‘What are we going to do?’
‘When can I go to the toilet?’
‘What will happen after we eat?’
‘When will we go outside?’
Children ask these questions all the time. A consistent daily programme helps them to know what will happen throughout the day.

The daily learning programme

Why is a daily programme important?

This section makes suggestions for activities during the day.
It is important to structure each day. This determines what kinds of interactions children have with their classmates and with the teacher during specific times. A well-structured daily programme, with time blocks, ensures that:

  • Children develop a sense of safety and security.
  • Children know ‘what will happen next’ and can prepare themselves for the next activity.
  • Children’s needs are catered for, including those with special needs.
  • Children spend their time on stimulating and challenging learning experiences, and teachers can spend more time with them.
  • Teachers can prepare children for unexpected changes such as visitors, weather conditions, education trips, and special events or traditions.
  • Teachers are able to put into practice the values and educational philosophy of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS).


Our beliefs about children and teachers

Foundation Phase teachers understand the needs of very young children. From birth through to six years of age, children have cognitive, intellectual, social, emotional and physical developmental needs and capabilities. These needs differ from children in higher grades.

For this reason, the programme structure, the types of activities we prepare, the teaching and learning styles we use, the way we arrange the learning space, and the assessment methods we use, are different from those for older children.

Early childhood programmes focus on shared and responsive interaction between children and teachers, and between children and their peers.

The National Curriculum Statement (NCS) is based on the belief that children learn best:

  • when they follow their own interests,
  • when they work with a variety of materials,
  • when they are free to express their thoughts and ideas,
  • when they have supportive teachers.


Teachers are practising this belief when they design a daily programme that creates a balance between teacher-initiated activities and child-initiated activities, within a flexible yet structured manner.
Beliefs about how children learn:
As an ECD person yourself, you will, without any doubt agree with this statement from education experts in New Zealand:

  • ‘Through exploration, children learn useful and appropriate ways to find out what they want to know and begin to understand their own individual ways of learning and being creative. These experiences enhance the
    child’s sense of self-worth, identity, confidence, and enjoyment. Exploration involves actively learning with others as well as independently, and helps to extend children’s purposeful and enjoyable relationships.’
    (Te Whariki Early Childhood Curriculum, Ministry of Education, New Zealand).
Guidelines for organising a daily programme

By using the following guidelines as a checklist you can create and maintain a daily programme that works well at your site. Check that:

  • There is a variety of ‘learning segments’ to provide children with a variety of experiences and interactions. These learning segments include small and large group times, eating, rest and toilet times, outside time, and transition times.
  • Learning segments happen in a predictable sequence that meets the needs of the children and the site. For example, breakfast may be served regularly, but children using scholar transport often arrive late.
  • Experiences take place in a suitable physical environment.
  • Each learning segment involves children engaging actively in learning experiences in a stimulating learning environment.
  • Transitions and routines flow smoothly from one activity to the next.


The parts of the daily programme are like paving blocks along a path. In each activity block, there is a learning activity or routine – such as times for children to participate in group activities, routines for eating, toilet and rest times, and play outside.

The daily programme provides:

  • A framework for children to do a variety of interesting activities throughout the day.
  • Supports children’s initiative: Children explore a variety of materials. They can express their ideas and
    interact responsively with teachers throughout the day.
  • Supports children’s social experiences: Children experience and develop social relationships with teachers and peers in a safe and purposeful environment.
  • Supports the values of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS): Children have the freedom to engage in play activities of their choice. They learn to do things for themselves, take responsibility and cooperate with others within a structured programme framework.
  • Supports the education goals of the NCS: Children learn literacy, numeracy and life skills in an integrated way and through the variety of materials and activities offered throughout the day. ‘… Learning can result from play and exploration and paves the way for later academic learning.’ (High/Scope Educational Research Foundation) Young children develop the necessary skills for reading, writing and working with numbers
    in the home, community and pre-school environments.


A daily Learning Programme that is supportive.

Give children a personal symbol to encourage decoding (bears, stars, flower). Use children’s symbols, as well as their names, on birthday charts, group chart, their artwork, and on their lockers.

Emergent Literacy – Reading

Children begin to make a connection between a word for an object through
their actual experience with materials such as household objects, dressing up? clothes, art materials, water and sand play materials.
Children learn to make sense of the lines and curves of the letters that make up the alphabet. They do this by decoding simple recognizable symbols through their actual experiences with photos, posters, pictures, drawings and symbols.
Children learn to recognize print through many forms of print, e.g. books, magazines, signs and labels.
Children build the desire to read by seeing significant adults read, e.g. teachers reading stories to them, parents reading newspapers or magazines.
Remember: Label materials and interest areas to provide more experiences for exploring with symbols.

Children manipulate interesting objects such as crayons, pens, pencils, threading boards, and paint brushes. These activities help strengthen small muscle coordination needed to hold writing tools.
Children have a natural inclination to write. This usually happens before they show an urge to read.
Children see adults communicate through writing throughout the day. They see teachers writing observation notes, notes to parents, filling in record keeping books, writing reminders and writing down children’s words on their artwork
Children identify their scribbles that progressively develop into letter-like forms
as ‘writing’.
Some children begin to invent their own words using real letters and real words,
e.g. ‘I luv u”.
Understand and accept whatever form children’s writing takes. Offer to write down children’s words on their work. See below.
Teacher asks: “ What is your drawing about, Themba?”
Themba replies: “This is a space ship travelling through the air.”
Teacher writes Themba’s words on Themba’s picture.

Emergent Literacy – Writing

Children frequently refer to numbers in their play (‘two babies’, ‘ten chairs’, ‘one cup’).
Children often refer to quantities of volume or weight in their play (lots, big, few, more, just a little, huge, heavy).
Children are frequently counting (the number of lines they drew, or dots made on a page, pegs they fit into a pegboard).
Children often compare the number of things they have (‘you have more blocks than me’, ‘I only have a little glue’, ‘can you give me some of your beads’). ??Listen to how children use number concepts. Support children’s emerging numerical skills. Encourage these natural opportunities to further explore numbers. Try to provide a variety of interesting materials for children to explore with numbers. Include a variety of sizes, shapes and texture.

Remember: The role of the teacher is to facilitate children’s ‘learning how to learn’ rather than to directly teach them facts.

Emergent Numeracy – Numbers

Example: Half-day programme showing what children and teachers do during each segment
(This programme excludes breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks and rest time segments catered for in full-day programmes).

Time and sequence

What children do What teachers do
Arrival time – 15 – 30 minutes
Children arrive and pack away their bags. Gather together on carpet or chairs set in a circle.
Welcome to children.
Health check – 10 minutes
Children answer questions about any health problems, e.g. they show ‘band-aids’ over any cuts, bruises. Run a quick head to toe check of each child. Keep a health record of any signs of illness observed or medication given. Refer cases that need attention.
Morning circle- 10 to 15 minutes
Children participate in activity presented. Introduce new materials, ideas, song or rhyme, announcements, concepts or skills.
Work time – 45 to 55 minutes
Children choose what to do, interacting with materials in the interest area of their choice.
Provide stimulating materials
and challenging activities.
Observe, interact, join in,
support and assist children.
Small group time – 10 to 15 minutes during
Work Time
6 to 8 children meet with
teacher to engage in a
particular activity planned by
the teacher on a mat or round
a table.
Present special activity, e.g.
working with numbers,
experimenting with materials
or use materials and objects
to solve problems.
Tidy up time
10 minutes
Children pack away materials
and equipment.
Join children in packing
materials and equipment
Hand washing
5 minutes
Children wash their hands.
Provide clean water and
Snack time
10 to 15 minutes
Children enjoy morning snack. Talk to children about what
they did during work time.
Prepare room for next
Music and
movement ring
15 to 20 minutes
Children participate in music
and movement activities.
Present music and movement
Outdoor play
20 to 30 minutes
Children enjoy energetic,
noisy, physical play.
Join in children’s play, talk to
children, and assist where
Hand washing and
toilet time
15 minutes
Children go to the toilet then
wash their hands.
Supervise routine.
Story time
10 to 15 minutes
Children listen to and
participate in storytelling.
Children share own stories or
work completed during work
Engage children in the story being told, ask responsive questions, allow children to be actively involved in the story.

Ways to actively involve children in the Learning Programme

1. The daily programme chart
· Make a daily programme chart with the name of each segment.
· Add a picture to illustrate the segment.
· Display the chart low enough for children to reach.
· Ask a child to point to the segment indicating the next activity.
2. Arrival time
· Divide the total number of children into small groups of 6 to 8.
· Prepare name cards for children.
· Mark name cards to match small groupings (red, blue, yellow, green).
· Place all the name cards on a table close to the entrance door.
· Have children find their name and place it in a matching container.
· During greeting time bring unplaced cards to the ring.
· Have children identify the names of children who have not yet arrived.
3. Transition times
· Minimize waiting periods.
· Start the next activity when most of the children are ready.
· Allow others to join in as they finish what they are doing.
4. Work time
· Set up interesting and stimulating interest areas.
· Let children choose where they want to play.
· Limit the number of children playing in an area. Negotiate with them to choose
a second favourite area until enough space becomes available.
· Allow children to follow their natural tendency to move materials from one area to another but put limits to the quantity they move especially if it disrupts the play of others.
· Avoid disrupting children’s work time to test them. Use small group time to focus on the assessment of children’s competencies in specific learning situations.
· Avoid solving children’s conflicts. Talk children through the situation and let them come up with a solution to the conflict.
· Assess the popularity and use of materials in interest areas. Add interesting items to attract children to areas less used.
5. Clean up time
· Give children a five minutes warning before the end of work time.
· Sing a clean up song when the five minutes are over: ‘It’s clean up time, clean up time. We all join in to clean up.’

When children know what to expect it gives them a sense of security and control.’
Children work together to clean up after play and before moving to the next activity.
6. Small group time (Teacher-initiated)
An opportunity for children to come together in small groups to experience new skills, new ideas, build new knowledge, share ideas, and learn from each other.


Initiate a special activity for a small group of 6 -8 children. For example, show them how to paint with string.
Meet with children in a special place – on the floor or around a table. Provide enough materials and extras for 6 -8 children to use. Briefly introduce the materials and technique.


  • Allow children to explore and experiment with materials in their own way.
  • Encourage children to make choices and decisions about how to use the materials, and describe in their own words what they are doing.
  • Observe children, join in, and offer support to children.
  • Comment briefly on what you see individual children doing: ‘John you are using three colours, that looks interesting.’
  • Refer children to each other to solve problems. Mpumi: ‘I want to make circles but it keeps coming straight.’ Teacher: ‘See how Mary is moving her string round and round in the center of the page.’
  • Explain to children that materials will be available the next day for further use.
  • Show them where the materials will be stored.
  • Engage children in cleaning-up.


  • Group comes together for singing, music and movement activities, storytelling and dramatizing of stories or events.
  • Initiate ideas: ‘Today we are going to move like big and small animals….’
  • Encourage children to offer ideas. ‘Refilwe says we can walk like big fat elephants. Let’s follow her as she shows us how to walk like a big elephant’.
  • Encourage turn taking. ‘Now its Judy’s turn. She wants to show us how a duck walks.’ “Is a duck a big or small animal?’
  • Use these opportunities to emphasise learning content, e.g. big and small. ‘Refilwe showed us how a big elephant walks. ‘Judy showed us how a small duck walks’. ‘So we have big and small’. ‘Is there another big animal you can think of’.


When we understand the differences of development and capabilities between young children aged birth to six years and older children, we begin to understand the need for a different approach in the way we engage young children in learning experiences. It is useful to know that: Cognitive and intellectual skills are not the only skills children need to succeed at school. Social, emotional, and physical skills are just as important. The cognitive, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical skills and abilities needed for children to succeed at school are achieved through play.

Children experience important social and emotional abilities such as getting along with one another, taking turns, being patient, making new friends, sharing, taking responsibility for actions, expressing feelings, understanding the feelings of others, solving problems and conflicts.

Children need to be free to move around the room – to sit on the floor, carpet, or pillows as they engage in activities.

Children need to be free to play outdoors – to run, climb, skip and jump. Children express their creativity through music and music activities.

Children strengthen their small and large muscle coordination, control of body and understanding of spatial relations through a range of activities. These learning opportunities lay the foundation for further successful learning and social relations.

A note for educators, parents and communities

The play is the work of children. Through a variety of activities and routines, children are being prepared for more than just the next grade; they are being prepared for life-long success.

Large Group Time (Teacher initiated)

A time for children to work together in a large group to learn in a fun way, experiencing social interaction with peers and the teacher and learning social skills.