What are we going to do today?

Cody Summerville

Dec. 26, 2020

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Your alarm clock goes off. You have about 30 minutes until your child wakes up (if they haven’t already), and you are thinking about all of the conference calls you have today or the big project that is due at the end of the week. You ask yourself, “How am I going to get all of this done?” And then, “How am I going to get all of the this done AND make sure my child is engaged all day?”

Before you can figure it out, your child awakes. You are in your kitchen, brewing a cup of coffee, or heading into your bedroom to get dressed and in walks your sweet, young child who asks the question you have been dreading for days… "What are we going to do today?!"

If you find that this question creates more stress in your life than finding a roll of toilet paper, don’t worry, you are not alone! This stress can be easily managed through creating a daily schedule that provides both you and your child the structure and predictability needed to make getting through the day a little easier.

Every early childhood educator relies on a well-planned daily schedule to provide them with the structure needed to manage the day and be more present with the children in their classroom. This schedule helps them know what to plan for and helps children know what to expect. It provides predictability, which creates a sense of safety and comfort. This is much needed in children’s lives during the current public health crisis. Their schedules and relationships have changed drastically. While children are resilient and can adapt to change, helping them find predictability in this new normal will support optimal development and help them manage their emotions.

Every early childhood educator also relies on the fact that this schedule can be adapted and modified as needed to best meet the needs of the children in their classroom or other things happening in the school. So, when creating a schedule for home, feel free to adjust it as you need. Maybe you have a conference call at a strange time, or your child is just really into playing outside that day. Whatever the reason - adapt, adapt, adapt. Daily schedules are like your route to and from work. You most likely have the same route to and from work every day because traffic is backed up or you need to make a stop at the grocery store. Most days your daily schedule will be the same, but don’t be afraid to make changes.

Planning Your Daily Schedule

Planning out your daily schedule involves deciding the type of activities with which you will engage your child throughout the day. The emphasis is on TYPE of activities – not specific activities. For example, you might decide that your child will have 45 minutes of outdoor play time; outdoor play is a type of activity. Going on a nature walk around the neighborhood and playing “I Spy” is a specific activity you might do during outdoor play. At this stage of your journey, focusing on activity types will then give you the structure to plug in specific activities as you tackle each day. We are building the route – not deciding on the scenery!

Getting out of Bed

As Julie Andrews taught us, let’s start at the very beginning. What is the first thing you want your child to do when they wake up? Make their bed, brush their teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast? There are lots of options. What do they normally do? Try to keep their morning routine as consistent as possible, that way when they return to school, the need for adjustment is minimal.

Play Time

Young children learn through play. It is essential to promoting optimal development and learning. In your daily schedule, provide opportunities for your child to engage in a variety of play.

At school your child likely engaged in the following types of play daily:

  • Creative play -open-ended opportunities to create art using a variety of materials
  • Dramatic play -pretend play in which children act out difference roles and scenarios resembling both real life and fictional scenarios
  • Construction play -opportunities to use a variety of materials to build things.
  • Sensory play - opportunities to explore their five senses through materials that have a variety of textures, smells, sounds, tastes, etc.
  • Games with rules -games that have predetermined rules and objectives such as board games, puzzles, scavenger hunts, hide-and-go-seek, etc.

When planning for different types of play, make sure you provide your child with a variety of materials, so they have choices. This helps maintain interest and can help play last for longer periods of time (so you can get work done!). Additionally, it is best to provide materials that can be used in different ways. For example, sticks from the backyard can be used for construction play as children stack and build, or they can be used for dramatic play as children use them as a stirring utensil while “cooking” a pot of stew! Save items such as empty paper towel rolls, milk jugs, boxes, and cans (with no sharp edges) for your children to use during playtime. In addition, bring the outdoors inside by collecting twigs, rocks, and other interesting outdoor materials for your child to use as they play.

Structured Learning Experiences

Your child is growing and learning at a rapid rate! At school, this is supported through structured learning experiences in which the child focuses on learning or developing new skills. Through meaningful at-home Family Connection activities brought to you by Hatch Early Learning, you can continue to introduce your child to new skills and foster their development and learning. Within your daily schedule, find time for these family connection activities. You can easily get through 2-3 activities within a 20-minute timeframe. It is important to note that your child does not need to spend most of their day engaged in these structure learning experiences. Most of their day should be spent engaged in both indoor and outdoor play.

Another great way to continue supporting your child’s development and learning, is by building in time for them to engage in play-based learning provided through child-facing technology. Hatch has adapted our kindergarten readiness platform used in preschool classrooms across the country for at-home use. Ignite@Home supports children’s development across seven learning domains. Each child has their own learning path which ensures they are working on skills at their own level. 

In addition to Family Connection activities and Ignite@Home , build in time for your child to independently read, and time for you to read to him/her! As preschool children read, they typically focus on looking at pictures, possibly identifying letters or words on a page, and so on. The independent time allows your child to develop their pre-reading skills and a positive relationship with books! In order to foster curiosity, provide your child with 5-8 book options. Keep some of the same options for a few days while introducing new books into the mix, but always keeping the choices to fewer than 10. Limiting options will help your child settle into reading time more quickly and help pace the rate at which they go through your at-home library.

Mealtime and Rest Time

Your child needs to refuel throughout the day with both food and rest. Ensure that your daily schedule includes mealtimes, snack times, and rest times. Rest time may include a nap or quiet independent activities. Quiet time provides you great opportunities to get some work done!

Physical Activity

Make sure that you provide your child with both structured and unstructured physical activities. Structured activities may include setting up an obstacle course, playing tag, or taking a walk. Unstructured physical activities might include free time to run around in your yard or providing outdoor toys and inviting your child to play with them as they see fit.

Destination: BEDTIME!

Congratulations! You made it through the day! Your journey ends at today’s destination – BEDTIME. A consistent bedtime routine helps your child get to sleep more quickly while enjoying a higher quality of sleep. This includes a set bedtime. These recommendations also enable you to finish up some work, spend time with the other adults in your home, schedule a virtual happy hour with friends, or some much needed RELAXATION!

Helping your child understand your daily schedule

In an attempt to prevent your child from repeatedly asking questions like, “What are we going to do today?” or “What are we going to do next?”, create a visual schedule so your child will know what to expect. In order to create a visual schedule, draw a two-column grid onto a sheet of sturdy paper. In the first column, write the name of each part of your day. In the second column, invite your child to draw a picture of that part of the day. The pictures (next to the words) support pre-literacy skills while allowing children to take part in the creation and management of the daily schedule. As your child tracks each part of the day, provide a clothespin that can be moved next to each part/activity, etc.

At the beginning of each activity/part of the day, set expectations. Let your child know if the activity is one you will do together, or if it is one they will do independently. For example, “You are going to read books on your own for 15 minutes while I do my work. I want you to choose three books to read while I am working. When the 15 minutes is up, I will stop my work and we will talk about the books you read!”

Getting Ready for Each Day

Whether you do so in the morning, or before you go to bed, plan to spend a few minutes thinking about your child’s day. What books will you provide, which Family Connection activities will you introduce, what materials do you need to gather (for play time)? Teachers do this too and it helps to minimize stress and keep life more manageable.

As you are planning your day, keep your work calendar in mind. What parts of your day are flexible, and what times of the day are not? Adjust the daily schedule accordingly. Keep in mind that humans (especially the young ones!) need interaction and if you are nearby, they will find you! You can minimize disruptions by setting aside time throughout the day to engage and interact with them. Share with your child what times of day you need to work (perhaps you can ask your child to make a red flag that you can post near your workspace as a reminder that you need your child to STOP and wait until you are free). When you are working, ensure your child is engaged in an activity. Watching TV at these times may not be the best option (they may have seen the show one too many times, which will prompt them to find you!). Consider introducing interesting materials for your child to use during construction play or dramatic play.

These materials don’t have to be materials that you purchase; it is the perfect time to bring outdoor materials inside or provide them with empty paper towel rolls!

You’ve got this!

You can do this. Planning your route should take you no more than 15 minutes. Making a visual schedule with your child should take you no more than 30 minutes. Planning each day will be a quick task as well. Remember that it is okay to adapt the schedule based on your needs, and the needs of your child. Maybe skip a part of your schedule or revise it completely after a few days. Don’t stress about the schedule being perfect! The perfect schedule is one that is ever-changing to meet needs.

Check out the family resources Hatch has created to help you as your plan your child’s day. We will update our resources frequently and we are here to help you!

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