Behavior Management

Using Visual Schedules for Smooth Transitions

Do you find that when your child is playing or engaging in a fun activity, they struggle to clean up when play time is over?

“Many children find it hard to cope with these feelings of “why, do I have to stop playing? I love this game! It is my favorite toy? Why is my mom/dad making me stop?”.

A helpful tool that caregivers can use to make this process easier is a visual schedule! These schedules provide the child with a “preview” of what activities will happen during a specified amount of time. During my speech sessions, I will use a visual schedule with children who struggle to transition between activities, even when the next activity is also fun and engaging.

Creating a Visual Schedule

Visual schedules can be created in a variety of ways and can be adapted to fit every child’s needs. The most basic element that you’ll need for a visual schedule is a chart and some images with items, toys, activities that your child does.

  • Use some construction paper and your own photos!: This is a wonderful way to make a visual schedule because you can take pictures of your child engaging in the activities (e.g., brushing teeth, putting on clothes, playing with play-doh). In this way, they will see themselves in the schedule and it will help establish familiarity.
  • Notebook paper and hand drawings: Sometimes you may have limited resources and still need to create a visual schedule. You can easily grab some notebook or printer paper and add some hand drawn activities (e.g., book, plate of food, tv, iPad).
  • Using Word/Excel: Using Word and Excel are quick ways to create a visual schedule using the “tables” and “images” features.
This visual schedule is to help with morning routines
  • Finding pre-made schedules: Websites such as “Teachers Pay Teachers” offer a vast variety of pre-made visual schedules that include pictures as well! Many are inexpensive and can save you time! Just print, cut, and put on!

How do I actually use it?

  • Talk with your child about what the visual schedule is for to help them become familiar with it. For instance, you can label the pictures and talk about how your will put a checkmark or maybe a star after each activity has been completed

“Look, we have a picture schedule! It can tell us about all the activities we will be doing. I see some breakfast and a toothbrush, this tells us that first, we will eat breakfast and then brush our teeth!”

  • Once the activities have been selected. Talk about the order of events and what will happen after each activity is completed. This will help your child understand that there is an order for the activities that they won’t be as surprised when it is time to move on to the next activity or clean up.

“I see that first, we will wash our hands. When we finish, we can put a star next to it! Then we can play with dolls; and look, we can put another star when we are all done! After that, we will do some play-doh, and last we will clean up!”

  • Be aware that at first they may struggle to transition and not respond well to the visual schedule! Don’t be discouraged, it takes everyone some time to become adjusted to something new. It is possible that it may take days or weeks until the schedule becomes part of the routine. Stay consistent and it’ll work out smoothly!

Using a Visual Timer to Transition

Sometimes children will continue to have a difficult time transitioning between activities or having to clean up. Another helpful took to help with these changes is to incorporate a visual timer!

Types of visual timers that can be used
  • Physical clock
  • Physical timer
  • Hourglass timer
  • Cell phone
  • Youtube timers: Type in “5 minute visual timer” into the search box
Using a visual timer with your schedule

Incorporating a visual timer into the schedule can help make the transition smoother. I will often place the timer somewhere that is visible to the child throughout the entire duration of the activity. It is also helpful to verbally remind the child about how much time is left on the timer.

“I am glad you are enjoying your toys, remember we have 3 minutes left”

Providing verbal reminders will let your child know that soon it will be time to clean up and transition. Sometimes, with a verbal timer, they may protest, but make sure you stay consistent and transition when the timer buzzes or comes to an end.

“Oh, did you see/hear that? Our timer says “time is up!” now we need to clean up our toys!”

Helpful tips:

  • Don’t forget that it takes times to establish positive responses to visual schedules and timers, but don’t get discouraged.
  • Be understanding if your child is having a tough time. If you need to extend the timer or cut it short, do it! There is no “owners manual” for this strategy, you can always adapt it to fit your needs!
  • If your child is struggling with the visual schedule, be flexible and give them options. Let them pick the order of events when appropriate (e.g., “You pick, trains first or drawing?”).

If you have any questions about using visual schedules and timers don’t hesitate to drop a comment or below or fill out a contact form!