When I ask moms what the toughest part of their day is, most of the time the answer I get is, “Mornings!” Between getting yourself up and ready for your day, helping your toddler through potty time, tooth brushing, dressing, breakfast, and finding your husband’s keys that he lost in the washing machine, I completely understand. Mornings are often crunched for time, no matter how early you get out of bed. Emotions run high in all that chaos, and children melt down like snowmen in summer on a daily basis. But don’t worry! There’s an answer that is surprisingly simple, and can completely change how you run your mornings! Enter the Morning Routine.
So, you’re thinking to yourself that you’ve already got a routine. What makes THIS routine different is that you’re going to create a system for your child to follow independently. Without your help. Just mild supervision. Amazing, right? It all starts with a visual schedule.
What is a Visual Schedule?
A visual schedule is an activity or routine that’s been broken down into simple, easy to manage steps. Visuals are added so that children know exactly what the next item on the schedule is. The most effective schedules have a way for your child to physically show that they’ve completed a task. There are many ways to make a schedule, and they all depend on your resources and your child’s developmental stages.
The Object Schedule
This is a schedule that’s perfect for very young children, or children with significant developmental disabilities. Rather than having a picture or printed visual to represent each step in their routine, an object schedule uses an actual object that is needed to complete that step. For example, “brush teeth,” would have the child’s actual toothbrush. “Get dressed,” would have the child’s clothes there and prepared. “Eat breakfast,” might have a fork or a favorite cup that your child loves to use at meals. Because some children have difficulty making connections between picture representations and activities, object schedules provide a concrete way for them to engage and build independence in their routines!
You can use small boxes or even the pouches on a shoe organizer to create your object schedule. Write a label for each activity in your routine, and find an object that represents that activity. Then you’ll be ready to teach them how to use it!
The Picture Schedule
There are two ways to make a picture schedule. You can use photographs of the activity in the routine (preferably of your child doing the activity, but sometimes just a picture of the place where it happens is enough), or you can choose clip art illustrations that represent the activity. For younger children, or those who need something less concrete than an object schedule, but more concrete than clip art pictures, photographs are the way to go. For those who have used visual schedules before, or who understand and can name for you the activity in each picture, a clip art schedule will be fine!
Create a file with squares that you can fill with a picture, and add a label to. Give your child a way to signify that they’ve completed the activity, either by putting velcro on both sides so that they can flip it over, or providing a little envelope that they can put their finished activity cards into. Print them on card stock, and, if possible, laminate or cover each card in packing tape to repel the stickiness that sometimes clings to little hands!
The Written Schedule
For children who are older and can read, you can graduate them from a picture schedule to a written schedule. A couple of great ways to make a written schedule are:
- Write your routine on a paper/card stock, and laminate it. Provide a dry-erase marker so that they can check off each activity.
- Make cards, as you would with a picture schedule, but with just the word on them. Provide a way for them to show they are done, either using velcro or an envelope.
- Have your child write out their own routine each morning. This is a good one for children who often have changes to their schedule and routine based on the day.
So How do we Make the Perfect Routine?
Here are the 4 steps that I used over and over as a teacher, and now as a parent who helps other parents to get the chaos out of their lives.
1. Decide on your schedule type.
If you were reading the descriptions above and a particular type of schedule stuck out to you and made you think, “Wow! That’s something my kid will love!” then go with that type of schedule. Otherwise, it can be a little tricky to figure out what type of schedule will be the best for your child. Here are a few guidelines, based on a child’s developmental age, that I’ve used successfully in the past:
- 2 years and under – Object Schedule.
- 2-3 years – Picture Schedule with photographs.
- 3-6 years – Picture Schedule with clip art.
- 6 years and up – Written Schedule.
Of course, this list is not at all set in stone, and if you have an 18 month old who can match a picture of the bathroom to the bathroom wall, go for it! Try to use the most advanced type of schedule that you think they can successfully use independently, once they’ve been taught how to use it.
On that note, the schedule that you pick now for your child does NOT have to be the only schedule type that they will ever use. As your child grows, learns, and understands more about the world, don’t be afraid to graduate them to a new type of schedule when they’re ready. Children LOVE new things, and they’ll usually be excited to discover that they’ve gotten a new schedule!
2. Pick your most important morning activities.
Now that you’ve decided on your schedule type, it’s time to pick out the most important things that you need your child to get done each morning to get ready for the day. Especially when you’re first starting, children can get easily overwhelmed if their Morning Routine includes 10-15 steps that need to be completed in the hour between waking up and rushing out the door. Start with 4-6 steps for them to complete each morning. The ones that are not an option. Here are mine:
- Brush Teeth (and wash hands, but that’s just a sort of add-on since we’re already in there)
If my little one can get these four things done each morning, we are golden. Now, as she gets older and more advanced, I’ll add in a few more steps, like:
- Empty dishwasher
- Pack backpack
- Feed dogs
- Whatever chores need doing in the morning that a child can do.
But, to start off with, pick out the basics that HAVE to happen every single day.
3. Make your schedule.
If you’re a crafty person, this is the fun part! If you’re like me, and not crafty at all, this is the part that you’ve got to do to get to the results!
Now that you’ve picked out your schedule type and your 4-5 Must Have morning activities, you get to make a little Morning Routine Schedule! Here are some examples of the different types of schedule:
Note-this schedule was made for a girl who LOVES Pokemon! Completing the schedule means that she catches all of her Pokemon and earns a reward. This is an amazing example of tying your schedule into a reward system for your child.
I’m a huge fan of lamination from my years as a teacher. I have resources that are still in excellent condition after YEARS because of being laminated! However, if you’re not able to laminate your schedule cards or papers, I have also used packing tape to cover them so that sticky fingers don’t leave prints!
4. Teach your child to use the schedule.
Now, for ME, this is the fun part. I love to teach schedules, because once a child has mastered them, a whole new world of independence and accomplishment has just been opened up for them! For the first few days, once you’ve got your child’s schedule set up, you’ll have to go through the steps with them:
- Check the schedule. See what the next activity is, and either match it to its location (bathroom, dresser, table, etc.), or simply go there without matching.
- Complete the activity.
- Mark that activity as finished. Flip over the card, cross it off the list, put the card or object in the “Finished” bucket.
- Check the schedule.
And so on. Each time they do a step in their schedule, make it a BIG deal! High fives, happy dances, and stickers or treats are a good thing here. We want your child to LOVE that dang schedule.
After your child is doing it smoothly with your help, start to take a step back. Rather than going with them to the schedule, simply say, “Check your schedule!” and see what happens. Your child should head over to the schedule and get started with the steps. If they start to have trouble, or get confused, step in and help them out again, and then step back out and encourage their independence. Before long, your child should be going through the schedule independently!
Now, if you’re like me and you’re starting out a toddler, they’ll still need a lot of hands-on help for all of the activities on their list. That can’t be helped. But, the good thing is, a schedule will give them a sense of predictability and independence, and you’ll likely see a HUGE decrease in tantrums, melt downs, and other troubling behaviors that slow down your mornings!
For some more information and ideas about using a schedule for your entire day, check out this post about Daily Schedules!
Do you use a Morning Routine Schedule?
Let me know in the comments how it works for you, and how it changes your day!
If you’d like a copy of my Morning Routine printable, click right below and I’ll send it your way!