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10 Tips for Creating a Visual Schedule for Your Child

Jan 17th, 2024 | by Serena Patel, PT, DPT

Serena Patel, PT, DPT

January 17th, 2024

What Is a Visual Schedule?

A visual schedule uses pictures, icons, words, or objects to show the order of activities or events that will happen. A visual schedule is a simple yet powerful tool for helping toddlers and children stay organised and understand what to expect and when. It can also help children stay focused and on track with their tasks. In this blog, a NAPA pediatric occupational therapist is here to share the benefits of using a visual schedule for all toddlers and children, including children with autism. We’ve also included 10 tips for creating your own visual schedule customised to your child or toddler, helpful apps, and visual schedule templates. Let’s dive in!

What Are the Benefits of Visual Schedules for Kids?

Visual schedules for kids can help them develop important organisational skills, have an easier time transitioning between activities, and better understand what tasks need to be completed. Visual schedules help kids understand how to manage their time and can provide a sense of security and structure. It can also be a way for children to communicate better with others and for caregivers to communicate better with children.

Visual Schedules Can Be Specifically Useful for Children With Autism

For children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), they may have more difficulty following verbal instructions, expressing their needs, or understanding expectations. Studies have found that individuals with autism tend to show increased responsiveness when information is presented in a step-by-step visual format compared to an auditory presentation.

Examples of Popular Visual Schedule Templates

Below are some visual aids that we use, as therapists, at NAPA!

  • First-Then Visual Schedule Boards

A first-then visual schedule template can be beneficial for children for many reasons. Learn more in this blog post!

First-then boards help with the ordering of tasks. You can experiment with trying a child-driven task followed by adult chosen activity or vice versa.

  • Daily or Morning Routine Visual Schedule Boards

Daily or morning routine visual schedule board tip: Add a piece of Velcro to the back of your images! That way your child can move it over to the “done” section, once completed!

Tips for Creating a Visual Schedule Personalised to Your Child

Tips for creating a visual schedule with your child:

1. Identify the routine or skill you want to target

  • Examples include: morning routine, after dinner chores, before/after school tasks, brushing teeth or tying shoes

2. Break the activity into simple tasks for easy understanding

3. Determine the length of the schedule

  • Some toddlers or kids may be able to follow a full daily schedule, while others may benefit from shorter schedules that focus on specific tasks or time periods.

4. Select a visual format

  • You could use pictures, words, videos, or a combination of these elements.

5. Personalise the schedule to your child

  • Instead of using generic templates, we encourage caregivers to create schedules that are personalised to the child! For instance, if your kiddo doesn’t help you set the table yet, don’t add it to the schedule!

6. Practice using the schedule with your child

  • As the child becomes more familiar with the schedule, verbal prompts can be slowly faded.

7. Encourage your child to read what’s next on the schedule before you tell them

  • Reinforce what step you are on by pointing to or highlighting that activity.

8. Indicate a way to mark the completion of an activity

  • Whether it is crossing it out, marking a check, or adding a sticker, some sort of indication allows for a sense of accomplishment and boosts confidence in children!

9. Provide reinforcement!

  • As with any positive activity, provide praise or allow your child to complete an activity of choice. This motivates the child to continue participating and following a schedule.

10. Involve your child in the process

  • This should be an enjoyable activity for both the caregiver and the child! Allow your kiddo to have a voice in creating schedules.
  • Tip: Maybe activities 1, 2, 3, and 4 are adult-driven choices, but choice 5 can be a child choice

Free Visual Schedule Templates

Websites that offer templates for schedules:

  1. https://abaresources.com//free3
  2. https://adayinourshoes.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/first_next_then_boards.pdf
  3. https://adayinourshoes.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/morning-routine.pdf
  4. https://www.autism.net/resources/visual-gallery


Visual Schedule Apps:

Below, find our top 3 apps (of the many available options) for visual daily schedules.

1. Visual Daily Schedule

An app that helps you plan days. Offers over 130 icons to graphically symbolise the tasks, the ability to add your own pictures, mark tasks as completed, a full-screen task timer, and alerts to remind you when the activity was planned to start. There is a free version of the app that contains some limited functions. Full versions can be purchased.

2. Choiceworks ($24.99)

An app for building your own daily schedule using over 180 images and audio clips, or custom audio clips recorded by the user. Choiceworks includes a setting to have your phone or tablet read the schedule aloud. The app allows users to create multiple profiles for multiple individuals and create an unlimited number of schedule boards that can be printed and used non-electronically. In addition to the visual schedule features, the app also includes features to teach waiting skills and emotions.

3. Goally Therapy Suite

Gives you the ability to create visual schedules and checklists and includes 100+ pre-built routine templates, 50+ video learning modules, AAC talker, language learning games, finger dexterity games, token board economy, emotional regulation and check-ins and daily weather.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Serena Patel is a pediatric physical therapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles who received her DPT from Duke University. Outside of her love for kiddos, she enjoys spending time outdoors with her friends and family, reading or baking delicious goodies. Having been trained in dance, she also appreciates sharing her passion with other kids through teaching occasional classes at her old studio!

About NAPA Centre

At NAPA Centre, we take an individualised approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualised programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customised program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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