The Developmental Science Behind Color Calendar

Color Calendar was developed by Noelle Paiva (BA Child Development, MA Marriage and Family Therapy). The system is designed to support parents in providing structure and consistency to children throughout early ages and stages of development.

Color Calendar was born from a lack of tools available for parents that are both flexible enough to adapt to each family’s unique needs and developmentally appropriate for a range of ages.

Children thrive when they know what to expect, but the concept of time and days of the week are too abstract for a young child to grasp. Their cognitive abilities have limits and develop in stages. This is partly why transitions or considering future events is so difficult for young children. Color Calendar makes the abstract feel tangible.

How Brains Learn

Our brains make sense of the world through patterns. The repetition involved in everyday routines are the building blocks of sequencing skills. Infants gain understanding and trust of their surroundings when routines cue recognition. The more familiar an experience, the less confusing or stressful it feels. This remains true throughout all stages of development.

For example, first comes bath, then towel, diaper, clothes, bottle, and bedtime. Over time, the consistency of this experiential pattern enables infants to predict what will happen next in the sequence. The stability and consistency of experiential patterns throughout development provides a sense of comfort and safety.

Autonomy vs Authority

The toddler stage is when most children become highly opinionated about when, how, and in which activities or tasks they want to engage. This is due to a developing sense of autonomy, the growing understanding that they have ideas and thoughts separate from their caregivers and others.

Some parents can feel stressed and conflicted about how to handle the intensity of their child’s input. It’s often difficult to find the balance between providing structure and boundaries and allowing children to exercise their autonomy and “right” to choose. As the parent, it’s important to distinguish that autonomy does not equal authority. Children do not have to be in charge to feel in control.

Children are learning how to choose and how to make healthy choices, which requires modeling and guidance from their caregivers. They need structure and support while learning to tolerate the temporary discomfort and frustration involved in doing something they don’t want to do and building new skills that are not mastered quickly. They need practice flexing their autonomy within boundaries so that as they mature they are able to establish healthy boundaries for themselves.

Without structure and boundaries, life feels chaotic. The more unpredictable a child’s day feels the more they will attempt to control any or all elements of their experience. We are most relaxed and emotionally stable when we know what to expect.

Comfort and Security Fosters Flexibility

When a child feels secure in their environment and attachment to others, they gain the confidence to explore their limits and develop new skills. Some parents might fear that routines are rigid and worry that adhering to structure means there is no space for spontaneity. In reality, the stability of a routine reduces anxiety and dysregulation surrounding transitions or unexpected events and helps young children develop a more flexible nature.

Color Calendar allows families to customize the magnets according to what their child likes to know about their day and which events repeat daily or weekly. It is also an option to use photos of family members and caregivers faces to help children that find it comforting to know who will be taking them to school, putting them to bed, or available while a parent is working or traveling. When one calendar is being used for multiple children, photos can be used to distinguish one child’s activities from another.

Depending on the child’s needs, the calendar might start out with more detail to each day and include all transitions and which adults are available to them. As the child begins to feel more comfortable with the flow of their routine, they will focus less on the details. The calendar can evolve into a general outline and tool for building time management skills and responsibility. School age children can begin to learn how to organize their own schedule and keep track of sports practices, lessons, chores, homework time, and screen time. 

Developing a Concept of Time

Color Calendar uses pictures that show the activities of the day in sequential order which allows children to see the plan and keep track of the day’s events as they approach. Over time, they will begin to anticipate transitions and learn to tolerate waiting for activities they look forward to (such as a birthday party) or prepare for routines or activities they don’t enjoy (like a parent leaving town).

With the view of the week, children begin to understand how time passes because they can see what occurs between now and later. The distinct colors help young children understand how the days are different, yet sequential. Over time, children begin to feel more in control of their day and less resistant to plans because they know what to expect and when to expect it. 

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