For being the tiniest bodies in the house, it’s rather ironic that they can be so LOUD. How are we to get anything done with the other kids when the littlest of the bunch seems to demand our constant attention?! Well, after seven of my own children and now enjoying some grand babies, I’ve had a few opportunities to trial and error what is important when raising toddlers and preschoolers, helping them thrive, and keeping the chaos to a minimum. After all, no family can keep chaos away all the time but there are definitely things we can do to establish relative peace, help the whole family to be a blessing to others, and our home to be a joyful place to live. I’ve divided this post into three parts. They’re in order of priority, so I hope you’ll go back to Part 1, once you’ve finished reading this post. And now, on to Part II, When Littles are Loud: Scheduling Your Little’s Day.
Children of all ages tend to be happier, better behaved, and quicker to learn from their environment when their day has a predictable schedule. If you want your child to thrive, give them the mental and emotional safety of a regular routine. In this post we will be looking at HOW TO SCHEDULE YOUR TODDLER/PRESCHOOLER’S DAY to help them flourish with a sense of peace and confidence!
Getting a Plan of Action: The schedule with my little tikes included a set time for the following activities in just 5-30 minute amounts. It may look like a lot of categories to do each day and you may be afraid that it will take up too much of your time as MOM, but I assure you, if you stick with it, after a little while, it will FREE YOU UP by greatly reducing some of the unpleasant tendencies in your preschooler – such as whining, tugging at your leg for love and attention because your toddler will learn to be busy with many of these activities on his own. Who knows, you may even get to use the bathroom in peace once in a while! Or even, …wait for it…, paint your nails, or something pampering like that!
Once breakfast is finished each morning, just set a timer for the beginning of each hour to do one of these activities below. I kept the activities in the same order each day in an effort to build routine, and routine brings with it some peace and contentment that is hard to find otherwise.
At first, start with a small increment of time, such as 5 minutes per activity. If you keep it short, it keeps them “wanting more,” which is a great way to help them look forward to it the next day. This means the rest of each hour is available for snuggl with you or for free play, which is also an important developmental need. Gradually increase the number of minutes of each activity up to a Max of 30 min each. Your child will get used to the standard of behavior and the routine of the schedule. That’s when you’ll see a happier, more content, self-entertaining child emerge where the demanding, cranky one once lived.
Here’s the list of activities I used in our littles’ daily routine. I’ve put * beside each activity that the child can eventually do alone (still under your supervision but with them not needing or focusing on their need for you).
Notice that I’ve alternated an “alone play” with a “non-alone play” time.
***********Keep all of the items that are used in these activities reserved only for it’s one special time each day. This is KEY to getting this plan to work effectively!!**********
BIBLE TOGETHER TIME My favorite interactive toddler Bible of all times is The Pray and Play Bible. It has big pictures to go with the story, along with finger play songs, little prayers, action songs, and even crafts that all go along with the story. During or after breakfast each weekday we’d begin our routine with BIBLE TOGETHER TIME – to set a priority in our lives that our time with God comes first.)
*BIBLE ALONE TIME A Bible story on a CD to listen to while they look at a kid’s picture Bible or while they color Bible stories or play with Bible figures such as a Noah’s Ark set.
Fill their hearts with the Word of God while they are young and soaking in everything around them.
BIBLE MEMORY TIME Spend a few minutes each day with your children memorizing scripture, and if they’re little, use motions. My preference is to utilize a ABC scripture book to help with this (there are many on the market). We would memorize a verse for every letter of the alphabet, use sign language for the beginning letter and other motions on the key words to keep it fun and memorable. Young kids memorize things so much more easily than the rest of us. In fact, they ARE memorizing much of what they hear throughout the day, so DO pay attention to what radio station you listen to and what TV you are watching.
Be INTENTIONAL with this precious little heart and mind that you’ve been entrusted to raise!
*PUZZLE/FINE MOTOR SKILLS TIME Giving your toddler a set time to focus on small details such as how things fit together is great for mental development and can help with lengthening their attention span. (One of the worst things for limiting their development in this area is “screen time” – avoid it at all cost!! Okay, I might be a bit overly passionate about that, but there are many studies that show the harmful effects of screen time for all ages, but especially young children – from attention problems to sight development. It’s long term harm for short term babysitting, and that’s simply not worth it.)
MANNERS TIME This can start at a very early age (around nine months) by teaching them some infant sign language to express “eat, please” or “drink, please.” (Their motor skills typically develop earlier than speech skills. If you don’t teach them motions to express themselves, they will use screaming, tantrums, and whining to give you these messages. If you reward those behaviors you are setting up a very unpleasant life for them and the whole family!) Manners, or “social skills” Time is so very valuable and the skills you teach them during this time each day can progress as they are developmentally able. Teach them to be gentle with the puppy or to not touch the doorknob or to ask before touching something that isn’t theirs or to give a cheerful response.
Basically, keep in mind, “PRAISE what you want REPEATED and if it’s a behavior that you don’t want repeated, then DON’T REWARD their behavior by giving in to their little demands.
My favorite way for having Manners Time was usually to read a page from a book about a particular manner and then do some role-playing with that manner. Such as, “Okay, Tori, you go up to the top of the stairs and I’m going to be downstairs in the kitchen. Listen for my voice, I’m going to call you. When you hear me call your name, you say, ‘Coming Mom.’ Say it cheerfully and loud enough for me to hear you. After you say that, you come right downstairs quickly. Okay, let’s give it a try.” I’d make a game of this. Maybe give a high five when she got there or give her a sticker for doing it great. Then I’d say, “Okay, now you go out to the trampoline and listen for my voice…” We’d play the little game again from the trampoline. I was teaching her the appropriate way to respond. Just a few minutes of practice on this each day, along with some positive reinforcement (remember – PRAISE what you want REPEATED), results in behavior that brings peace and contentment to a home.
*ACTIVITY BOX TIME Do you ever feel like you’re going crazy from all the little pieces of toy collections that need to stay together but they are strung out all over the house?
Hello, Activity Box salvation!
When he’s very young, an ACTIVITY BOX could contain something like Little People toys or colored stacking cups. When he’s a bit older, such as a preschooler, this is a great time for smaller discovery items like large magnets, bolts and screws (depending on age, be safe of course), sand with little soldiers or dinosaurs, crafts, matchbox cars, or Polly Pockets. I gave my toddlers a different activity box each day during ACTIVITY BOX TIME, with about 10-14 boxes in the rotation and reserving these boxes ONLY for ACTIVITY BOX TIME.
Toddlers do ACTIVITY BOX Time in their high chair while preschoolers can be given a different specific location such as the kitchen table for this time slot. You don’t want to give them freedom to run all over the house with these toys – this activity is another opportunity in their day to teach them to focus and grow their attention span. This isn’t a physically active play time, but a mentally active play time.
CHORE TIME “Seriously, you expect a toddler to have chores?”
Well, yes I do. Not because we parents will benefit from whatever chore we teach them at this age, but because your child needs
1. A sense of accomplishment
2. To develop the habit of quality standards and work ethic
3. To have a mindset of a “Family is a Team and we all want to contribute to the team.”
Chores at this age should be fun, but don’t be afraid to teach them to do a chore to an appropriate degree of quality. For example, if his chore is to pick up the toys, give him the standard of “books go in this bin” and “toys go in this bin.” Then YOU as parent need to stick to that standard. They will learn very early on if Mom means what she says or if she doesn’t. Be RELIABLE with your WORDS from the very beginning of your relationship with them, if you want them to trust you.
Do you remember having a teacher growing up who would have strict standards one day and the next day she’d let you get away with things, then the next day she’d get upset with you for doing what she allowed the day before? You could never predict how you were supposed to behave or what she really meant. Did that feel like an environment where you could thrive? How about a teacher who was strict but fair and loving? Didn’t that teacher inspire great things in you? Be Reliable With Your Words and Be Dependable With Your Standards. One of my favorite toddler chores to assign, was to give a baby wipe or wash cloth to the toddler and have him or her wash something – some of his toys or her play table, etc. A way to teach them quality with this might be to say, “Now don’t miss any spots. Make ALL of it shine!” Start the habit of quality work while they are young and let them know they’re an important part of the family team! Yay!!
*EXERCISE TIME w/ Popsicle Sticks I usually had EXERCISE Time twice a day. Of course littles play actively all day long, but only two times a day was it this specific, structured EXERCISE TIME.
Here’s what you do:
- Get some Popsickle Sticks or any little item that you can write on. Write a different activity on each stick such as “Trampoline,” Trike,” “Sidewalk Chalk,” “Swingset,” “Balls,” etc.
- Have your child draw out one stick. That’s the exercise they’ll do today for this time-slot. I didn’t give them a choice during this time because it’s good for them to have some times every day where they don’t get to make their own choice. It’s great to give them freedom to choose plenty of things, but it is also a necessary character quality for your child to grow up knowing that “we can be happy even when the choice isn’t ours to make.” If you think about well-adjusted, successful adults, they have to do things all the time that they wouldn’t CHOOSE to do, but still NEED to do. It’s great to create scenarios to develop this necessary character quality in your child.
MATH BASKET Get a crate and start collecting different number/math manipulatives and math games at garage sales or from pinterest, for example.
Once a day, at “MATH BASKET TIME”, have your child pick something from the crate to “play numbers.” In the early days the crate will have number blocks, number puzzles, counting monkeys, number picture books, an abacus, etc.
As your child gets older and their skills progress, the items in the crate will change with the child, continuing all the way through multiplication, division, and fractions, as there are great math manipulatives for all of these concepts. My eight year old still has a “Math Basket” time each day in addition to her math schoolwork. The items in the basket has changed over the years, but the timeslot still exists in her life.
*BOOK BASKET TIME This is a great planned activity for all of those library books that you bring home each week. The first part of BOOK TIME is with mommy, then second half is ALONE BOOK TIME.
- Sit and read one or two books with him.
- Then have him pick 2-3 books from the basket for his alone book time.
- Set a timer for 5-30 minutes (depending on your child’s age).
- Get him a cozy place to read, such as on a bean bag or a blanket spread on the floor – a special place for his daily reading time.
- He should stay in that spot til the timer dings, then teach him to put the picture books back in the basket. (Teach your child to take good care of the books, not to tear, throw, or step on them. Having this type of focused play followed by cleanup of that play, will teach him great habits for future academics and orderliness.) Ahhh, breath of sigh of relief that you are teaching your child to not be scattered and chaotic.
LETTERS BASKET TIME Get a crate or box or basket and start collecting different phonics manipulatives (ABC blocks or letter magnets to play with on the fridge, for example) and phonics games. There’s so many you can find at garage sales, used bookstores, or homeschool curriculum fairs. Each day at this time, spend a few minutes teaching them about letters and sounds then set the timer for their alone play with one of the letters toy sets. My very favorite phonics tool that was the first step in teaching my kids to read, was a very simple CD and paper from Discovery Toys called “Sounds Like Fun.” We’d sit on a special spot on the floor each day for this, and I’d hold my child’s finger and teach them to point to each sound as we’d sing the song together. Then pretty soon, he would be pointing by himself, as he followed along with the song, singing it. Then pretty soon he would be able to sit there by himself singing the song, pointing to the letters and pictures. So, that became something he did by himself and I would teach him the next step in reading, using Abeka’s Ladder Book. I would spend just a few minutes teaching reading skills, then set the timer for his alone play with the letters basket in our special spot for LETTER BASKET Time.
*MUSIC TIME My kids always loved this time the most of all -Educational songs, Bible Songs, Praise Songs… that a child listens to while playing with legos or lincoln logs or dolls, etc. If they were not old enough to play unsupervised in the room, I would have them spend MUSIC TIME in their playpen with 3-4 toys that would switch each day but if they were safe in their room alone, this was their bedroom alone play time.(For older preschoolers or elementary age children, I personally like the learning songs by Claritas Publishing, https://crossseven.org?ap_id=pracitcallyspeakingmom ).
In the toddler years, I loved to have them listen to songs that teach manners, safety, and Bible stories. Sometimes I made my own recordings to tell them things I wanted them to know, such as, “Becca, Mom and Dad love you so much. We’re very proud of you for how you to share with others, and smile when someone says, ‘hello’ to you. Let’s sing Mommy’s favorite hymn, What a Friend We Have In Jesus…” There are lots and lots of great educational and Bible songs cds these days. Don’t waste this precious season of their lives just listening to Disney songs, etc. Sure those are fine, but our children’s minds are little sponges, soaking in and memorizing everything right now, so fill their time with meaningful wisdom and truth for life!
Sunshine, fresh air, the sound of birds, dirt to dig in, bugs to find… these are so important for our child’s development. If the weather permits, make sure they get daily outside play time. This is a good time for you to refresh as well – work in your flower bed while they play in the dirt or soak your feet in the kiddie pool your kiddie is playing in.
*NAP TIME I’m sure I didn’t need to mention this timeslot, as every mama knows that her little needs at least one nap time per day. I would encourage you to REST WHEN YOUR LITTLE RESTS. Don’t feel guilty about taking a nap or at least kicking back in the recliner and listen to a meaningful podcast or some calm music. Moms of littles really need breaks just as much our littles do! When my littles would nap, I’d have the olders spend quiet time in their rooms as well. They could read or work on homework or journal, but they were to stay quiet because Little and Her Mama need rest!
When the timer goes off each hour, do that hour’s activity with your toddler/preschooler. The first few days it may be a bit of a wrestling match to get your little person used to staying put til the timer dings, but keep trying. In a few days you will begin to experience more smiles and less fussiness.
Kids really do flourish and thrive with predictable routine that encourages development of both body and mind and character.
I will be speaking on this topic at the Wichita, Kansas homeschool convention in April, 2018. Register at www.teachingparents.org.
Topics I’ll be speaking on at this convention are
“Clash In Your Clan: A Gameplan for Cleaning Up Family Conflict”