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Visual Bedtime agreement

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Visualize a Bedtime Contract with Your Child

Warm up your design thinking skills by making a cute one-page summary of what bedtime will be

For parents with three to five year olds, bedtime routines and rituals are keyway to stay connected and have a good night sleep.

By 3 years old, most kids should be starting to get excited around drawing and visualizing things, even if they can't do it perfectly themselves.

They also are more able to understand logic and sequences. They have expectations about what should happen before they fall asleep. In this activity, we combine computational and design thinking, along with a little legal thinking.

(special shoutout to lawyer Kate Razavi for inspiring this activity, with her own bedtime contract with her toddler...)

What You'll Need

  • You and your kid
  • A piece of paper
  • Pen, pencil or marker
  • Maybe, a whiteboard to draft the agreement

How to Play

You'll be sketching and formalizing a drawing of what you and your child will do each night before sleeping.

Tell your children: We're going to make a plan for bedtime every night, and we'll do it like designers -- creatively, empathetically, and visually!

Step 1: Reflect + Discover

You and your kid should sit down and talk through: what's the best sequence of things that should happen each and every night, before the kid goes to sleep.

One strategy: ask your child to close their eyes and imagine how they go to sleep -- all the steps involved, or what else they might want to do.

Listen to your children express their ideas of the sleeping process step by step verbally -- and you start to visualize it by diagraming or sketching what they are saying..

Step 2: Brainstorming session

It's a brainstorming moment, where everybody can reflect on what they've done in the past, and what they've heard about other families doing. What would be the best types of activities to do, to have a great bedtime?

Ask open-ended questions that allow them to articulate what bedtime means to them -- what they need, what they value, and what they aspire to. You don't need to use these formal questions, but just ask a lot of 'why' questions.

Ask them a question that triggers a picture from the past – “Do you remember the time you didn’t want to sleep?” or “What was my reaction when you didn’t want to sleep?" Talk through what strategies worked or didn't.

Share ideas with your children and brainstorm together about what would be better.

Model visual thinking as you brainstorm. Don't just talk about it, also take notes, be visual, and demonstrate how to be creative like a design thinker.

Step 3: Sketch Time

After brainstorming, have your child sketch on a piece of paper the ideas they came up with. You should avoid showing your kids examples. This will prevent them from learning to observe, express and create their ideas.

Telling them exactly what to sketch or showing them a sketch is not going to fuel their imagination. But a prompt can. You can also do collaborative sketching -- they draw something, then you do, and you take turns.

The goal in this step is to get lots of visuals down on the paper -- you don't need to refine them down yet.

Step 4: Refinement

Once you have a lot of possible steps in the sequence, now you have to apply some constraints. How much time can you really spend on a bedtime routine? With your kid, talk through prioritization of your brainstorm. Which activities should definitely be included in your contract, as essential ingredients for a good bed time?

Once you've made the prioritization, now it's time to draft the contract. Use a few words, but draw as much as you can. Use the drawing and brainstorm you've done, by either tracing/cutting/pasting, or re-drawing the sketches to make them fit exactly.

The goal of this step is to have a critical discussion of possibilities and consequences, to think through what will work or won't. It's also to construct the visual agreement in the clearest, most visual way.

Step 5: Signing the Agreement

Once you have your contract laid out on one page, take a step back. Double check, is there anything that can be improved? Before you sign this contract, make sure it's the best that it can be. You want to demonstrate to your child the concept of iteration, that every first draft is a prototype that can be made better.

When you feel comfortable, go ahead and sign. Ask your child if it's good for them, and if it is, have them sign as well.

Now it's time to start the experiment -- tonight, test this agreement with your child when bed time starts.

Tell your child that the next week, they will revise their Visual Bedtime agreement, so they should pay attention to what could be improved.

Step 6: Iteration

After a week, bring the contract out. Is it working out the way that you had hoped? Do you need to revise it, in the spirit of iteration? That's what a design thinker would do, to take a look at the actual experiences and outcomes come and redraft things in order to make the situation better.

Perhaps you also want to have your visual contract framed. You could hang it on the wall, or on your bathroom mirror, and have it be a living visual document to guide your daily routine.