What is a visual schedule?

A visual schedule is a picture representation of the tasks included in a routine. For example, a visual schedule for a bedtime routine might include toothbrushing, putting on PJs, and getting into bed.  

Who can benefit from a visual schedule?

Most children (and even adults!) benefit from some kind of routine and schedule. The most important part of the visual schedule is to make sure it fits the needs and abilities of the child. Visual schedules are especially helpful for kids who:

  • Are easily distracted
  • Have a difficult time organizing tasks
  • Need frequent reminders
  • Have difficulty prioritizing tasks
  • Avoids tasks they don’t like

Why do visual schedules work?

Constantly reminding a child to stay on task or move onto their next activity can lead to frustration for both parents and children, which may lead to undesirable behaviors at home. A visual schedule allows a child to be more independent in their routines, stay organized, and complete their necessary tasks with increased independence. Improving independence in household routines can help support a child’s development of a positive self-image and confidence!

Visual schedules provide a child with clear expectations about what activities need to be completed during a routine or specific time of day, which provides additional support to transition easily between activities. Children who have sensory processing issues tend to do better in a structured, predictable environment, and a visual schedule is one method to make expectations clear. Additionally, creating and following a schedule is a lifelong skill to help with organization and self-management. Students are often expected to follow a visual schedule in their classroom, so building this skill early on can also support academic engagement and success.

When can I use a visual schedule?

A visual schedule can be used any time a child needs to follow a routine or complete a list of tasks. For example, a visual schedule can be created for a morning routine, a homework routine, or a bedtime routine. Pictures often work best for children who are younger or can’t read yet. Illustrations or pictures of actual objects can be used to make it more meaningful for the child. For older children, a daily or weekly planner can be used to write down tasks. Many children benefit from a visual or physical reminder that the task is completed, such as crossing off tasks, erasing, or pulling off a marker if you are using a Velcro schedule.

How can I teach my child to use a visual schedule?

As with any skill, a child will need support to begin to implement their visual schedule. Involve the child in creating the scheduling by allowing them to choose the pictures for each task or decide how to mark off a task when it is completed. Have the child decide where the schedule should be kept so that it is easily accessible during the routine (for example, in the bathroom for a morning routine). As the child becomes more comfortable marking off activities, start to involve them in creating the schedule by adding items to the “to-do” list.

Make sure to reinforce the use of schedule through specific praise, such as, “You did a great job following your schedule to get ready for school!”

What tools are available to make a visual schedule?

You can make a simple visual schedule on the fly by simply drawing one out on a piece of paper. This is a great option when you’re on the go to help preview what’s coming up if there are changes in the original plan. To create a reusable schedule, pictures can be found online or taken, printed, and laminated. One method for organizing the schedule is to add a small piece of Velcro to the back of the schedule and place the “to-do” items on a piece of felt or fabric. Items can be moved to the back of the fabric when they are completed, or you can print off an “X” to mark items that are done.