Visual Schedule to the Rescue!

All of our children are back in school in the greater New Orleans area, and you may have had a day that looks and sounds something like this:

Sometimes school mornings look like this! Poor Thatcher – how dare his mom try to document the first day of school!

It’s 7:00 a.m. You’re trying to get yourself and your kids cleaned, dressed, fed, and out the door prepared for the day.  However, one child is still in bed, the other wanders around the kitchen aimlessly after breakfast with no appreciation for the time crunch, and you find yourself losing your patience.  As you’re telling them to get dressed, brush their teeth, find their shoes, get their booksacks, etc…you listen to yourself and at best, you sound like a nag, at worst, something more like Cruella Deville. You are in the middle of one of those mornings, and by the time your kids get to school and you get to work or to those errands you need to run, you have all started the day with feelings of stress, frustrations, and/or maybe even failure.

What if you never had to have those mornings (mid-mornings, afternoons, homework times, evenings, bed-times, etc…) ever again? It may sound like I’m talking crazy talk, and you’ve tried EVERYTHING to make things run more smoothly.  I believe you have tried everything you know to do, but there is a tool teachers have been using for years that many moms are just realizing can be very helpful in the home, as well.  It is a very simple tool called a Visual Schedule.  They are cheap, easy to make, easy to use, and backed up by research.  Most importantly, they are effective.

First, let’s discuss exactly what I mean when I say Visual Schedule.  In their document, Visual Schedule Systems, Lorraine Kamp and Therese McErlean define a Visual Schedule as any “system that provides children with cues about their daily activities and provide a structure that allows them to anticipate what will happen next.”

During a recent tutoring session, I realized that the student’s mom had started utilizing the Visual Schedule with her daughters.  They are of varying ages and ability levels; however, both have benefited from using the schedule.  But maybe mom has benefited the most. Now that they have a Visual Schedule to refer to, they are doing what needs to be done and feeling good about it! And so is mom!! I have included a photograph of the schedule she uses just to provide one example of a Visual Schedule.  This is what works for them.  Yours may (and probably will) be different.

Visual Schedule
Photo Courtesy of Gina Villar

Next, why should you take the time and effort to make and use a Visual Schedule? Here are just some of the good reasons why:

Consistency – We all know children thrive on consistency. When a child knows from day-to-day what is going to happen and what the expectations are of them, they are more likely to meet, or exceed, those expectations.

Communication – For children with language delays or who can not verbally communicate at all, a Visual Schedule allows them to actively communicate and participate in the activities of their day.

Choice-making – One of the best parts of the Visual Schedule is that children are part of the process.  There may be non-negotiables, but when there are areas of the the day that are flexible, children can choose what they want to do or in what order.  This makes it much more likely they will comply.

Independence – Guess what?! Your children have a visual reminder of what they need to do and in what order.  You do not have to follow them around reminding them of everything they need to do and making sure they do it. They can look at and/or read the schedule and follow it.  Then you and your children can celebrate together!

Helps with Transitions – It is amazing what happens when mom is not being “the boss” and there is no opportunity for a power struggle.  With the Visual Schedule, the schedule is “the boss” and children are much more likely to follow it, rather than being “told” by mom that it’s time to move on to the next activity.  As a result, there is less likely a chance to  encounter a tantrum.  It also provides an opportunity for positive reinforcement.  When they’ve done everything on the schedule successfully, with few or no prompts, they can earn a reward.

Language – When children read and interpret even the simplest Visual Schedule, they are building their receptive language skills.  When children communicate, either verbally or non-verbally, what is on their Visual Schedule, they are building their expressive language skills.  Both are vital skills for life and academic success.

Math Concepts – One of the grade level expectations in Louisiana for lower elementary students is to be able to tell and understand what comes first, next, last, etc… The Visual Schedule gives children the opportunity to learn and practice this skill every day.

Now, that you know what a Visual Schedule is and why they are important, I am going to refer you to some links that can help you in creating one for your child(ren).

Visual Schedule Systems

How-To Templates for Visual Schedules

Individual & Visual Schedules

These are just ideas, and the beauty of the Visual Schedule is that it can be made to fit your child’s unique needs and abilities.  There are also recommendations depending on the developmental age level of your child. Remember, though, they are merely recommendations.  Do what works best for your child!

Ages 0-2: Use  2-3 objects and high contrast colors (possibly include pictures of baby, too!)

Ages 2-4:  Use simple clip-art with more “cartoon-like” features

Ages 4-5: Use simple clip-art or real pictures along with text

Ages 6  and above: Use real pictures with text.  Use pictures as much or as little as needed.

In addition, there are apps available for download onto your iTouch, iPhone, and/or iPad.  Simply search for Visual Schedule, and you will find many choices to buy and download to assist your child who may be even more motivated with technology.

Finally, I have used the Visual Schedule with my students for years.  Whether I was teaching students with disabilities in the classroom or privately tutoring both students with and without disabilities, I have found it to be extremely effective.  I hope you do, too!

Now tell me, are you going to start using a Visual Schedule for your child?


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