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Developing a Visual Schedule

Most adults rely on visual schedules in their day-to-day lives. From a google calendar to a daily planner, being able to reference a visual schedule is a quick and simple way to ease anxiety and uncertainty. Similarly, childcare professionals recommend using a visual schedule with all children, regardless of circumstance, to prevent challenging behaviors that accompany uncertainty and stress. Luckily for parents, children have learned to use visual schedules as early as preschool. This is because teachers know how much visual schedules help their students! In this newsletter, I will walk you through how and why teachers use visual schedules, and how you can create your own at home.

Using Visual Schedules at School

Preschool teachers use visual schedules in the classroom because children, by nature, have difficulty making sense of time in space. If you tell a toddler “in 5 minutes,” they likely won’t understand what that means. However, adding a visual component helps them conceptualize time.

Even though most preschool children cannot read yet, teachers find ways to visually explain to kids what the plan is for the day. Typically, a teacher will put the schedule on a whiteboard or somewhere easily seen by the entire class. The schedule will list the activities for the day in order, possibly including the time. As the class moves through the school day, the teacher will often cover up part of the schedule or erase the completed activity to help visually show their class where they are in the day. Here are a few examples of visual schedules:

Most teachers will review the class schedule every day, and most preschool and elementary school teachers will also conduct daily “mini-lessons.” An example of this would be a teacher reviewing the day of the week, month, weather, and any changes that are happening at school. Daily exposure to a visual schedule and simple check-ins like these “mini lessons” help show the child how their schedule fits into the bigger picture of life—this is a critical component of behavior regulation. When a child understands their daily/weekly routines and schedules, they can better manage their emotions and behaviors when change occurs. Holistically speaking, keeping a schedule and routine helps many people feel calmer and more settled overall.

Creating Your Own Visual Schedule

Children are likely to feel more anxious without exposure to their usual visual schedule. Unfortunately, this anxiety can result in new, unusual behaviors. One way to remedy your child’s atypical behavior is to recreate a visual schedule/routine and check-in system like they have at school. I’ve included some ideas to reference here. When making your visual schedule, be sure to consider the following:

  • A visual schedule should include the most important parts of your child’s day

  • Create a schedule that you feel you will be able to stick to

  • You can give your child a choice to cross off completed tasks or use a check box system

  • If your child does not read yet, use pictures

  • Behavior regulation is maintained by structure and consistency, both of which are easily obtained by a visual schedule

One final tidbit to consider for older children is to have your child put the date on all their work. By second or third grade, this should be a standard requirement and will help your child to keep track of days and times.


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