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
- nap/rest time(s)
- 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
- 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.