By Karla Fitch
Three summers ago, we dragged on through a seemingly endless summer vacation of tantrums, meltdowns and frustrated shouts of “I don’t KNOW what to do!” Even now, at 10 years old, my daughter’s lagging development in executive function can make unstructured time a challenge – which is why we use a technique that I call “collaborative scheduling.”
A collaborative schedule is exactly what it sounds like. My daughter and I collaborate to get important things done and then fill the rest of our days with our favorite activities. And while it may sound too good to be true, it works. In this article, I’ll introduce you to collaborative scheduling – including some basics you need to have in place to make it work and share some tips to get started.
Taking Turns, “Must Do’s” and Visual Schedules
Before you can start making up your first collaborative schedule, there are a few basics that you may have to square away. These are:
• Taking Turns
• Must Do’s (and Want to Do’s)
• Visual Schedules
Many children (both with and without disabilities) struggle with turn taking. In our case (as with many others) this was a skill that had to be taught. To teach my daughter turn taking, we presented opportunities (for example, using board games) and gave her lots of praise when she got it right. Timers, modeling and social stories can also be great tools to help children get it right.
Another big factor in collaborative scheduling are “must do’s” and “want to do’s.” After all, we’d ALL love to spend the day at the beach – but laundry, groceries and work still have to be done. To teach must do’s and want to do’s, we used card sorting activities. We printed up cards showing both types of activities and sorted them into piles. As we learned, we shuffled ideas in and out of the card deck until my daughter could categorize them all herself. You can see some samples of the cards we used here.
Finally, you’ll need to have some familiarity with visual schedules and what works for your child. Some children may already be using visual schedules at school, so don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher for advice. You can also look online (Google “visual schedule” for ideas). Just remember that the schedule you choose has to work for you and your child. When in doubt – keep it simple!
Making Your First Collaborative Schedule
We begin each day the same. I take out a sheet of scrap paper and my daughter and I list all of our must do’s (examples might include, “go to the grocery store,” “visit grandma and grandpa,” and my personal favorite, “10 minutes of quiet time”). After we’ve made a list of must do’s, we start naming our want to do’s (for example, “go to the pool” or “make a craft”) and make a separate list of those.
I flip the paper over and draw three lines (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then we start to fill in our must do’s. We talk about our choices as we go. For example, I might say “going to the grocery store is a must do before lunch because we have no bread for sandwiches.” I let my daughter ask questions and add her input too, like “mom, all the must do’s are in the morning! Can’t we do something fun?”
Once our must do’s are on the schedule, we take turns filling in our want to do’s until we have a full day. We’ve learned that not every want to do gets on the schedule for the day, but there’s always room for it on the next day. This kind of give and take also helps to model priorities for my daughter. For example, I can say, “we didn’t get to do a craft yesterday and I know that was important to you. Let’s give that want to do a higher priority on our schedule tomorrow so that we have time for it.”
Your collaborative schedule won’t happen overnight. It’s a learning experience that will take time and a little patience to perfect. But after three summers of collaborative scheduling, I can tell you that our summers are filled with a lot fewer tantrums and a lot more good memories.
If you’d like to learn more details about the different pieces of our collaborative schedule process, you can visit the website we created to share our story at collaborativeschedule.com Good luck this summer and happy scheduling!