visual schedule for toddlers

Visual Schedules for Toddlers

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It is quite complicated to find the right balance between work, house chores, cooking, studying, and most importantly spending time with family. Do you feel the need to organize things more clearly so that your day doesn’t feel so chaotic?

Do you want to know what I did?

I introduced visual schedules into our lives. What a ta-da moment! At the end of the day you feel guilt-free and with more ticked boxes than ever before!

Isn’t that something?

I will take you through it step by step, and give you instant access to all 250 cards and flashcards to set up your own visual schedule.

What are visual schedules?     

First of all, it is important to explain what visual schedules are. Visual schedules are a sequence of photos, symbols, texts that illustrate what a person is expected to do.

The person using it can follow the sequence of visual events in the order in which they are to be completed.

Visual schedules can include a series of tasks that are part of a routine, or they can include step by step stages of a new skill you wish to teach.

The most important uses of visual schedules ar

a. improving independent skills

b. teaching academic or play skills

c. teaching social skills

d. reduce the occurrence of difficult interactions with your child

e. Improve independent completion of tasks

You can instantly get access to 250 cards and flashcards, plus two visual schedule templates to set up your own visual schedule. Simply click on the button below!

free visual schedule

 

Why use visual schedules?

A visual schedule helps a child understand, follow, and remember the expectations of the day. They also get used to a routine and so they feel less anxious and need fewer reminders of what is expected of them.

It can also help reduce the resistance that comes with certain activities. It is important that when children do show resistance against a certain activity, you rearrange the schedule with a preferred activity as a reward for the task completion of the previous activity.

During the preferred activity, however, remind the child that he still has to complete the task he’s been avoiding.

Bear in mind that visual schedules should be varied and the activities chosen should meet the child’s needs. It is important that your child learns to follow a certain structure. But remember that activities should be interchangeable and your child’s choices and preferences will change throughout the day. Be flexible!

There is a certain level of predictability with a visual schedule and that is something that children like.

Brushing teeth in the morning and at night, having meals at more or less specific hours, bedtime routines, potty time, or nursery are the activities that are consistent and that will help your child follow routines and understand rules.

It is important to remember that a visual schedule should be:

a. portable

b. durable

c. personalized

d. consistent

You can read more about visual schedules here if you want to get a deeper understanding of why to use it, how and which are the main benefits.

 

Set clear goals before using visual schedules

First and foremost, write down what your main aims are and what you want to gain from using visual schedules. Mine were:

1.My main focus was on spending more quality time with my son. It felt really frustrating to hear my son begging me to play while I was too busy working. No more “ Give me 10 more minutes”, “You go ahead and I’ll be right there”. None of that. Working and spending time with my son had to be completely separate so that he could get my full attention.

2.Another goal of the visual schedule was to help my son become more independent. He is 2 and 7 months and at this age, he is still constantly seeking interaction.

I decided to include in the visual schedule not only playtime doing a variety of activities together, movement games, quiet activities, and outdoor time. I also included independent play to gradually teach him to become more tolerant of spending time without me.

3. And the final goal of my visual schedule was to help me become more productive work-wise and not only. Once I could visualize the activities of the day, I could clearly identify when I could spend some time working.

Moreover, it helped me prioritize my work tasks and decide on how much time I had left for chores. I was more in control and at the end of the day, having ticked so many boxes, I felt great!

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How to effectively set up the visual schedule

There are many ways in which you could use a visual schedule. Although I felt tempted to use more than one strategy, in the end, I decided to stick to only one and make sure my son fully understands how things work.

But there are many ways in which you can set it up: pocket charts, laminate cards and attach them using velcro, use a bulletin board, bulletin bar strip etc.

a. First steps to follow

a. Once I printed and laminated the visual schedule template, I cut out all the mini cards. You can find the mini cards, all 125 of them in the form above, together with matching flashcards for all cards and two visual schedules.

Once I cut out the cards, I separated them and stored them in small baskets, colour coded. The main goal is for the child to start using the schedule independently.

All you have to do is click on the picture below and you get instant access to all 250 cards and flashcards.

b. The daily activities basket was for me to use, whereas the fun activities were to be varied throughout the day and my son was the one to choose them. He had three baskets, all colour coded. There was a blue- movement games basket, the yellow- quiet activities, and the red-independent play storage basket. I put all these three baskets somewhere visible, under the visual schedule. 

c. I went over all of the cards with my son to make sure he can identify the pictures. Then I took him through the whole process. I explained that the timetable was for him to see what we will be doing each day. I attached the daily routine activities before he woke up and we looked over them together.

d. Then my son added the fun activities. Wherever he saw the colour blue on the schedule, he would randomly extract a picture from the movement games basket and attach it to the timetable. If throughout the day he wanted to change any of the fun activities, he was free to do so. You can find great ideas for indoor movement games here. He repeated the process of extracting and attaching cards with the other two colours.

free visual schedule

e. Then, I made sure he could identify the order in which the activities will take place during the day. Separating the day by using parts of the day pictures can help toddlers better understand the order of events. There is also a timetable with hour slots, but I think that works better with older children, age 5 and over. 

f. Once all the cards were attached to the visual schedule, I went over it one time to prepare my son for the day ahead and give him a sense of what to expect. 

 

b. Personalize the visual schedule

Although I was flexible with his fun activities, I insisted on following the important routines day in and out. Brushing teeth, meals, and bedtime routines are my main focus at his age and I try to stick to them as much as I can.

I specifically chose to vary the pace of activities during the day to make sure that he learns while playing and to keep him entertained as well. I included three types of activities in my visual schedule:

Movement games

In the morning when he is fresh and eager to run around, I choose movement games. My son loves dancing because I choose simple songs that involve movement and I also do energizers with him.

He is also a big fan of treasure hunting and hide and seek with animals. We spend about 30 to 50 minutes engaged in these sorts of activities.

Tip!

Make sure to always mention how much longer your child has before the next activity as their perception of time is sooo much different than ours.

Quiet activities

In the afternoon, because he started to drop his afternoon nap, I choose quiet activities to help him relax. We mostly play with play dough, draw, read, do puzzles, role play, and play with blocks or sand.

There are other activities he enjoys too, but these are his favourites. If in need of interesting ideas that are easy to set up and keep your child quietly entertained, look through Quiet indoor activities.

 Tip!

If an activity doesn’t keep him engaged, I suggest changing it. Sometimes we change it three times before he finally finds something he really wants to do.

Independent play

I included independent play to his visual schedule in 30-minutes slots because he is still learning to play by himself. In time, I aim to increase independent play to one hour, but he is not ready yet.

Usually, during his independent play, I cook dinner or work. Whenever he comes looking for interaction during independent playtime I briefly engage, give him a kiss, and tell him it is play by yourself time and we will soon play together.

 Tip!

Make sure first to select the mini cards that illustrate the toys your child has in his room or around the house. Because children can quickly get bored with an activity, I let why son choose 5-6 independent play cards and display them in his room, somewhere visible.

That way, during his independent play he still has some kind of guidance. He can look at the pictures and choose from those what to do. Also, because they have no perception of time at this age, I tell him that the 30 minutes of independent play are up when he goes through all the cards displayed.

 

c. Observe the impact of using visual schedules 

I knew that starting something completely new with my child will take time to adjust and understand its rules. But two or three days in and my son was really eager to check his timetable and spot some of his favourite routines. 

He enjoyed choosing his own activities and as expected, he changed them throughout the day. I think mostly because he wanted to repeat an activity he really enjoyed.

But also because, one some days, he found certain games boring. I was completely flexible and let him change anything he wanted. (I suspect he also enjoyed attaching them and taking them off. Velcro, who could blame him?) 

From time to time, I would go with him to the timetable to check again the order of events. He got so excited about some of the activities of the day, that he only asked for those. However, one of my aims was to also help him become more tolerant.

 So whenever he asked for one particular activity, I would go with him to the visual schedule and point to when that expected event will occur.

Constantly do this with your child, go over the order of events, explain why he can’t have his bath at 1 in the afternoon and point to the fact that he WILL have a bath, but after outdoor time and dinner, while insisting on the fact that each activity has its own fun.

visual schedules

 

Final thoughts and impressions

Visual schedules offer structure and predictability, increase learning, they help children understand abstract ideas, such as time and organization. Most importantly they help children become more independent. 

Visual schedules can prove to be effective with children of various ages, therefore you could consider adapting the materials provided here to your child’s age.

I am quite proud to have finally managed to set up a daily routine for my son, it proved to be truly useful and with enough patience and consistency, you can soon see the benefits.

Learning to follow routines, becoming more independent, growing tolerance, and being exposed to a variety of activities are some of the possible outcomes of using a visual schedule. My son looks forward to waking up in the morning and choosing his fun activities. 

 

Share your experience

Have you ever tried visual schedules? Have you noticed any changes in your child’s behaviour? I am very curious to find out about how it worked for you. 

We share all of our ideas on our Facebook group Learning Activities for Kids. Join us and make parenthood easier! 


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36 thoughts on “Visual Schedules for Toddlers”

  1. This is so important now that a lot of the social interaction groups are not really happening, and play dates are to a minuim these days. You still have to enrich your littles ones lives.

  2. I love this idea and I think it’s so great for kids! I’ll be using this when my son is a little bit older! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Yes! Visual schedules are amazing for our kids too! We found it works best to have one family schedule and block in “free time” where the kids can select their own activities during different times. It makes our day go so much smoother!

  4. I love this! I was just thinking my two year old is ready for something like this. He has a hard time transitioning from one activity to the next if I forget to give ample notice.

  5. This is such a cool idea! I think visual schedules would be amazing for the kids. It’s great that you reminded us how enough patience and consistency can lead us to the potential benefits. Thanks for sharing this tips!

  6. I always feel that visual mediums have a larger impact on children because they tend to remember things that they see and these visual cards are a great idea.

  7. Oh, how I love this idea for wee ones. Mine are a little older but the concepts of undivided attention from caregiver and delayed gratification are still being used. Thanks for the wonderful breakdown of this concept!💕

  8. Oh wow it is really an amazing and much unique idea to teach childrens..really loved it..Visual schedule is best way and has a very good impact on children…🙂

  9. I’ve never heard of visual schedules for toddlers but will definitely incorporate this with my 2 year old. This was very helpful, gave good tips and information.

  10. Schedules are so great for any child and I love the visuals for younger ones. I still need to make them for my 10 year old. Not as visual now though since she can read. It helps keep her on track though.

  11. I love this idea and I am interested in trying this with my little one. It is definitely a brilliant way to teach our kids. Will start doing this next Monday. Thank you for your tip about independent play. Will try that as well.

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