In general, young children have trouble grasping the concept of time and transitioning from a wanted activity to a non-preferred activity. This decreased understanding of time can cause stress for the entire family and a loss of control for the child. Most people find comfort in daily routines, so assisting children to know what is expected of them in advance is helpful.
One tool that is commonly used to assist children in understanding time and providing the calming comfort of a daily routine is the use of visual schedules. A visual schedule can by created using objects, photos, symbols or words, depending on the child’s age and understanding.
The visual schedule explains to the child what tasks need to be done and in what order they have to be accomplished. Once the “have to do” tasks are done, then the child will get time to do something he or she chooses.
A visual schedule takes time to get set up, but once organized, everyone involved will benefit from a smoother flow of the required tasks. Parents can use visual schedules to assist with morning patterns as well as after school and nighttime routines. These schedules can also visually reinforce what a child would expect on a given day (i.e. going to school versus staying home).
Visual schedules that explain task order can begin with two activities, “First” above one task and “Then” above the next task. As children get the idea of these schedules the number of activities on a visual schedule can increase.
Tasks have to be specific with clear beginning and ending. For example, brushing teeth has a clear beginning and ending. First, put toothpaste on brush, brush teeth for a 30 seconds, spit out paste, rise mouth, put brush back, and then done. The use of a timer can assist with clarifying length of tasks that may be more ambiguous (i.e. homework). As children get used to visual schedules, dependence on caregiver decreases and the child’s self-sufficiency increases.
There are many websites from which caregivers can purchase premade visual schedules, thus making preparation less time intensive. Some places to look are ASDbright, Yourtherapysource, Sensationalbrains, Amazon, and Pinterest. There are several options out there. Try searching “visual schedules” on the internet and see what pops up.
Try it out and see if a visual schedule can help day to day routines run a little more smoothly.