Today’s Mama Monday focuses on how to get your children cued in to their environment and develop a sense of time. Whether you have an autistic child, sensory processing disorder child, a child with attention deficits, or an otherwise normally-functioning child, these tips and techniques can help your child to engage their day (and play) better!
Use Visual Cues to Organize Possessions!
[Note: the following steps can be used to organize adult possessions like craft items, tools, papers, or books also] Toys can get overwhelming, especially the little ones. Some of the toys your children need to play with get lost in a sea of flashy (but rather useless) gizmos. Helping of Hope: you can quickly reduce the clutter to 1/3 or less! Here are some steps I took to streamline our play routine and I think they will work for you too (this is especially fun to do at Christmas; if your children are older, you can tell them you are making room for their Christmas presents: they may even be willing to help!):
- Pull out the toys your children NEED to play with (educational toys, art supplies, a favorite doll or stuffed toy to practice caring for others, toys that encourage imaginative play, a couple of toys your child is emotionally attached to, etc)–no more than 10 unless you have a designated play room–organize and put in accessible places;
Toys were overrunning our living room until we got these inexpensive storage bins from a Family Dollar store. These are the toys we want our children to play with most often; Art, Puzzles, Trains & Dinosaurs, Dress-Up, Dolls & Horses, Play-Dough, Duplo blocks and Musical instruments.
- Separate the rest of the toys in three piles, one to discard, one to circulate, one to organize and put away.
- Try to put as many (if not all) of the battery-powered, non-educational toys in the discard pile. They cost extra money to keep (batteries) and can limit imaginative play; even if they were expensive, they aren’t worth the storage space. Unless your child plays with it frequently, or you are willing to help them use it regularly, discard it.
- Try to put all the promotional (fast-food children’s meal), stocking-stuffer, party-favor, and other tiny toys in the discard pile. These toys are to children as junk mail is to adults; they keep accumulating and keep you from the important stuff. It might be worth getting into the habit of throwing these toys away on the same day the children get them, after they go to bed, or as soon as they lose interest. Chances are, they will keep getting more in the future!
Donate the “Discard” pile to Goodwill, Once Upon a Child, or another charity/consignment store. If you have younger children, just tell them you are cleaning up their toys; don’t let them see you getting rid of anything or every toy in the bag will become their “favorite” instantly! You can load up your car in the evening after they go to bed.
Bag or box the toys in the “Circulate” pile and store them out of view and out of reach. In a few months, switch out the toys in the organize pile with the toys in the circulate pile.
Organize the remaining toys into accessible, open bins or shelving. If it is out of sight, it will be out of mind and there will be no point keeping it! One of the cheapest solutions is to get wire shelving from a local Family Dollar or Discount Retail store; you can organize the toys into cubes. If toys are small and likely to fall through the gaps, buy a cheap plastic basket that will fit in the squares to put the smaller toys in (like Beanie Babies or toy cars).
GET VISUAL! This will take time. You can buy printable labels or business cards and use a downloadable template with your choice of document software (I use Open Office) to type text and insert pictures; printing on plain paper is fine too, but you will have to cut out the rectangles and stick them with tape. Having an electronic document to print out is especially helpful if the labels or cards become dirty or worn because you can always reprint them. Or, use your art skills and some markers to draw/write your own. YOU MUST INCLUDE PICTURES that are as close as possible to the contents of the baskets, tubs, or squares. This helps children to locate toys (very helpful when it is time to put them away); they can practice sorting, categorizing according to use or appearance, and recognize what activities they are actually engaging in (“I am playing with cars” as opposed to “I am playing”). Here are some examples of the evolving organizational process in our home:
- If you have a lot of one particular type of toy, try to divide it equally across all three piles, with the toys your children like the most in the organize pile, the toys you want your children to play with in the circulation pile, and the toys neither of you like or use that much in the discard pile.
In the Beginning…our children’s closet when they were but babes! The same baskets we used to organize their diapers and infant clothing we now use to organize their toys! Notice how we use differently colored hangers to separate clothing; color coding can help direct children (or babysitters) to the correct items.
The Toddler Years: we put everything in accessible bins and baskets so items would be used. This was before we found out one of our girls had Fragile X Syndrome with Dyspraxia, Attention Deficits, and Autism. Wire shelving comes in very handy!
Fast-forward to today…”circulation” toys on the top shelf, labels for all the toys, outfits on colored hangers, shirts and jackets on white hangers. “A place for everything and everything in its place!” makes it easier for kids to keep their toys clean and cuts down on clutter.
Use Visual Cues to Organize Time!
If you have a child who has difficulty sequencing events or needs to develop a routine; if you are an adult who struggles with staying organized or suffer from memory loss; if you have a busy schedule and need a way to communicate in absentia with older children or adults; a visual flip-schedule is a wonderful prompt to help accomplish certain tasks. A visual flip-schedule is particularly useful when developing a sense of time and routine, avoiding the Summer Slump, getting ready for school season, getting chores done, and homeschooling. Children can take turns flipping the pages as each item is accomplished (or at designated times); you can also use a flip chart to communicate with your older children so they can complete tasks independently while you are otherwise occupied (“Out to Garden: Clean your floor” or “Having Quiet Time with Jesus: Help yourself to breakfast”)
It is important that you don’t over-schedule or become rigid with times; this is an assisting tool, not a slave-driver. Some personalities are driven to keep rigid schedules, others resist them like the plague. If you are trying to accomplish more in your day, it will be tempting to put extra activities in the chart. Prompts give you no power to do what you aren’t already able to do; keep your expectations realistic, organize the MINIMUM sequence of events you need to get through your day; as time “opens up” and your skills develop, you can add extra activities and may be able to wean yourself off a visual schedule altogether. The purpose of a visual schedule is to help your body and brain internalize the schedule through visual sensory information. If you get off track, you can reuse a visual flip-schedule to get back on track. Children will benefit from a visual schedule until they become old enough to motivate themselves to get tasks done on time.
Our first visual flip-schedule (a ring-binder bent backwards). I learned how to use these from our local Community Bible Study’s Children’s Ministry. They are a great way to keep children moving across a 2.5 hour intense children’s program. In a relaxed setting, as at home, they can encourage a variety of activities throughout the day; if you keep the categories general, you can do different types of the same general activity on different days of the week.
The easiest way to make a flip-schedule is to bend a binder backwards and secure a piece of cardboard–as the base–to the leaves of the binder with packing tape. To make pages, cut construction paper down to letter-size, paste a descriptive picture and short phrase to the paper, and hole-punch to put in your binder.
This is the first page on our visual flip-schedule. I printed out a calendar (reverse image) on printable transparency film and secured the printed side down with spray adhesive to a piece of white paper. This way I can use dry-erase markers to check the day, date, month, season, and year. It is a great way to teach time to the kids!
To make a sturdier flip schedule, make your own Trapezoid out of cardboard (I used a cardboard “envelope” that a photo-book came in) and rip the metal ring-clasp section out of an old binder: poke holes in the top of your trapezoid to fit the studs through and hot glue the ring-clasp section. Insert the construction paper pages as before.
We used our flip schedule to encourage good habits like having a devotional time each morning! The girls memorized this fairly quickly, even at three and four years old.
If you are particularly savvy and create an even number of steps, you can put the last “half” of the steps in reverse order on the back of the first set of steps: when you have completed the first set of steps, you merely turn the schedule around and keep flipping. This reduces the total number of leaves in your flip schedule by half.
It’s best to find images that most closely resemble the ACTIONS written on the pages. These images are standard clip-art. I highlighted phonetic combinations of letters to help our kids learn to read.
[UPDATE: I am just now figuring out that I need to write these posts the night before…I guess if you are Pacific Standard Time, you might just get to read this Mama Mondays post before you go to bed! I apologize for not getting it out sooner. Now all I need to do is write my Transformation Tuesdays post and I’ll be all set. Tomorrow will be a “two-for”!]
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