September 2: The Benefits of Using a Visual Family Calendar
At the beginning of the school year, I often speak with families in my practice about the benefits of using an analog visual calendar. At the outset I want to acknowledge that digital calendars are incredibly efficient and effective. If you are parenting with a partner or co-parenting, having a shared digital calendar facilitates communication and helps keep everyone on track. An analog visual family calendar can take many different forms: some families like to fill out a paper calendar and hang it on the wall, while others prefer the flexibility of using a whiteboard. Keep in mind that this undertaking does not need to be intricate or complicated unless you want it to be. A simple Monday through Friday notation on a whiteboard can offer the same advantages as an elaborate, color-coded scheme.
What are some of the specific benefits of using a visual family calendar?
Being able to reference a visual calendar gives children a sense of the flow of the week and helps strengthen executive function skills such as planning and time management.
Use of a visual calendar supports the concept that children share responsibility for their schedules: instead of needing to ask a parent what time the birthday party begins, children can look at the calendar and find that information for themselves. Providing this information in a shared visual format helps to increase your child’s accountability.
If you have a complicated weekly schedule and different care givers are present for your child on different days, presenting a visual depiction of which adult will be in charge of drop-off and pick-up each day helps increase predictability and provide clarity for your child regarding what to expect. For very young children, this might be as simple as posting a picture on the calendar of which care giver will be arriving for preschool pick-up that day.
If you have a child who asks a lot of questions about what is happening next or when certain events are going to take place, providing a visual calendar helps parents shift from being the source of providing this information verbally to being able to encourage independence: “When is soccer practice? Good question – why don’t you go check the calender?”
If you have a young child, you can pair a simple drawing or clip art with the words on your calendar. Depending on the age and temperament of your child, you might find that it is most effective to focus on one week at a time rather than looking ahead to the whole month. Often when I work with families with very small children, I recommend writing out a visual schedule each morning so that you are only focusing on what will happen that day. Conversely, if you have a child who is an information seeker, that child may really appreciate being able to see a month of activities laid out in advance.
A visual calendar also gives family members the opportunity to anticipate upcoming fun events. Given the fear and confusion engendered by the rise of the Delta variant, it is important to continue to plan safe events that everyone can look forward to: making fajitas for dinner, meeting friends for a swim, or watching a movie together. Just as part of the fun of vacation is looking forward to it, putting a fun family event on the calendar each week allows all family members to enjoy the build up to the main event.
Finally, I want to offer an extension of this concept which will serve to further support and strengthen executive function skills. If your child needs to bring different items to school on certain days, consider writing out a small note card and posting it near where your child’s back pack is stored. For example, the card might say: Monday – sneakers for PE, Tuesday – library book, Thursday – trombone. Similarly, for extra curricular activities, work together with your child to write out a card that lists everything to bring to the activity. Such as: soccer – cleats, shin guards, water bottle, or play practice – script, mask, water bottle. Even if you end up reminding your child to “check your index card,” these strategies support executive function and help develop independence.