different ways to solve a problem, such as how to build a ramp, how to keep a baby doll in the stroller, or how to keep water in a funnel.
  • Technology introduces various tools to help complete a task, such as using a pulley to li a bucket to the top of the climber, recording a song to share with parents later, or taking a picture of a block structure before cleaning it up so it is easier to remember your work.
  • Mathematics introduces numbers and counting, shapes and patterns, sorting and classifying, and measurement and comparison.
  • Social Studies includes family, people, and community.
  • Science focuses on learning about the world through senses.
  • Cognitive Processes include thinking skills and problem solving.

Older Toddlers will have many of the same routine parts of the day as preschoolers, though their attention for whole group and small group activities is shorter.

  • Large Group/Together time (5 to 10 minutes each in the morning and toward the end of the day).
  • Small group time (10 minutes), scheduled small group times.
  • Learning Center time (at least 45 min each) morning and afternoon.
  • Outdoor time (30 min each) morning and afternoon.
  • Snack tme (15 minutes each) morning and afternoon.
  • Lunch (30 min).
  • Naptime (at least 2 hours).

Post your schedule with different audiences in mind, but primarily families and children. Post your schedule with the times for each segment of the day for your families in a conspicuous place. Some programs have a parent information board (pic) or an online place where families can view the schedule (pic). Licensing may also require a schedule to be posted, so be sure to follow any specifications for this.

For children, a visual schedule is necessary and explained in more detail below.

Visual Schedules

Children are visual learners, and creating a visual schedule provides a pictorial representation of what they will be doing throughout the day. It helps children predict what is coming next, which helps children feel safe and secure.

Creating a Visual Schedule

  • Pictures should be larger than words. Use stock photos until you take pictures of your children during each segment of the day. Use pictures of your actual class to reaffirm and motivate, which is easy to do with a digital camera.
  • Using 8x11 pictures will allow the children to see the activities efficiently.
  • Post at children’s eye level preferably le to right (but can be top to bottom/vertical if space does not allow horizontal placement). In an infant or young toddler classroom, the visual schedule may even be on the floor, adhered with contact paper - at their level.
  • Place the pictures in a sheet protector so that you can change them more easily.
  • Adjust the schedule with additional pages/pictures as needed (e.g., weather, a special activity, field trip).

Using a Visual Schedule with Toddlers

  • During the first few weeks, or any time there is a schedule change, talk about the schedule/schedule change, and refer to it during Together Time.
  • Go to the visual schedule on the wall frequently to point out what is coming up next.
  • Refer to the schedule often so that children begin to use it as a reference too.
  • Make your schedule interactive by placing a clothespin or other child-friendly clip on the schedule. Move the clip (or have a child move the clip) as the schedule changes throughout the day. This helps children to understand the movement of time during the day.

Sample Schedules

Schedules for infants in your care are individualized based on the infant’s routines for feeding, diapering, and sleeping. Individual schedules will be developed in coordination with the family to ensure consistency with routines and rituals at home.

Nurturing infants socially and emotionally is of utmost importance and positively impacts Intellectual Development, Physical Development, Social Development, Behavioral Development, Emotional Development.

Relationships lay the foundation for later developmental outcomes of Self-Confidence, Sound Mental Health, Motivation to Learn, Achievement, and Self-Control.

When building relationships with and nurturing infants, consider these important points:

  • Interactions should inspire curiosity, creativity, and confidence. Always interact with infants in positive and respectful tones.
  • Praise their efforts using kind, affirmative words. Teachers should provide opportunities for infants to build on their accomplishments.
  • Build positive relationships through your immediate and appropriate responses to infants’ physical and emotional needs.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm and show respect as you engage with infants. Interact with infants using sign language in multiple situations.
  • Tone should be respectful at ALL times.

Consistent routines, activities that happen at about the same time and in about the same way each day, provide comfort and a sense of safety to young children. Whether it is time to play, time for a snack, a nap, or a loved one to return, knowing what will happen next gives babies and toddlers security and emotional stability.


  • Greetings and check-ins:
  • Diapering, naps, and feeding as needed Exploration of sensory materials, objects, toys
  • Reading and exploring books
  • Music and movement
  • Outdoor exploration


  • Diapering, naps, and mealtime as needed
  • Quiet music, reading, and low lights
  • Exploring materials, objects, toys
  • Music and movement
  • Outdoor exploration

Late Afternoon:

  • Diapering, naps, and mealtime as needed
  • Reading and exploring books
  • Exploring materials, objects, toys
  • Music and movement
  • Outdoor exploration
  • Transition to family

Your licensing agency may require a schedule posted with times. Create the room schedule with times consistent with your program hours of operation. The caregiving routines provide opportunities for teachers to facilitate learning in all areas of development.

Sample Schedule - Younger Toddlers (12 to 24 mos.)/Older Toddlers (24 to 36 mos.)

8 to 9Breakfast/morning snack
9 to 9:15Outdoor time
9:30 to 10:00Story time/Together Time
10:15 to 10:30Exploration with sensory materials, toys, and objects
10:45 to 11:30Prepare for lunch
11:30 to 12:00Lunch
12:15 to 2:00Nap
2:15 to 3:00Outdoor time
3:15 to 3:30Snack time
3:45 to 4:00Story time
4:00 to 5:00Exploration with sensory materials, toys, and objects. Dismissal
  • 15-minute transition times and care routines between activities
  • Schedule times can be adapted to your program schedule.

Classroom Jobs for Older Toddlers

Starting the day with Together Time creates a sense of community. As members of a community, it is important for children to share the responsibilities of classroom life. Assigning classroom jobs is an ideal way to teach children responsibility and build their confidence. Brain research suggests that providing opportunities to practice decision-making and reasoning skills enhance children’s abilities to perform such tasks. Classroom jobs afford children these valuable opportunities while allowing them to rehearse meaningful responsibility by completing jobs that assist their school family (Siegel & Bryson, 2011).

What should you consider?

  • Take time to share why it is vital to have a list of classroom jobs and discuss why they matter. Follow up with why the job is essential and details of how to do the job.
  • Assign every child a job.
  • The number of jobs listed will depend on the number of children in the class.

Preparation of Chart

  • Provide laminated visuals for each job.
  • Create and laminate name cards with each child’s picture and first name.
  • Display the jobs in such a way that every child can quickly identify his or her job title.

Time to get started

  • Designate a start date and decide how often jobs will rotate.
  • Describe each job and teach children how to do it.
  • Provide time to reflect with children about how jobs are going, and if the job needs changes.
  • Observe the children’s implementation of the job and step in to scaffold if needed.
  • Provide daily, specific feedback with examples of what you are seeing that is going well.

Jobs will vary with the needs of individual classrooms. Some suggestions include:

  • Song Selector - Chooses a song to sing during together time and background music for center time.
  • Librarian - Chooses a book for story time and is responsible for returning all books in the library center to the shelf.
  • Zookeeper - Feeds classroom pet/s and changes water as needed.
  • Gardener - Waters plants (indoors and outdoors) and weeds as necessary.
  • Light Monitor - Turns the lights off when the class leaves the classroom and turns them on when they return.
  • Line Leader - Opens the door and walks at the front of the line.
  • Caboose - Closes the door and walks at the back of the line.
  • Meteorologist - Observes and reports the weather to the class (may use tools such as rain gauges, windsocks, and thermometers).
  • Snack Helper - Counts the number of plates, napkins, or cups needed and passes them out.
  • Greeter - Greets peers and visitors as they enter the classroom.
  • Goodbye Wisher - Says “goodbye” to visitors as they leave the classroom and wishes them a nice day.
  • Hand Sanitizer - Provides a pump of hand sanitizer before or after designated activities.
  • Marker Monitor - Monitors markers to be sure that correct lids are on tightly.
  • Table Washer - Wipes and washes tables after snacks and messy activities.
  • Playground Supply Managers - Carries playground supplies (balls, sand toys, etc.) outside and collects them when playtime is over.

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