The Balance Between Play and Routine

Do the horizontal transitions, within our daily routine, interrupt children’s play?

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

A professional enquiry exploring the impact that interruptions can have on children’s quality of free play.



This project looks at how our current daily routine, and the horizontal transitions within this, were impacting on children’s quality of play. It takes into account Froebelian principles, as well as literature from Realising the Ambition, GIRFEC and the Early Years Framework. The purpose of this project is to eliminate unnecessary interruptions and provide children with the opportunity to develop new levels of thinking, feeling, imagining and creating within their play.

This practitioner enquiry will be undertaken by the Equity and Excellence Lead (Myself) and Head of Centre at Dalmuir ELCC. It will consist of observations and collaboration with practitioners.



This practitioner enquiry coincided with the introduction of 1140 hours within our centre. Due to the children’s length of day being increased we had to make changes to our daily routine to support this. This has been an ongoing process and we were already aware of a stop/start feel to the day. This practitioner enquiry gave us the opportunity to focus on the balance between routine and freedom to play. The philosophy of Realising the Ambition supports the purpose of this enquiry as it explores horizontal transitions, responsive routines, positive transitions, the importance of play and play pedagogy. This document stresses increased time children are now spending in settings, and intensifies the importance of being responsive to what children need and value in transitions. Furthermore, it emphasises the necessity for a balanced routine which gives children a sense of security, but also ensures that children’s choices are not overlooked.

Through exploring how often play is interrupted throughout the day, this gave us the opportunity to embed the Froebelian Principle of the central importance of play. This principle explores the concept of children having ownership of their play, directing their play and having the time and space to become deeply involved.


To ensure we had a clear vision of our current daily routine, and were completely aware of any possible changes required, we used observations of the playroom to document current practice.

We then used the February in-service day to discuss findings from these observations. We put together a PowerPoint presentation for staff, which provided the reasoning behind this practitioner enquiry, including literature/documents that support this, and provided a proposal of change (The why? And How?). This training allowed us to collaborate with practitioners and gain their perspectives on the current routine, including how this supported children’s play and discussed potential changes we could make to improve the pace of the day. We also needed to ensure that practitioners understood the importance of play and the central importance this had for a child’s development and learning.

We had to take into account times throughout the day that were fixed such as daily start/finish times and children/practitioner lunches whilst trying to bring more flexibility to the routine. It was also important that we factored in time to re-assess any changes made throughout this enquiry to ensure any areas that were not working were re-evaluated and new measures put in place.

“Play takes time to get going, it does not thrive if it is squeezed into short time slots, or if it is interrupted” (Tovey, 2020).

Tovey, H. (2020). A Froebelian Approach. Froebel’s Principles and Practice Today. Retrieved from:


Findings from observations provided crucial information for this practitioner enquiry. Firstly, they highlighted that at certain times throughout the day, specifically from play to nurture, lunch and group time, there was a substantial increase in noise level and heightened stress levels within the playroom. We found that this was due to the transition of these times, and the fact that children were having to stop what they are doing to start something else. Some children were also becoming disruptive during these times because they did not want to, or were not ready, to participate/move on. On reflection, we eliminated a set nurture time, and this is now incorporated into free play within the sensory room. This means that children that wish to participate in nurture experiences still can, but this is not rigid or structured like before. We have also introduced more flexibility to lunch times and although there are still lunch sittings children can make decisions about which one they would like to go to. These changes have created a calmer and more enjoyable lunch experience for all.

Practitioner discussions, at the in-service day, highlighted that children were being asked to tidy up too often throughout the day. This happened at various times and was breaking the flow of children’s play. For example, children were unable to return to structures/models in the block room as they had been tidied away. This was also a similar situation over the lunch period as some children would want to return to their play, and find that there model had been deconstructed. On reflection, we have eliminated tidy up times apart from once at the end of the day. We have also introduced ‘in progress’ signs in the block play space so that children can return to their project when they wish. This has also developed the aspect of ownership over their own play, as well as respecting other children’s play. Additional comments at the in-service day included adopting a calmer approach to lunch and using language to invite children rather than instruct, giving children plenty of warning to prepare for this. This helped comfort children that struggle with transitional times, where hearing language such as lunch/group/nurture previously caused distress.

Once these changes were implemented within the setting we carried out weekly observations of children’s play, which were documented using learning stories. These learning stories show the depth of play and complexity of learning that can take place when a child is uninterrupted. In one particular observation a child is engaged in quality role play for most of her day, running her own restaurant in the home corner. We were then able to build on this experience by visiting the local Dalmuir Café. This will be explained further in the Dissemination Report, with a copy of the learning story.


To conclude, observations and practitioner discussions highlighted that there were unnecessary interruptions to children’s play. As a team we were able to reduce the transitions that took place throughout the day which ultimately improved the quality of children’s play, learning and wellbeing.

Moving forward, we will continue to monitor and evaluate the changes that have been made and continue on the journey to increase flexibility throughout the children’s day. We have briefly discussed free flow lunches and look forward to implementing this fully.


Dissemination/Impact Report

*Consent granted from parent to share observation*


Learning stories were carried out on a weekly basis to show the impact that this project has had on children’s play. In this particular observation Isla spent most of her day engaged in this role play/symbolic play and her identity was evident throughout including her language, conversations, personality, likes, dislikes, understanding of the world and links to home life. Overall this observation highlights the depth of play and complexity of learning that can take place when a child is uninterrupted. Isla is able to take her learning in any direction that she wished and could keep this play session going for as long as she wished without being stopped due to structured times. We were then able to build on this experience by visiting Dalmuir Café in our local community where Isla was able transfer her role play experience into a real life experience.


Isla “I played in the house all day and then I got to go to the real café and got food and hot chocolate from the menu, that was my favourite”

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Magdalena Debicka-Krawczyk
    Magdalena Debicka-Krawczyk
    24 May 2022 at 5:54 am

    Thank you for this project. It raises the very important issue of the needs of the child. Not every child is ready for a transition at exactly the moment you expect them to. Only a careful carer is aware of how important it is to follow the children’s needs.

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  2. Karen Petrie
    Karen Petrie
    24 May 2022 at 10:03 am

    I loved reading your project it sounds as if it has had lots or really positive outcomes for your children. I would love to be able to see the more relaxed flow of your day and see how i could also introduce this into our setting. Your project shows how well you took the staff with you on the journey.

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  3. Taylor Vandal
    Taylor Vandal
    25 May 2022 at 3:02 pm

    It was great to read your observation section and how “tidy up time” can have a large impact in disturbing the children’s play/learning. I also thought the in process sings were a fantastic idea.

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  4. Ruth Johnson
    Ruth Johnson
    15 Jan 2023 at 6:07 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your project and your finding that a more relaxed flow to the day helped deepen levels of play. Your ‘work in Progress’ sign is inspirational.

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  5. Jean Aitken
    Jean Aitken
    05 Mar 2024 at 5:20 pm

    Looking for some evidence to back up the benefits of looking at transitions. Our centre becomes very loud during “tidy time” or lunch transitions. Your project shows that changing these aspects will lead to better outcomes for children and less stress for staff. Thank you

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