This is my secret weapon. It is a traveling weekly calendar. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is pure genius.
When Charles was three years old, it became clear that the disruption of his daily routine was difficult for him when we were traveling. He began throwing theatrical tantrums, clinging to mom and dad, refusing to eat, and had a difficult time sleeping. His frustration broke my heart. I needed a visual tool that could be used on our travels to create some sort of a schedule for him. Charles, like any child his age, had difficulty understanding the abstract notion of time. Trying to convey the idea of days, weeks and months was nearly impossible. Charles wanted to know when he was going to the zoo, having a playdate, switching locations, and eventually flying home. It was very challenging to explain the passing of time without a tangible example. Counting “how many sleeps” just wasn’t cutting it. The weekly calendar acted as a visual aid for him to envision the daily, weekly and monthly traveling schedule.
Like many children, Charles needs structure and routine to make him feel safe and comforted in an unfamiliar location. For example, he is very concerned with who is putting him to bed, myself or mom and dad. The calendar helps him visualize who is putting him down on a particular night, curly-haired Lizzy or straight-haired mommy (see above illustration). Simply knowing this comforts him and gives him a sense of control in our often-random schedule that accompanies travel. Not only does my secret weapon create structure through visual organization, it has become the cornerstone to all of our traveling art projects. It is creative, fun to fill out, and the end product is an illustrated travel journal.
How to make your own traveling secret weapon:
1. Bust out your trusty ruler and create a weekly calendar template. If you are traveling for a month, create 4 templates. The length of monthly calendars can be overwhelming for a young child, so keep the calendar limited to a week. A single page for each week is easy to visualize.
2. If possible, have your child print his/her name in bold letters at the top. This will create ownership of the calendar.
3. Fill in the sight-words. Monday-Friday, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Even if your child doesn’t read or is learning, they will begin to recognize these words (that is why they are called sight-words).
4. On the day or days of travel, draw the mode of transport (train, plane, car), write a destination word (L.A., London, Berlin) and draw the location to communicate this destination to your child. For example, if you are going to Paris, France draw a picture of the Eiffel Tower.
5. Draw bedtime (a bed) and illustrate who is putting the child down for bed (mom, dad, nanny or other).
6. While traveling, if your child gets tutored, goes to a school, or attends daycare at a particular time, write and draw this in as well.
7. The remaining space should be used to illustrate your child’s daily adventures. Depending upon the age of your child, the drawings can be done by you or him. If you are illustrating the calendar, he should tell you what to draw. This acts as a reminiscent exercise and encourages him to reflect on the happenings of the day’s events. You will discover what he deems as special and illustration-worthy. The finished product becomes like a journal entry.
Now, when your child asks, “When are we going home?” you can refer to the calendar and count the days, giving her a sense of time. If she is unsure of what the schedule is that day, go to the calendar to refresh her memory. The weekly calendar provides the child with a sense of security using a visual schedule, but the finished product is cherished and can be kept as a memento of your child’s travel experience.