Guest Post: How to Create a Visual Deployment Countdown Display for Young Children
written by Meg Flanagan
Today on the blog I am so pleased to welcome my first guest writer! Meg Flanagan is a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education, as well as on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.
If you’ve ever experienced a toddler meltdown, you understand the moment of total panic: “How do I help her understand what I am saying?”
Children are super visual learners. From an early age they are able to recognize and focus on familiar people or faces, objects, places, and cartoon characters. Just try to walk down the cereal or baby aisles in stores. Chances are that you will be bombarded with requests for “Elsa-Anna cereal,” “Elmo wipes,” or “Lightning McQueen cookies.”
As I sat there watching my toddler lose her mind over a simple request, I had a lightbulb moment: visual schedule.
In my non-mom life, I’m a teacher with an emphasis on special education. Part of my training as a special education teacher is to meet the student where he or she is and provide tools to help that child succeed. For many students I have worked with a visual or picture schedule helps them get through part or all of the day. It provides a preview of what is going to happen first, next, and last. The child knows what is coming, and can start to prepare for it.
Visual schedules can be used for all sorts of things. I use my original schedule to help organize small chunks of our day at home. It helps my toddler understand what is going to happen. At school, I use visual schedules to tell students what work needs to be completed. Your family can use a visual schedule for almost everything! Create a checklist or picture to help reluctant children get ready in the morning. Help a child with bedtime routines by putting pictures of her doing the tasks in order.
One of the best ideas? Deployment countdown!
This is a great idea for kids of all ages. It helps children to organize time and the passing of time to understand when their deployed parent in returning. By providing milestones and benchmarks, kids understand they are moving closer to having their whole family together again. They can also look forward to fun things while mom or dad is away, hopefully making the time seem to pass a little faster.
Here is what you need:
- A mounting surface: long thin plywood, heavy cardboard, posterboard, anything kind of heavy and durable is perfect
- Construction paper
- Velcro/glue: this is kind of up to you, use Velcro if you want to remove things or be able to move things around in case of extension or reduction of the deployment
- Pictures: people who will visit, benchmark places you will go, months of the year, holidays, etc.
- Laminator/access to a laminator: this is optional. Many office supply stores offer lamination services
- Decide how you want to orient your timeline for deployment. Do you want to go top → bottom, left → right, or work more like a calendar or flow chart? If you want top → bottom or left → right, you will want a longer rectangle. For the calendar/flowchart, you can use a big square or fat rectangle.
- Take a look at the projected homecoming guesstimate. How many total months will this deployment likely cover? I would go for adding more time, rather than trying to cut it super close.
- Create your month labels.
- Decide on your BIG events. I would include trips, holidays, the start of school, and school vacations. My examples are for Southern California with a preschool aged child. We are going to: Disneyland, home to see family, to see Santa and the Easter Bunny, Legoland, and SeaWorld. I also included Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, the New Year, and the first day of spring as milestones. For sure include a homecoming label!
- Create picture labels for each major event. I used Canva, a free web-based graphic design service. Print the picture labels out.
- *Optional, but recommended.* Mount your pictures and month labels onto construction paper using glue. When dry, laminate for durability.
- Divide up your mounting surface as equally as possible. Have more time? Use a bigger surface!
- Once your surface is divided, layout but do not attach, your months and big events. Move things around, adjust section sizes, and get a sense of how this will look. I ended up having to make my month labels read vertically instead of horizontally!
- Once you like it, put your pictures and labels onto the base. I recommend Velcro for this. Velcro gives you a little bit of flexibility; glue is more permanent.
- Hang it up! Right after deployment starts, break out your countdown. Explain that this will help everyone find fun things to look forward to, and help to countdown towards homecoming.
As your family moves through your personal deployment countdown, I hope your kids (and you!) get excited about all the fun things you are doing together, and even more overjoyed to have your family together again at the end.