My older child ‘Finn’ is 2-and-a-half. Like lots of toddlers, he enjoys feeling in control and making his own choices. Over the summer he was asking lots of questions about ‘when’ things were happening. And of course, if he’s looking forward to seeing a friend or going somewhere special, he expects it to happen immediately, even if it’s days away.
There’s also been a lot of change and probably from his point of view, a fair bit of loss of control in Finn’s life recently as he now has a little brother, bringing a (charming) unpredictability to pretty much everything…
And, I wanted Finn to understand when his nursery days were, as he was about to start a couple of days a week. I thought this might make him calmer about this change in his life.
So to help with all this, I explored the idea of a visual calendar. There are loads of ideas online but I based mine roughly on this one. I simplified it though, with only one, main activity represented per day as Finn is probably not old enough to get his head round more than that. I also gave each day a different colour.
The effect has been great, actually. We have a box of laminated cards of all our regular activities and also the places/people he usually spends time, and we spend a bit of time (often on a weekend evening or a Monday morning at the kitchen table) going through them and planning the week.
Some days are set, like nursery days, but he still gets to choose activities for other days and I’m happy about how much more control it seems to give him. For example, even if it’s going to rain on a ‘park’ day, instead of me just switching plans without his consent, we can go through the box of cards and he can pick one from all the indoors ideas. I don’t think he’d be able to hold the options in his head and choose as easily without the cards there to help him. Often he picks one up for an activity we haven’t done in a while and gets really excited about putting it in the plan for the week.
It’s also clearly worked for knowing which are nursery days and he’s started to know which day it is too, saying things like ‘Wednesday is the pink day,’ ‘Today is Tuesday.’
Anyway, there’s not much to making this, other than it being a bit fiddly and it helps if you can borrow or get access to a colour printer and laminator.
Here’s how I did mine:
The blog post I used for inspiration had software for the weekly calendar design – I just used coloured pens on card and stuck on printed day labels, then laminated it.
I made activity labels in powerpoint using a shape of about the right size. I got clipart from the internet for most things but used photographs where I could (e.g. of his friends, relatives and of the museums and other places we regularly visit). I put words in each one even though he can’t read yet to help me remember which was which!
No pics here of the friends/relatives ones but they’ve been really useful as he misses people he’s close to, and I can put their pics on the calendar to help him understand when he’s going to see them.
I printed the activity pics in colour, stuck them on card (yeah it would have been better to just print them on card), cut them out and laminated them. Then I put velcro tape on the backs and on the calendar, and velcroed the whole thing to the fridge. I keep the spare cards in a tupperware.
I also made a morning and afternoon visual planner (I divided it up so that we only look at morning or afternoon at once – otherwise it’s too much to process).
I don’t use these ones all the time, but they are very helpful for collaboratively structuring a day spent mostly at home, and for helping with changing activity, which can be hard otherwise. No toddler likes a good thing to end… It also helps talk about time with someone who can’t tell time yet, by talking about sequence instead (e.g. ‘don’t worry, look, we are going to do painting, but after we’ve finished breakfast’).