Routine is important for toddlers. They need structure in their lives as they struggle to understand the subtleties of getting through each day as a human being. You can make a routine for everything, and many times, inadvertantly, parents create routines for their children, and those routines become habit. In this house, we wake up. The babies have some cereal, then I make them some milk. They watch a bit of television, then we go outside. Before we know it, it's nap time. We grab Bear and Blankie and head to the nursery for some stories. For one story, they sit on the floor next to me. For the next, they must be in bed. A traditional nap time routine.
When my husband comes home from work, we all eat dinner. The babies watch a bit more TV while I make and clean up from dinner. We play games in the living room, have a bit more milk, and it's time for bed again. We do the same thing every day, with the details rearranged a bit. Maybe one day's outside adventure will be swimming; the next day's will simply be walking the garbage to the bin. One day we'll play chase the baby inside; the next we'll be building blocks. But the general framework remains the same.
In this way, daytrips to the beach or shopping mall adventures become special trips, which supercede the routine's importance in your toddlers' minds (if not in their bodies), and making a fun day into an extraordinary day, after which, the kids are more than happy to settle back into their routine.
But routine need not be boring, nor need it be traditional. I made up our nap time routine. You can tell. It's a traditional slow calming down into sleep. My husband made up our bedtime routine, which has a slightly different rythym. After milk, my husband and I round up Blankie and Bear, and set to marching into the bedroom. Even if the babies are saying no when we begin, rare is the day when they can resist the call of "March, march, march, march, left, right, left, right, left!" Within seconds, we have two toddlers in their bedroom lifting their knees and shouting, "March!" Once in the bedroom, it's time for "night-night." And we literally jump to bed. "Night, night, night, night, night, night, night!" Then a quick kiss, cover with the blanket and mom and dad slip out. It's certainly not traditional, and it doesn't exactly wind them down, but it works like a charm. See for yourself:
Of course, this is a little lackluster. The babies were confused as to why I was holding a camera instead of jumping up and down and shouting.