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This Toddler Schedule and Reward System Really Works

If you’re looking for some tips on both organizing and organizing and surviving long stay-at-home-days with young kids, that’s exactly the gist of this post. I have one very high energy, determined and strong-willed four-year-old, a slightly less energetic, but very stubborn, three-year-old, and an 18-month-old who is practically perfect aside from his sporadic and almost ear piercing screams.

I had to figure out a daily and weekly schedule that worked so I could save my sanity.

Daily and Weekly Schedule

This is the daily and weekly schedule I’ve come to use because, well, it works. I use a whiteboard or cork board and write what we are doing or put pictures up so the kids know – like a tree for a walk outside or a kid reading a book for storytime or a child brushing their teeth for that activity.

WEEKLY: Monday morning I put the major events for each day up. These can be errands, church, preschool, a walk; just something the kids can look forward to (which they do) and also helps me visualize the week and each day, so when I wake-up I have somewhat of a structure already laid out.

Also, it’s a good reminder for me to prep them for out-of-the-ordinary events, like the doctor or dentist.

DAILY: The daily events help the kids see what is coming during the day. We don’t always stick to the schedule, we sometimes let the day unfold organically, like building a castle out of blocks, or jumping on my bed for an hour.

But the daily schedule is good for me. I like to know what’s happening next, so I don’t feel like I’m scrambling to think of something to do.

Balance and tempo are key

I tend to keep the mornings scheduled and the afternoons open. Naps and quiet time are done by 2:30/3:00, so the rest of the afternoon is at their discretion to run a muck inside, relax, or run a muck outside.

I find this strikes a nice balance for my daughter, who is go-go-go and likes to look forward to the next thing, and my son who needs to have more down time to relax. Also, I agree with the philosophy that kids need to be bored so they can learn how to be creative.

I enjoy this tempo as well. In the mornings, I teach them a new skill or work on something fun and structured, then in the afternoon I just enjoy being with them or I let them run around while I prepare dinner and get some things cleaned.

Going over the schedule

Once breakfast is done and they are stuffing their faces (or crying that they have to eat cream of wheat again) I make the schedule for the day. I’ll be honest, other than what I already had planned on the weekly schedule, 99% of what goes on there is made up on the fly; puzzles, painting, picnic, usually picked at random. But I’m happy to figure it out then, so the rest of the day flows.

A more organized person could do this before the children wake-up or the night before.

Then while they are finishing up their food, (or trying to pawn theirs off on the dog), we go over the schedule. This looks similar to what you see in a preschool, minus the sweet disposition and enduring patience of an actual pre-k teacher.

This is how the conversation sometimes goes

First, we go over the date and day of the week. This is a great time to do quick mini-lessons on letters:

“Today is Tuesday. What letter does it start with? What sound does ‘T’ make? Yes-like in toes, or

“What numbers is this? Let’s count to it.”

“Ok, now let’s say it all together, today is Tuesday, April 21.” (Even the 18-month-old likes to
scream that part.)

My kids love to sing a simple Days of the Week song similar to this. And this song about the months.

They do enjoy knowing what the day looks like and what comes next. I highly recommend having some sort of schedule for your little ones.

These are the websites I found the free printable activity cards for my schedule – this one and this one.

Reward system

On my schedule boards, I put dots next to Wednesday and Saturday. These are the days the kids cash in their tokens for treats. You can do tokens, coins, buttons, beans, anything small and fun for the kids to put into the jar.

They earn tokens for good behavior. It’s important to be consistent and liberal in rewarding them. If they do something well, like listen the first time, clean-up after eating without being asked, help their sibling, they get tokens. It’s best to let them add the tokens to the jar (that’s half the fun), and award the tokens immediately after they’ve earned them. If I wait I tend to forget.

They also earn tokens for doing chores. We usually do some chore in the morning about four times a week. I’ve realized it’s basically a round of: clean their room, pick-up the toys in the living room, pick-up the coat room, put their laundry away, and repeat. If it’s a good week they get to clean walls or windows. (They think cleaning windows is the coolest thing in the world.)

Consistency is important

Now if you’re impressed or getting down on yourself, don’t. These tasks resemble herding cats and work best if I’m right there directing them, which can get so frustrating I often question why I even attempt this. I am a firm believer in teaching kids to work, and why not teach them early? Figure out what works for your family.

This system is starting to pay off: I do enjoy the six hours their room is picked-up and I can breathe when I walk into it. It’s worth the pain.

We count tokens twice a week and I suspect this will turn into once a week when their older. And when they’re not so easily seduced by sugar, an actual allowance will be earned. But for now, it really does motivate them.

We count the tokens and they can buy cookies, popsicles, movie, and a movie with popcorn. (When we party, we party hard.)

I am pretty stingy with screen time, so movies are great motivators. Also, I want the quiet time. Some weeks I have shamelessly tried to steer my three-year-old to the movie rather than his coveted popsicle and cookie combo. Nonetheless they make the choice themselves, which they love because they feel pretty grown-up doing it.

It’s important to stick to the chart. There have been days when neither of them earned enough for a movie (which was a sad day for me), or one did and the other gets to wander the house in tears. Some glorious days they’ve both enjoyed a movie with all of the treats, and they are in heaven! (I’m not super generous with the sweets either.) So right now, this works well for us.

*A bonus and the reason I prefer this to sticker charts is I can take away the tokens if necessary. Child psychologies will argue this is detrimental to their self-esteem. I don’t care. When we’re out and about, sometimes the only leverage I have is taking that piece of shiny plastic away once we get home.

And you have to take them away in front of them, so it hurts. Even better is when one loses a token and it goes directly into the other’s jar.

Pacing the day

Another tip for planning an entire day at home with your toddlers or preschoolers is to alternate between high and low energy tasks and activities. For example, do a craft, then go outside, then sit and eat lunch. Or have dance time, play-dough time, then ride bikes.

Even alternating little tasks, especially when they are young toddlers, is helpful. I tried to get my kids to brush teeth right after breakfast before they do anything else, but it was such a battle. I found that if they eat, then run around for a little, even for just five minutes, they were much more responsive to directions and teeth brushing was doable.

So those are my tips to help keep you sane. If things are messy at first, don’t beat yourself up and don’t quit. Keep tweaking till you find what works for your family, it will be worth the effort.

Ajalon J. Stapley

I'm Ajalon; mother of three, army wife, avid traveler and horrible crafter who is tired of all the negativity! So I write about politics, culture, faith and family in a way that leaves you edified, educated and empowered. (Yes...even about politics.) You can find me at

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