When Bryan was away, Emma was only three. She was very close to her papa, so his absence was very hard for her to understand. As far as she was concerned, one day she had her papa every morning and every afternoon, and the next he was gone – completely gone! There was no way to really prepare her for it even though we had tried. I learned quickly to give her very concrete and tangible ways to stay connected to him.
One idea I had come across on various websites and blogs back then was the idea of a “deployment chain.” Of course the idea is also very well used anytime a parent will be gone for a period of time. The deployment chain is simply a chain made of construction paper rings. Each ring on the chain represents one day and each day the child gets to tear a ring off the chain to represent one more day gone until they reunite with the parent they are sorely missing.
It’s tangible and concrete. Young children (grammar school aged) are not able to, developmentally, grasp abstract concepts. The “future” is an abstract concept, so something that provides them with a visible representation of the “future.” It is also interactive and allows them to actively be involved in counting down to a very joyful day.
This past week I was developing calendars to use in home school this Fall and Winter, and I decided we would use these calendars for Emma to count down the deployment of her oldest brother and the time spent in BCT/AIT for her other older brother. Both are leaving within a month of one another, and she’s close to both of them. It can be hung any where in the house where the child can see it when he/she needs to remember that deployment does not last forever — even when it feels like it!
The calendars are season related themes for each month. Here is a description and supply list for our calendars, but you should make the calendars in any way that is meaningful and fun for you and your child. I will try and post a picture of September’s calendar when we finish.
Supplies needed: construction paper, pencil, scissors, glue, tape, 30 “leaves” (either cut out from a pattern on fall colored construction paper OR I bought a garland full of fake Fall leaves), marker, adhesive putty.
- Figure out the size you would like your calendar to be.
- Cut out a “tree trunk” from brown construction paper. Use pencil to trace a pattern before you cut.
- Cut out “tree top” from green construction paper. This what you will tape the leaves to. Glue trunk and top together with overlap of trunk hidden in the back.
- Assemble and number the leaves to match the days of the month (i.e., Tuesday, 1st) — on each leaf put a second number that represents how many days until mid-deployment leave, redeployment, or other date when the child will see his/her parent.
- Either tape or use adhesive putty to attach the leaves to the tree top. You can put the leaves in order (what I recommend for toddlers) or you can jumble them up and have a leaf search each day, making a little game of it. What ever method you use to hang the leaves be sure the child can take a leaf down each day. The “fallen leaves” represent the days that are done. You can create a “pile of raked leaves” with the ones taken down, or find another creative way to display them.
Supplies needed: construction paper, glue, marker, scissors, tape, adhesive putty
- Figure out the size you want your calendar to be.
- Cut out several long and curvy thin strips of green construction paper for your pumpkin vine – keep the desired size of your calendar in mind.
- Cut out 31 pumpkins. You can allow your child to decorate them as jack-o-lanterns, color the stem at the top green, and clearly write the days of the month on them. On each pumpkin put a second number that represents how many days until mid-deployment leave, redeployment, or other date when the child will see his/her parent. They can also write notes on the pumpkins to the parent they miss each day and these can be sent to the deployed parent or saved for homecoming sharing time.
- Either tape or use adhesive putty to attach the pumpkins to the pumpkin patch “vine” you created earlier. You can put the pumpkins in order (what I recommend for toddlers) or you can jumble them up and have a pumpkin search each day, making a little game of it. What ever method you use to attach the pumpkins, be sure the child can “pick a pumpkin” each day. The “picked pumpkins” represent the days that are done. If you have a small basket you can place the pumpkins in it, or you can tape them up or send them to your deployed spouse.
For November I am planning on doing a turkey with the feathers representing the days of the month, and December will be a red and green construction paper chain garland, numbered the same way. If you need patterns to help with any of the above mentioned ideas, do a google search for “child crafts pattern leaf” or “child craft pattern pumpkin” etc. Enjoy, and please write me and let me know if you use the ideas I give here, or if you come up with your own. Pictures are always welcomed too!