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  • Writer's pictureLaura Fowls, M.Ed., BCBA

How To Make an Achievable Daily Schedule and Reduce Stress

Many of us are getting used to wearing some new hats. Full-time stay at home parent, work from home parent, sort of home schooling parent, etc. This method of scheduling is not designed as a way to FILL your day, but a way to HELP move through your day by giving your kids a predictable and low stress routine. It is impossible to be an employee, a teacher and a parent all in one moment. If you feel overwhelmed it makes a lot of sense. Give yourself a break and create a day that feels good to your family, is doable and reduces your personal stress load.

Just a little PSA to start us off; schedules should be a loosely used term. It DOES NOT mean every 15 minutes something new and exciting happens. It does not mean your quarantine bubble requires seven novel activities that you stay up late at night prepping. Schedules for the purpose of this discussion means a general order of events for the day that allows you and your children to feel a sense of security by knowing what is coming.

As a general strategy I would suggest creating a written schedule each day. That schedule should include the order of events for the day. You can add time if that’s what works best for your family. I usually recommend to just number the events and not put a time. This makes it easier to continue an activity that is going well or to end an activity that is going downhill. Here are our general tips!

How to Make the Schedule

  1. Make it together in the morning. Make this each morning together to avoid feeling like you have to “prep” everything. No reason to feel like you have to get up before the kids to get it done.

  2. Use words and pictures. For family members who are not yet reading draw a simple picture next to each item. Nothing fancy, just a symbol that they can learn represents a certain activity. See our example below!

  3. Keep it light and realistic. No need to add ALL the things. The reality is that the easier this is to do the easier it will be to keep it going.

  4. Experiment with time based vs. Order based schedules. Having an order to follow is generally less pressure for everyone.

  5. Keep it simple. You can totally do all the Velcro and symbols. I find just writing and drawing a schedule each morning is the easiest thing for most families. I am all about minimal prep and low pressure.

  6. Place your schedule in a sheet protector. This is so simple and easy to do. Then when the kids grab it with greasy hands, it gets coffee spilled on it or goes out in the rain it will last the whole day. We have a laminator but I still opt for the sheet protector since it is inexpensive and is faster than pulling the laminator out.

  7. Detailing is individual. Some families benefit from more details on their schedule, such as putting a clean up toys time on the schedule, while others can just verbally say “before we start movie time we need to clean up ALL the toys.” Decide what works best for your family. Some of you may be finding your calling as a teacher or perhaps you always wanted to homeschool and your schedule will be far more detailed. Figuring out what feels right to your family and creating a day that you will look forward to matters. It will look a little different for each of us. I usually recommend less details to keep the pressure low.

  8. When in doubt, leave it out. If you are thinking that pre-lunch activity you saw on Instagram last night might just be too much, leave it off. Try again or add it on a day when you feel excited to try it out. Time is on your side and there is no need to cram a day full.

  9. Try not to do this seven days a week if you don't have to. During this unique time at home we still try to keep our weekends as we did before and have it be break from the routine. The kids still ask for the schedule on the weekends but we explain we will have it again on Monday and we enjoy the shift for those two days. Breaks and rest time are critical for everyone and helps us to maintain the routines that we find most helpful.

What to put on the schedule

  1. The "daily's." Include meal times, rest times and other things that happen daily.

  2. Add in activities that do not require any prep. This is HUGE! I have seen so many cute ideas where parents are creating sheets and velcro activities with hot glue guns and icons, etc. I think this is awesome. Really! For me personally though when the kids bedtime comes and I need to get back to my other job where I am not mom, the idea of prepping an art activity or learning activity the next day is daunting and stressful. I choose activities that require zero prep OR I can prep together with the kids. For example, cardboard painting involves all of us collecting boxes, tape and paint brushes. A scavenger hunt is all of us finding buckets to put our little treasures in. Today we made popsicles and we just pulled ingredients and a blender out as we went. Make your activities as easy on yourself as possible!

  3. Build in planned screen time if you do screen time. I am heavily educated on the destructiveness of screen time to the developing brain and I work hard with families and within my own home to minimize screen time exposure to support brain development. That said we are in some pretty unique circumstances and a little screen time feels ok in our house. As many of us struggle to change our entire routine, and work from home with our children present, etc. some things have to give. Our planned time is that we have one hour of screen time after we all eat lunch. This reduces the argument about when we get to have it and it functions as a little break after the morning routine. I also find when we have planned daily screen time the overall daily screen time use is far reduced.

  4. Build in down time multiple times a day. Our family uses the word “free play.” I sell it as “you get to play with whatever you want to until _____ (insert following item on the schedule). We have a lot of free play time. I plan it for when I need to make meals, etc. Kids need time to just play and explore and engage in open ended play, whatever that looks like for them. If you are wondering how to facilitate more of this kind of play check out this post here.

  5. Outdoor time. Outdoor time is THE THING that will likely benefit your child's mood, sleep, behavior, immune system and self-regulation throughout the day. Free play time or structured activities are all available outdoors. Think about your own family, your own outdoor space and add some time in daily for this. We buy rain-suits and put them on no matter the weather. We make outside time happen and it helps all of us with the rest of the day.

Below is one example of our day from last week! Simple drawings, no time specific events and no activities that required prep.

Remember a schedule should help you through this time and should not be a tedious task that causes your day to drag on or feel overwhelming. Finding the right balance looks a little different for everyone. Be kind to yourself, take it easy and if possible find ways to enjoy this extra time we get to have at home.

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