Establishing Routines at the Beginning of the Year

Back to school for our kids means back to a routine, schedules, and rules (yikes!).

My classroom is broken up into very structured areas/centers (click here for a tour). We have 8 students and 8 centers. Throughout the day, we rotate through these centers, and also have group times. To view my beginning of the year schedule (I say beginning of the year, because it will adapt often), click here!

In a classroom for students with autism, you have to start establishing routines on the very first day of school. This shows your students that you mean business and it doesn’t leave any time for unwanted behaviors to occur.

Here are a few of our classroom “routines” that I try to have established in the few weeks of school to ensure the most independence out of my students.

Unpacking/Packing Up

The very first routine that is essential in having a smooth morning is getting students to be independent in the cubby area where they unpack their backpacks and get started with their daily schedules. By having the area clearly defined with visuals so that students know exactly where their items are to go, you can really help them learn the routine quickly. If you need some visuals, check out my Cubby Area Visuals Pack on TPT. I always stress with all the adults in the classroom (& myself) to let the students be as independent as possible and try not to rush their process. Although it might take a little longer to have them unzip and put away their items in the first few weeks, they will eventually learn the routine and be able to do it by themselves quickly, which is the goal!

Lining up

My biggest pet peeve is a messy line! Four essential things that have helped me teach my kiddos about walking in line are visuals on the door, duct tape, a walking rope. I will not open that door until they are standing correctly in line and they are quiet. 🙂



This one is a given, but having visuals that clearly define bathroom and hand-washing routines can really be useful in prompting students at the beginning of the year. TPT has tons of FREEBIES for bathroom visuals – click here to see!

Center Rotations

For the first few weeks of school, I don’t even do teacher time. I replaced that part of their schedules with workboxes. This gave me the flexibility to help my students re-establish utilizing their picture schedules and completing work independently. We are going into week three and I am still working on this. Why?! Because if my students can’t work at a center independently, we will never get anything done! Four out of our 8 centers are run by an adult, so I try to assign each adult to “zone” two centers, meaning they run one center 1:1 (one on one) with a student while monitoring another student at a nearby independent work center. When the student they are working 1:1 with is finished and can choose a “choice” center, they can set up for the next student, as well as unpack the work done at the independent center (work tasks, assembly activities). Once all the students learn to stay in an independent area without a ton of prompting, we get a TON of work done throughout the day, which makes me a happy girl!

Here is an example of what I mean by “zoning” two centers. I run teacher time and also monitor workboxes because it is the closest in proximity to teacher time. Before the center rotations begin, I ensure that the workboxes are set up for the student scheduled to be in their. I also have tubs set up in teacher time with tasks and activities to work on with each student per their IEP goals. When we are transitioning into a center rotation, I make sure my student gets to teacher time and I give them some type of “warm up” activity that I know they can do independently. I then go to make sure the student at workboxes is sitting and has starting working. I can then go back to my student in teacher time and we can work on their goal tub. Once my student is finished with the work for teacher time, I let him/her pick a choice center as a reward. I then go over to the student in workboxes to see if they are finished, and when they are, I allow them to make a choice as well. When both students are in their choice centers independently, I go back to the workboxes area to “undo” the tasks and set-up for the next student. I can also make sure I have things set-up for the next student in teacher time. This all sounds like a lot, but it’s all done in about 20 minutes and is super easy once you and your students are in a routine.


To bounce off the previous routine of our center rotations, using a “First work, then play” routine really motivates students at the beginning of the year. In every center, there is a “choice board” that students can choose from after they have completed their work. By establishing the routine of “first you must do A, B, and C, then you can go to the play area, students will learn that if they comply with your directives and complete the activities, they get to go play!

Circle time

At the beginning of the year, our morning circle time is extremely short. We sing the good morning song, discuss how we are feeling, and sing a few songs about shapes/colors/numbers etc. Since a lot of my students are in Kindergarten, asking them to sit for a long period of time and be engaged in a group setting is just unrealistic. As they get used to the routine of transitioning into circle time (I play the Good Morning Song by Dream English Kids on Youtube), sitting, and participating by clapping, making choices, etc., I will add in more and more activities.


  1. Anne Page MS, CCC-SLP on September 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    I LOVE how organized you are!

  2. Teach.Love.Autism on September 9, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    I love the idea of "zoning" out your staff.. This kind of just happens naturally in my room but, it might be nice to have a plan for it like you do!

  3. SENCO Cat Herder on September 10, 2014 at 5:21 am

    A super post with lots of good ideas and visuals to see in to your classroom – I found this really helpful so thanks for sharing 🙂
    Special Teaching at Pempi's Palace

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