Toddlers are in a unique position. They are always in a school setting but old enough to crave a schedule to their day. A preschool teacher who is a very close friend to our practice was nice enough to share some wonderful pearls from years of experience and a basic primer to point you in the right direction. Kids often enjoy taking part in the creation of the schedule and including some of their favorite stuffies as their classmates.
FREE CHOICE: Free Choice is just that.
This time is meant to encourage independent play and exploration. It is important to note that this isn’t a negative thing. Children of all ages need time to explore and experiment individually. They also need to learn to separate from parents comfortably with the certain knowledge that they will interact with you again soon. Time alone allows children to be alone with their ideas and their creativity. It encourages concentration and experimentation. Of course siblings share this time and play together.
Set up your play area in an intentional and engaging way. Create an intriguing provocation – perhaps a block parking lot filled with toy cars, or a family in it’s habitat with a mother animal and her babies. Maybe set up a paper towel roll ramp with a bowl of marbles nearby, or a turn on a flashlight and create a stuffed animal shadow against a wall. Think of this as a visual invitation! With a little planning, free time can easily become more focused and include greater variety. Free choice can happen two or three times a day within the context of a day’s routine. The picture schedule can set expectations for when this will happen. Try playing background music.
It is helpful to rearrange toys to create novelty. Sometimes a forgotten plaything takes on a new sense of possibility when a child discovers it in a new place.
Offer a designated art/writing surface and a selection of papers, pens, markers, crayons and other art materials that are easily accessible to your child.
Create a clean up ritual and stick to it. Try playing a bell sound from your Smartphone or flicking the lights on and off. You might sing the clean up song from your child’s school. Establish the expectation at the start of the week so that it becomes automatic.
Create a distinctly different environment for this part of the day. Dedicate a space (perhaps your child’s bedroom or a defined section of the living room) and a regular time (after lunch). Dim the lights. Play soft music. Children learn to enjoy looking at beloved books independently. Keep a small basket of selected children’s books, age-appropriate puzzles, or markers and paper nearby. These materials should be kept together in a dedicated space for this time of day. If your child is still napping, this can also be a time to rest. This time is meant to be soothing and enjoyable…a time to chill out.
Planner Screen Time
Decide how much time to allow your child on screen. This should be something that happens at the same time each day so your child can anticipate it. The goal of scheduling is to circumvent continuous questioning with a plan that you both understand.
Projects and Focused Activities
Each day, decide on a focused activity to do together such as a simple cooking project or an art project. Some projects can continue into the next day.