Small children thrive on structure. I've known babes who sleep anywhere and anytime. I occasionally veered from our sleep routines, but felt it was important for my babes (AND for me) to be well-rested, at home and in their own beds.
Not that I avoid spontaneity...I love an impromtu road trip or visit. I was thrilled to find that Margot (who has been the least flexible of my children) was happy to sleep in a Pack and Play while visiting my sister last weekend! My children love to be surprised, and are flexible when our day involves events that are out of their routine...they also love sleepovers at Nanny and Papa's house, or at their Aunts' homes.
But here I am, facing summer; my husband is gone for 10 hours a day, and so far I am without wheels (he has my van, as his car finally gave up the ghost and we're still looking for a replacement). I knew that a visual schedule would be as useful to me as to my children.
I'd created these little cards on a program called "Boardmaker", and use them every day in my classroom. There are children who fly by the seat of their pants all day, and others who want to know: what are we doing next? After a few weeks of directing them to the class schedule, they begin using it independently to ease their transitions from one activity to the next, or to figure out if it's lunch time or snack time.
This 'schedule' is not written in stone, of course. But it's cool to see Violet consulting it and saying, "Time to get dressed!" or "Can we paint now?" Snacks and meals are dictated more by hunger than the time on the clock, and outside play is spontaneous...the more the better!
My children seem calmer somehow, with a visual reminder of what was already our daily rhythm. A visual schedule also allows your child to talk about their day when your spouse returns from work. Sequencing events is an early reading strategy; the more you get your child talking about events in order (how to make a sandwich, the main events in a familiar story, or the rhythm of their day) the better. Model the use of "first, next, then, last" as often as possible.
Without a vehicle, I find I need to plan a little more, particularly when it comes to meals...no more running out to the grocery store for a forgotten ingredient. The beauty and order of this little meal plan astounds disorganised me, and has added such an element of CALM to my day...I've completely eliminated my daily, "What the HELL am I making for dinner tonight??" rant. It's even allowed me to make some food the night before which has made for a happier, more engaged mama. I imagine this will also really help with our tighter summer budget, and will be a habit I carry into the school year.
Jude, at age 6, has a more developed concept of time. Still, he has been asking me EVERY DAY, "Do I have school tomorrow?" I finally found these pages from a desk calendar to show him July and August. I reiterated (for the 100th time) that school is done, that summer is two whole months of soccer, swimming lessons, visiting, and play! I've filled in important events that are written on my kitchen calendar (if they are pertinent to him)...like seeing "The Lion King" on July 16th! I fill it out by the week so as not to overwhelm him, and will "x" out the days as they pass. You could also add symbols to keep track of the weather (a sun, a cloud, a raindrop, a lightning bolt!), and graph them at the end of the month.
These little reminders of the hours and days passing, and the rhythm of our summer, help me to live in each moment, and to plan ahead to the days and weeks to come.