Give Kids a Routine with Plenty of Books and Exercise

Father, mother, and son walk their dog along a sidewalk.

If your children are anything like mine, their at-home dream routine is to wake up, play video games, and continue playing video games until they pass out. There is a remedy for this: a daily schedule. The kids might revolt without at least some time for video games, but a good day of structure also includes opportunities for learning and physical activity. My boys’ days at home look like this:

9:00 a.m. —  Breakfast:
The boys get free time before 9 a.m., mostly because the 13-year-old likes to sleep in. That gives the 10-year-old a chance to play video games, so he’s happy. At 9 a.m., they are in charge of making their own breakfast, typically some combination of cereal, microwave bacon, and toaster waffles.

9:30 a.m. — Morning Walk:
It’s time for some fresh air, so we go for a neighborhood walk. Of course, we bring our dog too.

10:00 a.m. — Study Time:
If there is homework to be done, this is the time. If not, the boys can choose an alternative, such as sudoku, journaling, or crossword puzzles. If you’re at home, For the Birds Crosswords is a nice way to join in.

11:00 a.m. — Creativity Time:
This hour is for LEGO, arts & crafts, music, or cooking/baking with an adult. I love utilizing Homemade Bird Food. It blends kitchen time with bird-watching.

Noon — Lunch:
We all eat lunch together and then go for another short walk.

Girl reading books in a tree

1:00 p.m. — Quiet Time:
The boys are expected to read for 30 minutes. The 10-year-old is into sports books like Phillip Lindsay. The 13-year-old prefers fantasy and is making his way through The Lord of the Rings.

1:30 p.m. — Learn Something New:
The boys choose an educational video to watch on YouTube (e.g., how to use Microsoft Excel); a how-to book to read, like Essential Knots; or we show them how to do something around the house, such as laundry.

2:00 p.m. — Ask Mom or Dad:
There are at-home projects that need doing. The boys can spare 30 minutes to help out.

2:30 p.m. — Free Time:
For a job well done, the kids get to do whatever they’d like, including video games.

3:30 p.m. — Exercise:
The children are expected to spend some time each day getting sweaty. This can include anything from running to playing basketball. In case of bad weather, we turn on an exercise video.

4:00 p.m. — Connect with a Friend:
Call a friend, write a letter to Grandma, send texts to a bunch of buddies—we want our boys to stay connected with the people in their lives.

4:30 p.m. — Study Time:
Here, the boys find something quiet, calming, and educational: Finish homework, read, or work on a puzzle. If they are feeling rambunctious, we’ll send them outside with a bird identification guide or Backyard Bugs to catalog what they see.

5:00 p.m. — Free Time:
If homework is finished, video games are allowed again.

Boy shooting baskets outside

5:30 p.m. — Dinner:
We always eat together at the dinner table.

6:00 p.m. — Family Fun:
We might go on a hike or a bicycle ride, play a board game, or have a Nerf war. Once a week, we even play video games together. This is our time to do something fun as a family.

7:00 p.m. — Movie:
We wind down together with a movie or a television show.

8:30 – 9:00 p.m. — Bedtime:
The boys get one more chance to read (because we love books), or they can go right to bed.

This is currently our Monday–Friday schedule. On the weekends, we let the children enjoy more time with their video games, and we do more activities together. I encourage you to find a routine that works for your family and stick to it. It helps everyone feel a greater sense of “normal” when we know what to expect each day.

Ryan Jacobson is a children’s author and public speaker. He has written more than 50 books, including Lost in the Wild and the Constellations Activity Book.