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Creating a Visual Schedule to Organize Time at Home

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Squares with pictures and words representing different daily activities - MEREDITH BAY-TYACK
  • Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • Squares with pictures and words representing different daily activities

My family has two working adults and two children, ages 3 and 5. Like many of you, we are now under the same roof 24-7. In order to create kind but strong boundaries around snack and screen time, we created a visual schedule that lives in our kitchen to help keep us organized when so much seems up in the air.

I was inspired to create the schedule after thinking about how much my oldest liked the one in her pre-K classroom. There were a few things I knew I wanted to achieve. First was to include drawings or icons, in addition to words, since we have pre-readers at home. I also wanted to make it interactive and flexible. The adults definitely have a lot of say over the schedule, but we encourage our kids to get involved, too. They like having ownership over the order and type of activities.

This idea is fully customizable based on your artistic interest and ability, access to a printer, and the ages and needs of the members of your household.

Figure Out Your Family's Rhythm

This step is smoother when you start with what you know. Grab that low-hanging fruit! Meals and snacks are nonnegotiable. Bedtime is a no-brainer.

Then we added the main activities our kids do at home, including free play, arts and crafts, games and puzzles, time outside in the yard, and biking or hiking. Screen time is included, too. We separated screen time into four categories: television shows, movies, technology time and video chat. We may not do all of these things every day, but it was important to me that we had different icons and labels for each of them.

We also added preschool time, quiet time, gardening, writing letters to pen pals, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks.

I made a template using a square Magna-Tile, a thin cardboard cereal box and art supplies. I traced and cut a bunch of squares and let my kids color and paint them to their hearts' content. I love to draw, but in the interest of time, I created a page of icons that matched the activities in an online design program. We printed, cut and glued them onto the square cards alongside their word labels.

Organize the Schedule

Squares with pictures and words representing different daily activities - MEREDITH BAY-TYACK
  • Meredith Bay-Tyack
  • Squares with pictures and words representing different daily activities

For the first few weeks, we put the squares in a long tower on the side of our fridge using magnets, starting with breakfast at the top and bedtime at the bottom. Then we worked as a family to figure out the order of activities in between. We made an arrow magnet that pointed to whatever we were currently doing. Our schedule doesn't have times listed, but we try to keep snack and mealtime the same every day. If you have older kids, you might consider adding times or using clock pictures to teach how to tell time.

Now we're using a similar but revised system, with broader blocks of time. We've also made space for more details, such as specific games or activities we had in mind and what parent will be "open" or "closed" during that time block, depending on meetings or other work deadlines. Thanks to Facebook Marketplace, we were able to get a huge whiteboard from a neighbor, contact-free. The larger blocks are easier for us to navigate, plus we can more easily integrate the adults' work schedules for the day.

Bonus Ideas

We have a mystery schedule card that we refer to as "The Jar." We came up with a list of ideas — 70 and counting — for things to do. It includes a wide variety of topics, including reading books, setting up an obstacle course, learning words in a different language and even "learning about cats," which was submitted by my 3-year-old feline enthusiast. We numbered the ideas, then cut out numbers to put in a jar. If we ever feel out of ideas or the dreaded B-word (bored), we pull a number and move forward with whatever it says.

Another way we mark time is by scheduling fun activities like picnics, hikes and sleepovers. We use a ring garland calendar to visually showcase how many days are left until the special event. Staple or tape rings of paper, looping one inside the other. Each ring represents one day. Kids can rip off a ring every day until there's only one ring left and the special tradition has arrived. It helps our young kids understand how many days and nights are left before the event and gives them something to look forward to. It has helped the adults mark time, as well.

Tips:

  • Know what your categories mean, and add parameters. Write them on the back of the schedule cards if you need to. With so much going on, it helps to eliminate questions about what "technology" means. On the back of that card, we wrote "Doodles with Mo, Mister Chris Facebook Live, Cincinnati Zoo, etc."
  • There are certain rituals and routines that haven't made it onto the official schedule, but we try to honor them. On weekend nights, we have a candlelit dinner.
  • If you have a goal, put it on the schedule. Quiet time, meditation and journaling were ideas I aspired to but hadn't made the commitment. Once I made a card for them, we made the time for them.

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