How to make a toddler schedule

toddler schedules?  Wasn’t having one for a baby enough?

Well yes and no.  All little children resist your getting things done!  You usually need a battle plan.  But a babies’ needs are primarily physical and are dictated internally by routine.  You need a schedule mainly to make sure they are eating and sleeping enough, and getting enough stimulation.  A toddler’s needs, on the other hand, are much more mature.  They are very emotional and social beings, with short attention spans and an inexhaustable need for activity.  Just like babies, they are learning, learning, learning, but on a whole new expressive plane.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up losing your mind as you simply react to their energy and interest levels!

For this reason, I made my toddlers little schedules that I could fall back on whenever it was cold or rainy and we couldn’t go out.  Or when I was sick, tired, depressed, or had vacation days with everyone home.  Sometimes I would put the schedules away for awhile, and then I’d bring one back out if the kids were particularly struggling with boredom or each other.  I’d rework it for their ages and interests, and for new ideas that I wanted to implement.  Perhaps I just didn’t have enough motivation personally, but I found that staying at home with little children often caused me tunnel vision.  Things would get out of balance and I could go months skipping things I really believed in (teaching, storytime, cooking…) just because I was in Survival Mode.  I had things which I rationally believed were important but required too much emotional energy in the moment to accomplish.  A schedule helped me stick to my guns about what I really wanted to accomplish each day because I knew I had thought about it beforehand and planned a way to get it in.

So that is step one in creating a toddler schedule: think about what activities you want in your toddler’s day.  Think about their individual needs in terms of energy, physicality, sleep, etc.  Work in your values for them, and consider their development—identify areas you want to spend special time on, and spaces to fit them in.  Plan in their meals and rest time(s).   And plan in your shower, the laundry, the dinner, or anything else you value but don’t seem to be able to get done regularly.  Do you need a fifteen minute coffeebreak after lunch?  A run before breakfast?  What about that bed-making which never happens?  Make a spot for it that fits the logical flow of your household.  And then fill in the rest of the time as specifically or generally as you want to.  Maybe you don’t need any strategy for 3 to 5pm because those hours shoot by.  Maybe that’s exactly where you want a step-by-step plan for what to do every 15 mins.  Maybe you don’t care if multiple siblings are running around the family room together in the morning.  Maybe you want to separate them and rotate their activities to keep the noise down.  It’s up to you.  The goal of the schedule to should be to aid you and your toddler towards the ideal Mommyhood vision you have, without controlling either you or them.  Like a baby schedule, it should serve you, not you serving it.  You’ll see the results in your toddler’s development and attitude if you’re doing it right.

So, here are some things that might fit into a normal toddler’s schedule:

  • breakfast, lunch, dinner
  • snacks
  • nap/rest time(s)
  • bathtime
  • storytime
  • playtime outside
  • playtime inside, free play
  • gross motor skills (stair-climbing)
  • fine motor skills (beads, spoon)
  • musical play
  • craft/art time (playdoh, crayons)
  • time with a sibling
  • one-on-one time with Dad
  • TV/video time
  • roomtime alone (ours always started with lots of toys, music on, for about 15-20 mins)
  • independent skill time (toileting, dressing)
  • chores or “Mommy’s Helper” time (laundry, kitchen, bed-making)
  • clean-up time
  • flashcards (letters, animals) or other educational one-on-one time

Once you have identified a list of activities you want in your toddler’s day, make a list of things you need to fit into your day, and any time restrictions:

  • 7:45am and 2:40pm- transporting kids to/from school
  • 30 mins dinner prep time
  • one laundry load per day
  • 15 minutes personal time (alone) two times a day
  • 15 minutes Husband/Couch time in the evening
  • 3:30-4:30- daughter’s piano lesson, waiting in car
  • kitchen clean-up twice per day
  • nap
  • shower
  • 30 mins of exercise
  • breadmaker/slow cooker checks

Once you have identified a list of activities for yourself, try and start putting the two lists together in a logical flow.  You may need to separate your child’s activities into two categories: those that require your participation, and those that are self-entertaining.  The goal is to get your toddler to do self-entertaining things at the times you need to focus on something else (like the cooking).  Many times, your toddler will want to be with you while you are doing what you’re doing, which is fine.  But make sure you give them something of their own to do while you’re working or your dresser drawers will likely be emptied by the time you’re done your shower!

You’ll also need to be flexible with your own activities, working them around your toddler as you probably learned to do when they were a baby.  A 30 min shower, dressing, and make-up time might not be feasible first thing in the morning… you may have to sacrifice 10 or 15 mins, or switch to an unorthodox time like the baby’s 10am nap.  But at least you’ll get it in.  I’ve caught so many of my mom friends showering at 4pm or going for a jog just before it gets dark =)  You’ll have more of a say when your child is older, I promise.

Schedules can continue into the preschool years if your kids haven’t become self-entertaining yet.  Three and Four year olds often love schedules as long as they have some control over them, so Choice Time (i.e. where they pick chalk on the easel or playdoh) is often very effective.  But make sure YOU choose both Choices beforehand so you know you’re ok with them ;-)  Most preschool teachers use a visual schedule, which is helpful for kids with delays or control problems.  You can spend no money and make some picture cards yourself, tack them onto a bulletin board or tape them on a wall.  Or you can spend some money on software that has similar pictures preschool classrooms use for “bathroom,” “snack,” etc.  Some public schools even allow you to make an appointment to use their software and laminating machine.  But that’s only necessary if you’re an ALL OUT stay at home mom ;-)

Sometimes the visual thing is good for Mom too.  Especially if you have multiple children.  I used to use Excel and print out a spreadsheet whenever I was having a new baby, so I could work in the long nursing times or quiet activities around the newborn’s naps.  My husband found this helpful too, when he was trying to help.  I also had a playdate schedule for the times my friend used to bring her two toddler boys over for a couple hours and I didn’t know how to entertain everybody.

Don’t forget to rotate the schedule as needs come up, the kids grow, their interests change, their attention spans develop, and you get new ideas.  Toddlers need shorter activities and sensitivity in mixing stimulating ones with quieter ones.  Preschoolers are more resilient and can be taught to stick with activities longer than toddlers, to clean up when they’re done, and to require less supervision.

Lastly, kids aren’t robots so sometimes it is better to have a schedule where you only have the sequence of things laid out, instead of exact times lined up.  That way, if the day starts later, the kids take longer eating, the weather changes, an errand comes up, a toy gets boring more quickly, etc., you aren’t thrown off.  Remember, let the schedule serve you, not you serve the schedule.

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30 thoughts on “How to make a toddler schedule

  1. found your website- love the ideas! i am working on a schedule right now! i look forward to learning more tips about being a better parent :)

  2. I think that was wonderful scheduling ideas. It really helped me. I didn’t come up with best schedule but its better than none at all. I will get better at it with practice though I hope. I’m a single mother of a 2 year old and I’m also a student at ivy tech doing online cources. So i’m ready for both of us to learn! He needs my attetio nand there needs to times when he can expect it and times when i can have peace to get things done!

  3. Hi! Thanks for the insight..I stumbled upon your site by chance at the most oppurtune time.My toddler is going to have his vacation in a month’s time.He’s quite sociable and having him home all the time without seeing his school buddies for two months might be difficult for him to understand.( or for me to handle)was contemplating summer camp or a single activity like Karate or swimming lessons now I also have a third option.Regards Lalita

  4. gracias por esta valiosa información. Saludos desde Guatemala, centro america. Thanks for this useful info, rewards from Guatemala, centralamerica!

  5. Thanks for the great newsletters. I love them! I have a 20 month who has tons and tons of energy and a newborn so this gives the overwhelming task of scheduling a friendlier face for me :)

  6. I feel like I’m not alone out there! Thanks for the down to earth advice, now I don’t have to feel bad when I’m stuck with the “perfect” moms.

  7. Thank you, this is a great idea. I was online searching for some advice for my second child, a daughter. When my son was smaller, he played really well by himself

  8. Whoops. That was an accidental post, a little help from my toddler! Anyway, I am going to try this schedule with her, because I have found keeping her stimulated at home to be very difficult. Great ideas.

  9. Thank you for this article. I found it extremely helpful. It is late at night and I could not sleep as I have been stressing on how to run my days more smoothly for my children. What’s best for them? Have I lost sight of that? This article gave me new insights into my approach. The list was great.

  10. This was so helpful. I love what you said about tunnel vision. I get the same way staying home with my son. I thought I was the only one! Thanks for the tips.

  11. Wow. Thank you so much for all of your valuable information, wisdom and insight! I am in great need of structure in my life right now, and I am excited to see how it will affect my toddler.
    Thank you so much. I will definitely take much from your sharing.

  12. ps-thank you for your realness. Hearing that you would get depressed and all the other human things that happen to me really helped me in my “How do other moms do this so perfectly!?” problem! You rock AND feel like I do.
    Thanks again!

  13. Thank you for this! I have known that I need to add more schedule to my toddler’s days, but I also have a four-month-old infant. I wasn’t even sure where to start, as we currently only “schedule” lunch, naptime, dinner, and bedtime. Everything else has been kind of up in the air for a long time. This helped me sit down and figure out (a) what is most important (general goals for my toddler and for myself) and how to “fit in” everything that needs to be done and that we WANT to do.

  14. So happy to have read this just now. I am working on a schedule with my toddler and cannot thank you enough for allowing your realness to connect with me so that I not only can get ideas from you, but also can feel like I can actually do this because you can and have. Thanks so much!

  15. wow im so glad i stumbled upon this! I have a newborn (i week old) and a 2 1/2 year old…lets just say ive been feeling VERY emotional and overwhelmed! Even before the new little bundle came i felt a little overwhelmed and so non-perfect when it came to parenting and being a stay at home mom, everynight i felt like “i could have done this, or i should have done this diffrently” and things like that, but everyday begins to feel the same and always have doubts and wishing i would have done more..i guess im not the only one who feels a little un-perfect when it comes to being a mom, but i guess thats a good thing cuz it means we care so much that we never feel perfect! If this makes anysense lol…(little sleep deprived right now) ANyways, im working on a flexible sceduale to help with my moods and to help myself and my toddler do more activites and make sure i get things i feel are strongly needed everyday like crafts and storytime and mommy and toddler time, to make sure she doesnt begin to feel overwhelmed with baby and make sure she gets alot of special attention. also love how you made it so down to earth and real! Cuz yea a long shower isnt gonna be an option in morning, but hey 10 mins of mommy time is amazing lol :) I love my mommy time, even if its only 10 mins. Ok, im rambling cuz im tired and lol, so thanks again!!!

  16. This is an awesome blog post and very helpful. I have a 2 year old and a 9 months old, being a work at home mom and trying to manage time is some what complicated. I been trying to put together a daily schedule, but for some reason each time I put together one and try it out it never goes according to plan. I have download a couple Iphone apps that can help me organize my time much better and never really used it because I don’t have a plan out schedule yet. Thanks for posting up such an awesome blog. Help alot.

  17. I am a stay-at-home mom of two very high-energy boys: 16 months and 4 months old. I, too have been struggling with creating a schedule, but I need it as more of a guideline so I don’t forget anything throughout the day. So often things get too hectic and I lose precious sleep when I realize I’ve forgotten to do something developmentally important. I would also like to have backup ideas for rainy days when we don’t get to spend time outside, so I keep an activity list to choose from for those. I started creating our schedule by writing down what happens throughout our day. For example, my oldest baby – ever since I brought him home from the hospital – wakes up at 6-6:30am! My youngest baby (4 months old) is a night-owl, and has been since my third trimester. Fortunately, he is starting to sleep longer throughout the night. Another major issue for creating a schedule is my hubby’s unpredictable work schedule. He’s been working the night shift since my youngest was born but was recently given a daytime schedule and works overtime on weekends. I need a home schedule to keep my sanity, even if it is all out the window when their daddy is home. (We have affectionately named his Saturday’s off as “Daddurdays” because he is not off work every Saturday). Once I have what we do on a daily basis naturally written down, I fill in the blanks with activities that I often update after doing a little research on developmental milestones. (Which is what I was doing when I found this website). I am careful to remember that I don’t have total control over everything (like I did before I got into a relationship and had kids), so my schedule is always a work in progress that needs to be updated because the needs of the children change as they get older. My current challenge is synchronizing nap time for both babies in the hopes that I will make more time to do all of the laundry that they have been creating lately, my youngest seems to be spitting up more and my oldest is just starting to understand potty training and has begun trying to remove his diaper after the fact. Wish me luck!

  18. How can I thank you enough for this?? I have just lost my job and am suddenly at home with my baby again but this time is tough in a different way – she’s a busy, smart, social, chatty little girl now. Just trying to fill the time in the days until dad is home is exhausting. I can’t imagine how single mothers do this!

  19. Thank you so much for your post! My soon-to-be one little boy is a busy body and needs constant stimulation. I’m totally out of ideas with him, and I’m going crazy! This is such a help.

  20. I totally agree, while no schedule is great for children with certain personalities (my youngest is very imaginative and could entertain himself for hours), my oldest loves structure and in fact get a bit anxious when there is no structure, so I have found carrying on routine and structure is the best bet for him.

  21. Undeniably believe that that you said. Your favorite reason seemed to be at the internet the easiest
    factor to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed whilst other
    folks think about worries that they just don’t recognize
    about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and outlined
    out the whole thing without having side effect , people could take a signal.
    Will probably be again to get more. Thanks

  22. Thanks for your writing because I have trouble to do the schedule for my first baby . Your text is very useful and help me a lot . many thanks again

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